Members of the British Sikh Association were privileged to attend a special dinner on Thursday June 9 at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, jointly hosted by the Academy’s Commandant, Major General Paul Nanson CBE, and the British Sikh Association.
The event, held to honour the contribution of Sikhs who have a long history of serving alongside the British Armed Forces, was attended by over 100 distinguished guests including members of the Armed Forces of Indian origin.
Presiding over the proceedings was the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter KCB, CBE, DSO, ADC Gen, who praised the contribution of Sikh soldiers in both of the great wars, highlighting their permanent legacy of courage in British history. He was accompanied by Dr Rami Ranger CBE, Chairman of the British Sikh Association, who took the salute following an exceptional performance by the Band of the Gurkhas.
During dinner in the prestigious Indian Army Memorial Room, Major General Paul Nanson CBE, Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, welcomed the guests and said he was pleased to have members of the Sikh community at Sandhurst. He expressed his desire to engage with the Sikh community and to encourage them to join the Armed Forces, adding that the British Army does not care about background or religion but helping young people realise their potential.
Mr Jasdeep Singh, the Curator at the National Army Museum, spoke about the vast Indian Army memorabilia which spans a period of 250 years and contains over 110,000 objects. He confirmed that much of the collection relates to Punjab and in particular the Sikhs from the days of the British East India company right up to the partition of India in 1947. The collection shows how the Sikh Symbol of the ‘Khanda’ has evolved into the modern symbol we see today.
Dr Rami Ranger CBE said it was an honour to be speaking from Sandhurst, a place where ‘illustrious soldiers are trained to defend our way of life at any cost to themselves’. He added that the room reminded everyone of the common military history between the Sikhs and the British going back centuries and ‘symbolising our loyalty towards each other and above all, for King & Country’.
Richard Harrington MP, a Home Office Minister, spoke about charity, welfare and hospitality being at the core of the Sikh culture, while Deputy High Commissioner of India Dr Virander Paul said he was delighted to be invited by the British Sikh Association to such a wonderful and prestigious evening. To speak at a dinner attended by British Sikhs and personnel from the wider British Indian Armed Forces personnel was, he said, a brilliant example of the friendship India has with the United Kingdom.
The Guest of Honour, the Rt. Hon. the Earl Howe PC, Minister of State for Defence, spoke about the rich history of the Sikhs in the British Armed Forces, to which they were a great asset. He also recalled the Prime Minister’s goal that by 2020, at least 10 per cent of Armed Forces recruits should come from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, which would provide the benefit of valuable insights into other cultures. With the Armed Forces, the Government and the Sikhs working shoulder to shoulder, ‘wearing our shared values on our sleeves’, Earl Howe said we would no doubt make history together again.
In his closing remarks, Dr Sukhbir Kapoor OBE, Secretary General of the British Sikh Association, spoke of the many Sikh Generals and soldiers who had been commended by British Generals for their bravery and praised the ‘honour of their turbans’. He added that there may not be a single Sikh house in Punjab that had not sent either a son or daughter to fight in the British Indian or Indian Armies. He went on to thank everyone present for making the event such a success, especially the service providers, including Ragamama and the ESS, Mr Ranjit Walia for the photography and the Band of the Gurkhas for a truly memorable performance.