The Lesser Known Voices of the British Military

Remembrance Sunday; the annual commemoration of those who sacrificed themselves for the future of this nation during the World Wars and later conflicts, falls this weekend.

Since childhood we have been encouraged to don a poppy displaying recognition and respect for our fallen soldiers. Yet most of us, I’m sure, have spent this time of remembrance in either alienation or apathy.  

We were never taught the importance of minority soldiers in our Armed Forces. We had never heard the voices of those we relate to. We had never acknowledged the contribution of minority communities as this is seldom brought to light in national campaigns or mainstream media.

Lest we continue to overlook the contributions of minorities to the perseverance of the nation we call home.

World War 1 truly was a world war in all that it entailed. No nation was untouched, no creed was exempt, no ethnicity was granted immunity.

Be it the selfless soldiers from Africa, the Caribbean, India and the eastern periphery, or the women that aided a vast range of military needs, both home and abroad.

British, German and French colonial history enabled the recruitment of soldiers to extend beyond homeland borders, to those who were subject to colonial rule and subsequently required to serve for the very nation that imposed its imperial footprint on them.

Nonetheless, minorities were able and willing to fight for this nation, before they had even stepped foot on British soil. The sheer selflessness, strive and fortitude of our minority soldiers deserves recognition, respect and remembrance.

Some 400,000 Muslim soldiers from (the then) Indian descent fought for Britain in the Great War, with at least 89,000 reported to have given their lives for Britain. 20% of all British Empire recruits were Muslims.

Furthermore, Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan recruits fought for their allies, taking the number of Muslim recruits to almost 700,000.

World War 1 Moroccan tirailleur (skirmisher) soldiers, wearing Legion of Honor. 1917. They were affiliated to the Algerian tirailleurs, or ‘Turcos’ who also fought for France. (BSLOC_2012_4_173)

According to Military historian Gordon Corrigan, if Indian troops did not arrive at the time they did, the German’s were to have broken through, and may well have gotten to the channel ports. The history of the Great War may well have been different.

A survey conducted by  British Future, a think tank dedicated to racial integration, has revealed that only 22% of those surveyed are aware of the Muslim sacrifice. To further this, only a striking 2% know the extent of their sacrifice.

The project,  “An Unknown And Untold Story – The Muslim Contribution To The First World War”, assisted by historian Jahan Mahmood, endeavoured to tackle this ignorance through a nationwide campaign. This insightful and inspired project brought together students from diverse backgrounds to not simply teach them of the muslim contribution to World War 1, but to experience first hand the personal impact through interviewing descendants of those selfless soldiers.

Stories of Sacrifice and The Lost Legacy are but two of the many exhibitions that showcase the contribution of Muslim soldiers in the British Army.  

When conceptualising war, we seldom include the humanity within war; the faces and voices of our service men and women. It is high time we promote an inclusive, representative and true account of the sacrifice conducive to war.

It is necessary to enlighten not only our children, but ourselves and our parents; to enlighten every living generation, of both the contribution and sacrifice of Muslim soldiers fighting for Britain in the first Great War and latter conflicts.

Our legacy in this country precedes the 1960’s influx of economic migrants or recent refugees. Our legacy in this country must be acknowledged and appreciated. Our legacy in this country defines our identity as British Muslims.

Lest we continue to overlook the contributions of minorities to the perseverance of the nation we call home.

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