A century after the end of World War I, a town in England’s West Midlands is preparing to unveil a new statue honoring South Asian soldiers who fought in the conflict.
The BBC reports the The Lions of the Great War monument will be installed in the town of Smethwick later this year. Officials say the statue is meant to honor the South Asian soldiers who fought for Britain during the war.
“I am incredibly proud to be working on a sculpture that is, at its heart, a statement of gratitude for the actions of a people who gave their lives for our independence when they had not yet achieved their own,” artist Luke Perry told the Sikh Foundation International. Perry was selected to create the 10-foot tall statue by members of the Smethwick’s Guru Nanak Gurdwara, which is paying for the creating and installation of the monument.
A great morning in Smethwick unveiling plans for a 10ft tall bronze statue of a Sikh First World War soldier opposite @GNGSmethwick.
— Sandwell Council (@sandwellcouncil) June 20, 2018
“These men volunteered to serve and fought to defend the freedoms we enjoy today,” Jatinder Singh, the gurdwara’s president, told the BBC. “The memorial will ensure that this part is never forgotten.”
While the statue depicts a Sikh soldier carrying a sword, officials say the monument is meant to represent all personnel of South Asian descent who were part of Britain’s armed forces at the time. The monument’s base will feature a list of the regiments that had South Asian soldiers in its ranks.
The West Midlands monument is part of a growing movement in recent years to publicly recognize the contributions of South Asians during World War I. “India made a huge contribution to Britain’s war effort. It sent staggering numbers of volunteers to fight and die on behalf of the allied forces,” the British Council notes on its website. “Almost 1.5 million Muslim, Sikh and Hindu men from regions such as the Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bihar volunteered in the Indian Expeditionary Force , which saw fighting on the Western Front, in East Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Gallipoli.”
South Asian personnel — which included soldiers, doctors and nurses — were also among the thousands of casualties of the Great War. According to the British Council, 50,000 Indian soldiers were killed in the war, while 10,000 more were reported missing. 98 nurses also lost their lives over the course of World War I.
In a speech in 2014, Lord Bhikhu Parekh stressed the importance of bringing the contributions and sacrifices of South Asians during the war to the forefront.
“It makes British people realise what they owe to Indians. Their history was not enacted just by them,” he noted. “If you go back in history, you see Indians, Arabs and other[s] all playing an important role. Throughout Britain’s history, they are as much the architects of British history as the British themselves.”
Related coverage: Painter Amrita Sher-Gil Gets her New York Times Obituary at Last