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Sikhs take journey to remember WWI fallenDate: Friday, 04 June, 2010

Article by BBC featured on BBC News online

A group of Sikhs have travelled to battlefields where members of their community fought in World War I. BBC Asian Network's Poonam Taneja joined them.

The location is the quaint French town of Neuve-Chapelle and a gathering of Sikhs surrounds a stone podium as prayers are recited in Punjabi.

The Sikhs are from Britain and they are on a journey across battlefields in northern France and Belgium to honour Indian soldiers who died fighting for Britain in World War I.

The Indian Army fought in every major theatre of operations during the war and around 65,000 Indian fighters were killed.

In Neuve-Chapelle, Indian soldiers under British command were part of two Allied divisions that fought the Germans in 1915.

There were heavy losses and an enclosed memorial garden circled by domed pavilions and towering columns is now a permanent reminder of their sacrifice.

In addition, the names of more than 4,700 soldiers of the Indian Army who lost their lives are carved into the stone walls.

Harjit Parmar has come from the Midlands and, together with his family, studies the rows of Sikh names etched into the walls in an experience they all find deeply moving.

A sombre Mr Parmar has mixed emotions as a sense of pride is mingled with sadness.

Lack of recognition

"I feel proud that we contributed and were there but also sad at how many people died to give us the life that we have now," he told BBC Asian Network.

As the group continues the tour of where Sikhs fought on the Western Front, they visit the Belgian trenches of Bayernwald and Wytschaete, scene of the first battles involving Indian battalions.

The one-day tour is proving to be the learning experience the organisers - the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail - had hoped as the group discovers more about the contribution made by Indian and, in particular, Sikh soldiers.

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Listen to the Asian Network's news feature on the Battlefield Tour on BBC iPLAYER (at 15 mins 45 secs)

View images from the tour in our gallery

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