House of Commons 10 November 2014
I am very honoured to be asked to speak at this event to commemorate the tremendous Sikh contribution to the allied war effort during World War 1.
As Remembrance Sunday was observed around the country yesterday there was a special poignancy on this, the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1.
The millions who have flocked to see the poppy display at the Tower of London are testament to the enduring debt we owe to those who fought in World War 1. For our tomorrow they gave their today.
The scale of the Sikh contribution bears laying out. Of the 161,000 troops of the Indian Army, 35,000 were Sikh.
From a community making up just 2% of the Indian population they made up around 22% of the army. By the end of the war 100,000 Sikhs had joined up.
And their contribution on the battlefield was legendary. Ypres. Flanders. The Somme. Gallipoli and many others. These places and names which have passed down through the years as defining battles of the war were arenas of brave Sikh sacrifice and fighting too.
In this year, the 100th anniversary of the beginning, we honour their memory and their sacrifice.
Earlier this year I took my young son to the Imperial War Museum and we looked at the special exhibition to mark the centenary of World War 1. He is only five and of course as yet does not fully understand about war and what it means. And as a parent we also sometimes want to protect children from understanding some things before they are ready. Children’s innocence is precious and we should always be careful with it.
But I tried to explain to him gently why 2014 was important and about the World War that had begun 100 years before. I was pleased to see as part of the exhibition a special section devoted to the Sikh contribution. I also explained to my son how brave the Sikhs were and what a record they had as a fighting force in the army.
And as an MP representing a constituency with a large Sikh population, I know this anniversary is of huge importance to the Sikh community today. It is a source of pride and of course of reflection on the many young lives cut short by war. Of what they gave and of the futures they may have had.
For our tomorrow they did give their today. We honour their memory, their sacrifice and the brave record of the Sikh contribution to World War 1.