"We have unveiled a remarkable and beautiful tribute"
A historic memorial, the Saragarhi Monument, has been unveiled in the UK, to commemorate the bravery of Sikh soldiers.
The Saragarhi Monument is the first in the country to honour the 21 soldiers serving in the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Indian Army.
Led by Havildar Ishar Singh, all of the troops died after defending a strategic outpost against more than 100,000 Afghan tribesmen during the Battle of Saragarhi.
The battle took place on Sunday, September 7, 1897, in an area that is now part of modern-day Pakistan, near the Indian border.
The regiment killed more than 600 attackers before their deaths in what many consider to be one of the greatest last stands in military history.
Another man, Khuda Dhad, thought to have been a Muslim cook, was not enrolled as a soldier but also died while fighting the attackers.
The soldiers are honoured by the Indian Army’s 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment on September 12 every year, a day referred to as Saragarhi Day.
It has now been observed in the UK by the revealing of the memorial which stands in front of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton.
The gurdwara fundraised £100,000 and Wolverhampton Council also contributed £35,000 of this towards the tribute which was unveiled on Sunday, September 12, 2021.
Councillor Bhupinder Gakhal, cabinet member at Wolverhampton Council and ward member for Wednesfield South, worked closely with the Gurdwara on the project.
He said: “This is a truly historic moment and one that will live in the memory of the many people who attended today.
“We have unveiled a remarkable and beautiful tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The 21 Sikh soldiers, and the Muslim cook who joined their ranks, showed incredible bravery.
“I hope this wonderful memorial will encourage more people to learn about what happened and about the brotherhood and sense of loyalty shared by those men who fought to the end.
“Our Saragarhi Memorial will be very important to a very large number of people – in Wednesfield, in Wolverhampton and across the world.
“This importance has been recognised by the wide variety of very important guests we have welcomed today.”
The memorial has been crafted by Black Country sculptor Luke Perry and has an eight-metre steel plate portraying the mountains and strategic outposts at the scene of the battle.
A 10ft bronze statue of a soldier standing on a six-foot plinth and commemorative writing has also been added to complete the monument.
He said: “I am extremely proud to have been asked by the Gurdwara to create the Saragarhi Monument.
“It is a truly important piece that reflects the diversity of our heritage and shines a light on a part of our history that has been overlooked for too long.
“So many people across the world will understand the significance of today.
“With artworks like this I want to create visible markers of the under-represented but vital, real people in our communities because when people are represented, they are empowered.”
“I can truly say it’s been an honour to work with Councillor Gakhal and his colleagues to share the story of Saragarhi.”
Guests at the ceremony were joined by three descendants of the battle’s soldiers, MP Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh female member of parliament, army members and various international faith leaders.
This included the Jathedar of the Akal Takh, or one of the five seats of power located within the Golden Temple, who flew from India and Saragarhi expert Dr Gurunderpal Singh Josan who travelled from America.
City of Wolverhampton Council Leader, Councillor Ian Brookfield, said: “This has been a wonderful day for our city and I am delighted that the council has been able to support this remarkable monument.
“These men made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the British Indian Army.
The Saragarhi Monument recognises the contribution of the Sikh community to our country and celebrates the diversity and the togetherness of our city.
“We hope that the statue and its backdrop will be visited by many who come to pay their respects.
“We look forward to welcoming these visitors and introducing them to the huge amount our city has to offer.”