New statue of heroic Sikh soldier marks Saragarhi Day in Wolverhampton

New statue of heroic Sikh soldier marks Saragarhi Day in Wolverhampton
Courtesy: UK Ministry of Defence

A three-metre-high bronze statue of a heroic Sikh soldier has been unveiled in Wolverhampton to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Saragarhi, a brave historic battle of the 19th century.

The statue, designed by local artist Luke Perry, was unveiled close to the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, and depicts Havildar Ishar Singh – the officer in charge of the Sikh soldiers who fought to the very end. The annual Saragarhi Day event is commemorated across the UK and the world on September 12 in memory of their bravery.

However, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) noted that this year is extra special because British Sikhs who had raised over £100,000 to commission the statue witnessed its unveiling. The Jathedar Sahib, the spiritual leader of the Sikh faith, travelled from India to unveil the statue and the event was live streamed to a global audience.

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Major Daljinder Singh Virdee, Chair of the Defence Sikh Network, said: “Sikhs have a long and proud tradition of service in the British Army. Saragarhi Day is a way to remember the vital contributions that Sikhs have made to the UK.

“I am proud that the Army is a diverse organisation where Sikhs are fully included.”

On 12 September 1897, 21 Sikh soldiers of the Army of British India defended a signal station on the North West Frontier of modern Pakistan against insurmountable odds. On the morning of that fateful day, Saragarhi was surrounded by around 10,000 Afghans, also known as Pathans. The station signalled one of the forts to ask for assistance and found that the forts were already under attack and could not help the beleaguered Sikh soldiers.

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The defenders of Saragarhi decided to fight and die to protect the soldiers of their regiment in the forts. None of the defenders remained alive but the 21 Sikhs had accounted for around 1,400 Afghans. The last Sikh soldier was said to have killed over 40 tribesmen in the defence, dying with the Sikh war cry on his lips.

The soldiers helped save the two forts and eventually forced the Afghans back through the Khyber Pass. For their actions, the defenders of Saragarhi were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest award available to soldiers of the Indian Empire under British colonial rule at the time.

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