The Zoroastrian Centre in Rayners Lane hosted an event to mark Interfaith Week and centenary commemoration of the contribution of all Indian soldiers during the First World War. The programme was organised jointly by Golden Tours Foundation (GTF) and the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe with sponsorship from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This was the first such attempt to bring together all faiths and communities in this remembrance.
The event was attended by dignitaries including Conservative Peer Lord Popat of Harrow, Air Attache of the High Commission of India Air Commander Anil Sabharwal, Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar Chauhan MBE – Headquarters Regional Command Aldershot, Warrant Officer John Rock – The Royal Logistic Corps, Air Commodore Dr Fredoon K Amroliwalla, Jack Lynes – Chair of Harrow Interfaith, Dr Harriet Crabtree – Director of Inter Faith Network for the UK, Mayoress of Harrow Councillor Rekha Shah and local Members of Parliament Bob Blackman (Harrow East) and Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) all of who lent their support to this great initiative.
This event was part of GTF’s project “Remembering Indian Soldiers in WW1” to broaden the engagement and understanding of WW1 sharing the heritage with the Hindu and communities such as the Zoroastrians, Jains and Buddhists. The project’s emphasis is engaging with the younger generation by providing a ‘relevancy’ framework of how their ancestor’s contribution on the world stage impacted the future paths of the two nations in terms of independence, migration and national identity.
Among the guest speakers and experts were renowned names such as the author of “I Can Never Say Enough About the Men – A History of Jammu and Kashmir Throughout their World War One East India Campaign” Prof Andrew Kerr, Genealogist, Historian and Founder of the BlackPoppyRose Selena Carty, Immediate Past Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britan Dr Shuja Shafi, Chairman of Harrow Interfaith Jack Lynes who shared the paper by Author of Honours and Rewards in the British Empire Anthony N Pamm on Indian Jewry. The students from the Sai School in Harrow dressed in soldiers’ uniforms from the World War period marched their way into event and each child read out their thoughts and poems honouring the fallen.
A number of presentations, videos and personal stories were shared on the Zoroastrian/Parsi contribution, stories from the Trenches from Nepalese, Maratha communities, story of a cavalry man who rescued the Baha’I spiritual leader in the Great War and an account of the contribution of the Nizam of Hyderabad during the War were all shared.
President of Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe and the local host, Malcolm Deboo while welcoming guests spoke about the importance of Inter Faith week and said, “Now in its eighth year the Inter Faith Week reflects the diversity of our country and the great importance of understanding each other and living well together.”
He added, “The First World War started on 28th July 1914, while Great Britain joined on 4th August 1914, and ended on 11th November 1914. The First World War was for the first time in history considered a total war, because all of the population of the main nations involved were called into service in one way or another. Multitude of communities from the Empire and Commonwealth volunteered to serve the King Emperor and Great Britain. Many who served were from the Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic Communities and their contribution to Great Britain was immense however, sadly much of their contribution has been ignored and forgotten.”
The event was supported by the National Army Museum and Armed Forces and highlighted the immense contribution and sacrifice made by countless South Asian, Black, Minority and Ethic volunteers from the British Empire and the Commonwealth countries who fought shoulder to shoulder.
The Vice President of the ZTFE, Behram R Kapadia read out a message from Lord Karan Bilimoria, patron of the Zoroastrian community, “These heroes, whose service saw them decorated with the first Victoria crosses awarded to soldiers of Indian heritage, were sent to battle in unfamiliar and horrific conditions, and their sacrifice should be remembered appropriately. India Gate is an impressive monument dedicated to fallen soldiers and is one of Delhi’s biggest attractions. I was thrilled to hear that the Indian government has committed to also create a national war memorial nearby.”
Bob Blackman, MP of Harrow East reminded the audience of Harrow’s own local hero, “The noted war hero Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson VC, who was born in South Coorg, in Karnataka South India, on 14th July 1895 died in Harrow on New Year’s Eve 31st December 1918.”
Nitin Palan, Chairman of Golden Tours Foundation speaking to the audience said, “the contribution of soldiers from ethnic communities especially Indian soldiers during WW1 was considerable, but much of the story is missing from the public domain. As we journey together and put these facts in front of the Community, Schools, Museums and the Army I feel confident that they will want to share the history in its entirety.”