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Members of Wolverhampton Council’s cabinet took a notable step to respect the Sikh legacy. In a discussion in 2021, they agreed to contribute £35,000 towards the construction of the Saragarhi Monument. The monument was planned to be erected in front of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Wednesfield. The council members stated that it was a notable initiative that could be seen as a fitting tribute, and the first monument in the UK that recognises the Saragarhi battle that holds a prominent position in Sikh history.  

Funding to contribute to Saragarhi Monument

Jay Singh Sohal, a well-known scholar on the Saragarhi battle and a former member of the British Army reserve, expressed his gratitude for the funds, which will be put towards landscaping and another £10,000 will be set aside in case it is needed. More than one hundred thousand pounds were collected for the monument by parishioners of the temple as well as members of the community. It was decided that the monument would be created by Black Country artist Luke Perry. 

On September 12, 1897, Sikh soldiers and Afghan tribesmen engaged in combat during the engagement. The conflict took place in Afghanistan. It is commemorated as a heroic "final stand" because 21 troops of the 36th Sikh Regiment were trapped inside a fort when they made the decision to fight to the death despite being surrounded by thousands of enemy tribesmen. In November 2020, the council reached an agreement to transfer ownership of the site to the memorial in exchange for a peppercorn rent lease for 99 years.

Authority leader Ian Brookfield said, 

“I’m passionate and excited about this proposal. A lot of people, certainly in the Sikh community and those interested in British military history, will know this monument is there to recognise probably the greatest last stand since General Custer where only a handful of Sikh soldiers held back for as long as they could tens of thousands of the opposition on behest of the British Army.”

He further said that they were one of the first areas in Europe to have this monument. There was already worldwide interest in attendance at the official opening ceremony in September 2021. The local community was expected to benefit greatly from the influx of visitors who will come to see the monument and spend money on Wednesfield High Street. 

In another statement, Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre added that he found it fitting and just to create a piece of work that celebrated this particular event. As he reflected on the English education system, he was shocked by the invisibility cloak that had been thrown over the contributions of Asian and African soldiers in the building.

Captain Singh-Sohal, who was responsible for initiating celebrations of Saragarhi Day in 2013, as well as writing a book and producing a film on the subject of the final stand, said, “I welcome the investment the council is making into landscaping around what will soon be the UK’s first monument to the epic heroism of the Sikhs at Saragarhi.”

He further added that being a Sikh and a member of the British Army, he eagerly anticipates Wednesfield becoming a site for contemplation and discussion about the shared military history of Britain and the Sikh community.

The monument is expected to inspire both local residents and visitors from afar, as it depicts the bravery and valour of those who lived by the Khalsa principles and fought until the end. 

*Based on an article by Gurdip Thandi, published in Express & Star on 18th June 2021


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