Thursday, 20 December 2012

Response to abuse

We're getting some quite nasty emails and messages on our websites and Youtube pages, about Sikhs, the turban and Guardsman Bhullar.

Apart from the shockingly bad grammar, and overuse of profanity there does, nonetheless, seem to be a whiff of a semi-valid point which hints to a lack of understanding Sikh turban identity.

So I thought I'd share with you my new book - a resource - to aid everyone's reading of the Sikh faith.  Please click image below.

Knowledge is a weapon but it's best use is as a powerful tool, please read up - and perhaps future messages on our pages might contain succinct arguments if not proper English!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Turban vs Bearskin

The recent news coverage of Jatenderpal Singh Bhullar joining the Scots Guards and going on parade has been largely positive. I've reflected on this in previous posts.

Above: Jatenderpal shaking hands with Major Rick Fletcher (Slough ACIO) after taking the oath of allegiance.

He is parading alongside Guardsmen in their traditional bearskins.  Below I will narrate why the significance of both lend the turban and bearskin to being complimentary to each other.

With media asking me for interviews and background to Sikhs in the British Army, I wanted to take this blog post to add some colour to why Jatenderpal wearing his turban is not only important but a celebration of +150 years of British and Sikh interaction in the military.

First, Jatenderpal is NOT the first Sikh to go on guard duty outside the Palace with a turban. That honour goes to Signaler Simranjit Singh (Royal Signals) and Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh (Army Air Corps) who both undertook the duty in 2009 (below). Both have gone on to undertake operation tours in Afghanistan.

Nor is he the first to join the Household Division - Trooper Ranny Singh, was the first to join the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry.

BUT Jatenderpal is the first to pass selection and join a Foot Guards unit and go on duty with his turban and beard (symbols of his faith) intact.

No doubt other Sikhs without turbans and beards have joined the Household units, but as uncut hair is crucial for Sikh identity Jatenderpal is making history in maintaining this in the uniform of a Guardsman.  More on this below.

Secondly, he is making history as a Guardsman but is also continuing a strong lineage of Sikhs who fought for Great Britain.  Historically, Sikh interaction with the British military goes back a long long time:

In 1845 the Sikhs fought Britain during the Sutlej campaign (First Anglo-Sikh War)

In 1847 the Sikhs fought Britain during the Punjab campaign (Second Anglo-Sikh War).  That year, the kingdom of the Sikhs was annexed by the British.

In 1857, Sikhs stood loyal to Britain during the mutiny. If they had not done so India could have fallen out of British hands

During the World Wars Sikhs fought valiantly for Britain in all areas of conflict (more here).

All this is the background to what I call the "special respect" the British had for Sikhs.

Unfortunately, this strong connection and history is lost, sadly over around 50 Sikhs serve in the British Army today.

Above: Sikhs historically served Britain, here some of them are meeting Winston Churchill in Yalta during WW2

Moving on to the turban vs bearskin issue (the title of this post), both are strong rich traditions which should be wholly supported as the highest symbol of respect, discipline and honour.

The bearskin is a tall fur cap worn by Foot Guards, it is an honour they won following their brave heroics at the Battle of Waterloo where they ousted Napoleon's forces.

Today it is worn for ceremonial purposes but is a constant reminder of the valour of those who brought honour upon their regiments.

It is also a symbol of the rich traditions and heritage of the British and the respective Guards units that wear them, providing a poignant backdrop of historic endeavours in an age where we often forget about the service and sacrifices of those who helped make Britain great.
The turban defines a Sikh, above: Trooper Ranny Singh meeting other Sikhs at a Turbanology event

The turban, quiet simply, defines a Sikh.  It is the physical form given to disciples since the creation of the faith by Guru Nanak Dev ji in 1469.  The Sikh Gurus all wore turbans and it denoted their high spirituality.

In wearing a turban a Sikh shows he is independent, distinguishable and a follower of the way of life prescribed by the Sikh Gurus.  This applies equally to women as well as men.

But the key to understanding the turban of the Sikhs is actually the uncut hair is houses - one of the 5 Ks.  In keeping unshorn hair and beards, Sikhs accept the will of God and the humility of maintaining uncut hair gives them discipline and purpose.

The turban is the best way to cover, protect and encase the long hair - and becomes a crown which all Sikhs wear to show they are an independent race.

For an initiated Sikh, wearing a cap or hat is out of the question as it degrades the turban.  Similarly the turban should be tied afresh daily and respected by all by not touching it or mocking it.

So the bearskin represents tradition, duty, honour, history and remembrance.

So the turban stands for identity, spirituality, independence, discipline and selflessness.

Is there any difference between them?  Or do they actually compliment one another because of what they symbolise especially in a modern age.

I hope this short piece will shed some light on why Guardsman Bhullar is wearing his turban and not a bearskin - the key is to respect that he is able to serve in his regiment with his Sikh identity intact.

I truly hope his example inspires many more Brits to work hard and towards the goal of serving their faith and country.

There is more on the significance of Sikh identity in my new book here.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Proud of Jatenderpal

Here's some photos of him on duty ... truly hope it inspired more young men (of all religious backgrounds) to serve their country with pride:

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The First Sikh Scots Guard

The Daily Mail have an article entitled "The Sikh soldier who will be the first to guard Buckingham Palace without a bearskin as he'll be wearing a turban instead".

It's about Jatenderpal Singh Bhullar, a remarkable young man who swapped bricklaying for a career in the British Army.

It's indeed a fantastic success story, one we've followed all the way and featured in our recent film "Slough to Soldier" (below).

When we got to know Jatenderpal for the filming - he told us he wanted to be in the Paras.

He wanted to push himself - and venture into a career path that not many Indians had gone down let alone a Sikh with a full beard!

We urged him on, why shouldn't someone set a goal for themselves and work hard to achieve it?!

It's an inspiration, one which I was certainly touched by and his ambition and drive for success is certainly something which more young people need to have.  

Jatenderpal didn't get into the Paras though because of his run time which was a few seconds below the requirement, but he did into the Scots Guards.  In doing so he became the first Sikh with uncut hair/beard to get into Guards regiment!

I spoke to him after he passed out to congratulate him on this remarkable achievement, and urged him to carry on doing what he was doing because he was not only breaking new ground but representing his faith and community.  

He sent me a picture of himself in his Scots uniform, and it made me proud to think a Sikh such as he had broken new ground - and would go on to do well in that regiment.

I knew he'd make a great soldier and felt pleased about his progress from when we first met and filmed him.

So it's unfortunate to hear he might have some difficulty in his ambition.

BUT I for one have full faith in Jatenderpal's strive to succeed as a soldier - and will be supporting him in every way possible.  

I hope people from the community-at-large will do the same.

Please comment positively on this post so we can convey our best wishes to the first Sikh Guard - may he inspired many others to follow suit!

Monday, 12 November 2012

New Short Film "Sikhs At Sandhurst" Coming Soon...

My first visit to Royal Military Academy Sandhurst was during a research trip in 2011.

It struck me immediately that the rich history of this place - which has produced fine officers for centuries - places Sikhs in a glowing frame.

Quite literally - images of Sikhs in their glorious uniforms line the corridors.  Crests of the various Indian regiments decorate the Indian Memorial room.  A Sikh (and other Indians) appears in a stained-glass window to mark their sacrifices in Afghanistan in 1919.

We ventured back to Sandhurst in 2012 to film with officers and soldiers for the recent "Slough to Soldier" short film series for the British Army, and during that we gathered enough material to edit a new short narrating the connection.

"Sikhs At Sandhurst" tells the tale of the Punjabi Prince who's attendance at the Academy required a special dispensation from the Queen herself.  We look at the records of Prince Victor Duleep Singh with the Sandhurst Collection Curator - and follow the journey of Sikhs who went to Sandhurst and serve their country.

 I'm looking forward to sharing the short film with you soon - it will be uploaded to our main site and embedded here. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

National Memorial Arboretum

Had a fantastic time visiting the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Timely reflection upon all those who have served and sacrificed for Great Britain.

I came across a Jewish memorial at the site - made me think whether the Sikh community should invest in leaving a lasting legacy as well - in memory of all those Sikhs who sacrificed during the World Wars.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Remembrance 2012

We should all by now know the importance of supporting our troops who fight for Great Britain.

I wanted to share this "Khanda Poppy" that British Sikhs have created in an effort to show their solidarity and remember those from their community that also served during the Great War and WW2.

Visit them here:

Lest we forget...

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Saragarhi - 115th anniversary

Today marks the 115th anniversary of the Battle of Saragarhi, where 21 loyal Sikhs stood against thousands of Afghan tribes.

I've contributed to a piece on the NRI blog, which is linked here and copied below

21 Sikhs

Sourav Roy
September 12, 2012
The Battle of Saragarhi is a tale of the incredible valour of 21 soldiers who remained unconquered even in death.
On this day, in the records of military warfare, a tale of bravery was written – when an army of 21 Sikh soldiers, in an isolated communications post, made a gallant stand against an enemy 10,000 strong. Fighting to the last man, they would create a lasting legacy of human bravery and valour on the battlefield. 12th September 1897 was the day when the Battle of Saragarhi was fought.

During the Raj, the British colonial rulers had constructed a series of forts to control the NWFP (North West Frontier Province – today a state in Pakistan) in order to provide security to troops against marauding tribesmen and their lashkars (large body of troops). Most of these forts had initially been built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh as part of the consolidation of the Sikh empire in Punjab, and the British added some more.

Two such forts on the Samana ridge of the Hindukush and Sulaiman ranges were Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan – both situated only a few miles apart. Since these forts were not inter-visible, a signaling relay post called Saragarhi was located mid-way on a cliff to provide visual Morse code signals using a heliograph between them. In 1897 there was a general uprising in the NWFP engineered by the Afghans. The 36th Sikh regimentunder the British army was deployed to protect the Gulistan and Lockhart forts. On the 3rd and 9th September 1897, Orakazai and Afridi lashkars attacked Fort Gulistan but were defeated.

Following their victory, the 36th Sikh troops, while returning from Fort Lockhart stationed 21 of their soldiers at Saragarhi under Havildar Ishar Singh. The Afghan tribes saw this as a golden opportunity, and on 12th September 1897, large hordes of tribesmen attacked Saragarhi. Their strategy was to ensure that no help from Lockhart reached Saragarhi and, after destroying Saragarhi, attack fort Lockhart and Gulistan.

The Commanding Officer of 36th Sikh, Lt. Col. Haughton, was at Fort Lockhart and in communication with the Saragarhi post. He could see from his position that the tribes were numbered around ten to twelve thousand and requested for reinforcements from Headquarters.

Havildar Singh and his men knew well that Saragarhi would fall, because a handful of men in that make-shift post of stones and mud walls with a wooden door could not withstand the onslaught of thousands of tribesmen. The soldiers’ duty was to defend Saragarhi while waiting for reinforcements to arrive.

It must be noted here that the 21 soldiers were not there out of choice, but duty. Now that they were, it was their job to live – and if necessary die – fighting to protect it in the best tradition of their race and regiment.

At Saragarhi, the Afghans made numerous unsuccessful attempts to break open the gate of the post. While they suffered heavy casualties, the defenders too kept dwindling with their depleting ammunition. Without consideration to his safety, Sepoy Gurmukh Singh kept signaling a minute-to-minute account of the Battle from Saragarhi to the Battalion Headquarters. When repeated attacks failed, the Afghans set fire to the surrounding bushes and two of the tribesmen under cover of smoke, managed to make a breach in the wall.

A few soldiers were ordered to deal with this breach. This resulted in weakening of the resistance covering the gate. The Afghans now rushed the gate as well as the breach. Thereafter, one of the finest hand-to-hand fights followed. The handful of trapped men at Fort Lockhart also witnessed this unique saga of heroism and valour unfold at Saragarhi.

After conquering Saragarhi, the tribals set it on fire, while the soldiers lay dead or dying with their ammunition exhausted. Having destroyed Saragarhi, the Afghans turned to Fort Gulistan, but they had been successfully delayed in their progress, and reinforcements arrived in the night of 13th September, before the fort could be conquered.

After the Afghan uprising was suppressed, the Army recaptured Saragarhi. They found 600 bodies – 21 of them were Sikh men in uniforms. It is believed that 4,800 Afghans were wounded in the battle.

When the gallantry of Saragarhi was recounted to the British Parliament, the members gave a standing ovation in tribute to the 21 Indian soldiers. The story was received around the world with awe and admiration. Each of the 21 valiant men of this epic battle were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit Class III by the Queen of England. This award is equivalent to today’s Param Vir Chakra. Never before or since has a body of troops – that is, all of them – won gallantry awards in a single action.

The story of Saragarhi is as heroic as that of the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans fought to the last stand – a large army of Persians. 115 years after the greatest last stand recorded in military history, we would like to believe that Saragarhi is a well-known tale among historians. The truth is – it isn’t. We would love to believe that Saragarhi is studied in military textbooks. The truth is – it isn’t. We would love to believe that, if not the rest of the world, at least Indians from world take pride in Saragarhi. The truth is – tales of Saragarhi are discussed only out of self interest and political motivation – because it sounds honorific. The real message of Saragarhi is long lost.

Among the very few people researching the battle of Saragarhi is Jay Singh-Sohal, who is currently working on a documentary film titled 21 Sikhs. In a recent discussion, Singh-Sohal explains:-
“Saragarhi was forgotten because it was just yet another example of valour and bravery shown by Sikhs during the Raj. The importance of Saragarhi is that as an event it marks a highpoint in what I call ‘the special respect’ the British had for Sikhs during the times of colonial rule. The Sikhs were brave, the Sikhs were loyal – and they would rather die than surrender.
The British recognized this and recruited them in the thousands – sending them all over the world to serve the interests of the crown. Without the Sikhs fighting for the British – it would have been difficult for the British to protect and secure the North West Frontier Province, Hong Kong, Burma. Without Sikhs in East-Africa, Mesopotamia and Gallipoli – the great-war could have been protracted. Without Sikhs in Flanders, the Germans might have reached the ports and the course of history might have been different. I find this history all very inspiring not only because it shines a light into a bygone age but because this respect and high esteem the Sikhs were held in, has been forgotten – my work as a filmmaker is to tell this story. After all, if we don’t who will?”

The Battle of Saragarhi is a tale of the incredible valour of a handful of soldiers who believed in their duty and remained unconquered even in death, with the Sikh war cry ringing from their dying lips in defiance of the foe. You must not and will not be forgotten. Today, on this day, 115 years after your supreme sacrifice – we salute you!

Click HERE if you want to discover more about Sikh military history during the Great War

Monday, 13 August 2012

Slough to Soldier: the full series

We've now released our series of short films about why young people join the British Army.

The film, although not a Sikhs@War series film; is worth sharing here because of the individual stories of the people we follow and the background of why they want to serve their country.

Part 1 is about inspiration, and follows two brothers discovering the hidden history of Sikhs while on a visit to Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst

Part 2 follows Meri Mosharrafa who's friends were hurt in an IED blast in Afghanistan, an event that's pushed her to want to become an Army medic

Part 3 is about Tarnjit Randhawa, a gym instructor who wants to push himself to the limit in the forces

Part 4 features Jatinderpal Singh Bhullar, who is swapping life as a bricklayer for a career in the Paras.  He wants to be the first Sikh to do it.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Where Sikhs Went 1914-18

As we expand our work on telling the story of Sikhs who fought during the Great War - we recognise there are two crucial parts of the history we we need to tell in order to create greater understanding of their deeds.

Where Sikhs served and fought during the conflict and how many there were.

Understanding this is important, in our view, to appreciating the sacrifices Sikhs soldiers made during the conflict.  They were leaving their homes and villages to travel very far overseas, many didn't think they'd return.

To address the first point, we've produced this new short introductory film which will help facilitate greater understanding of the Great War conflict and of the importance of the staunch Sikhs during it.

It concisely shows where Sikhs went as part of the Indian Expeditionary Forces (there were 7 in total).

You can watch it below:

And please do post your thoughts in comments - so we can gauge your opinions of our research and work in bringing this history to mass audiences.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Slough to Soldier trailer

Here's the trailer for our forthcoming short film series "Slough to Soldier: Why I joined the British Army".

We had an amazing experience meeting and filming Sikh officers and raw recruits - and discovering more about the significance of Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst for Sikhs.

The films will be released shortly - will post links here and on our FB page:

All the films will appear on our Youtube page:


Monday, 2 July 2012

Did the Great War allow Sikhs to prosper internationally?

In 1914 – a conflict broke out which would engulf the World in War.

From India, many thousands of Sikhs volunteered to fight for Great Britain.

Most had never stepped outside their villages or towns; but now they were being sent to serve in far flung parts.

Their story is all the more special because where they went – and what they did – ensured the growth and prosperity of the Sikh community all over the world.

The British had found the Sikhs, post-Punjab annexation, to be a community in need of direction.  In 1847, the Sikhs were leaderless and demoralised after the fall of the Sikh Kingdom under Maharaja Duleep Singh.

But what the Sikhs were were good fighters - the Anglo-Sikh Wars were a close fought affair and only favoured the British because of the duplicity of the Dogra brothers and infighting in the court of Lahore.

And so after annexation, the British remobilised the Sikhs under the Punjab Frontier Force and sent them to fight the other menace - the Afghans - in the North West Frontier Province. 

There in Afghanistan, the Sikhs excelled as they have always done as fighters.  And to British eyes the notion of Sikhs as a martial race was once again seen in their loyalty during the India Mutiny of 1857.

So why do we say - that 50 years later with the Great War - the conflict ensured growth and prosperity for Sikhs?

The Sikhs had until 1914, only ever ventured outside the sub-continent for work, study or pleasure.  

Work - Sikh soldiers and civil servants who served the Empire
Pleasure - Sikh raja's who could afford to travel for fun.
Study - the rare few sent to English universities.

The War opened up the possibility of actually living outside of the homeland because Sikhs now got to see what the lands of the ferenghi were actually like.  And they liked it.

Without this the mindset of the Sikhs would not have become more international - and taken risks in uprooting themselves and their families to live in far away places.

I'd like your thoughts on this - please do comment or get in touch.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Two Years Since "Sikhs@War"...

It's now two years since we made and launched our film "Sikhs@War: Jaspal's Story" - would you believe it!

The film follows Jaspal Singh, a teenager from Coventry, as he goes on a journey to discover and narrate the forgotten history of the 100,000 Sikhs who fought and died for Great Britain during the Great War. 

Seeing and learning about the battlefield is all the more personal for Jaspal who has been bullied because he looks different to other young people his age. Sometimes Jaspal feels he would like to cut his hair in order to fit in and not stand out, but he is inspired by stories of his Great Grandfather who fought during the World Wars with his identity intact.

You can watch the full film (for free) here - please share, tweet, facebook etc:

We had the privilege of launching the film in Parliament - hosted by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP QC.  You can view the launch video below:

Two years one - and we might have been a bit quiet on the production front but our research has churned up some interesting facts, one's which we will shortly bring you as we expand the "Sikhs@War" project to cover in depth the history of the Sikhs that fought during the Great War.

Very shortly we will give you an introduction to the theatre's of conflict that Sikhs fought in.

This will be followed by a look at the history of Sikhs at Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and a series of shorts for the British Army about current Sikh recruits (called "Slough to Soldier").

All films are free to view on our website - a growing resource on this subject matter.

All films have been made to progress the understanding of this history.  

So please do share with your friends.

PS - as for Jaspal he's now studying mechanics and doing well in his career!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Sikhs of the Great War

Yesterday we tweeted via our handle @turbanology asking whether anyone had any questions or films they'd like us to make about Sikhs during the World Wars.

Thanks for all you replies.

One comment which struck in our mind was about where and how many Sikhs fought.  It was a very appropriate question to pick out, as the next short film we're making is about just that!

It cannot be overstated that a phenomenal amount of Sikhs fought during WW1 - and it is well documented that despite only being a minuscule % of the Indian population at the time, Sikhs formed a large part of the war effort.

When it comes to numbers, it is a question that needs much research - one which we are currently undertaking.   General Sir Frank Messervy is always quoted, and rightly so, in saying that:

"In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. 

But this is both conflicts combined - what of the Great War?  And what of the different arena's of the Great War?

Well that's the subject of our current research - which we will shortly be sharing with you in the form of a new Kindle book and short film about where Sikhs saw service.

Indian Expeditionary Force A was sent to Flanders which is well known; but fighting involving Sikhs also took place in many other areas.

IEF B and C was sent to East Africa - Sikh units formed part of the Imperial Services Infantry Brigade notably those raised in the Sikh princely state of Kapurthala.

IEF D was sent to Mesopotamia - the largest expeditionary force, it contained many Sikh infantry regiments as well as mixed Punjabi regiments which contained Sikhs.  Later in 1915, Sikhs that fought in Europe were sent to Mesopotamia where the war effort was also very crucial.

IEF E was sent to Sinai, and had the task of securing Jerusalem against the Ottomans

IEF F was sent to Suez with the crucial task of protecting the Suez Canal

IEF G was sent to Gallipoli, where Sikhs fought alongside ANZAC troops

Outside of these arenas, Sikhs were stationed in India, in the North West Frontier Province and in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia which were vitally crucial to British interests.

But again - how many were there?  What units did they belong to?  And what are their stories?

This we will bring to you shortly.

Friday, 15 June 2012

British Sikh Heritage

That raising awareness of Sikh history and heritage in Britain is important, there can be no doubt.

The Sikhs have had more than a century of contact and collaboration with the British - it's something to be proud of and something that ties every Sikh community member today to a rich and prosperous story of successful integration.

It's a story that should make every British Sikh proud - of their faith and identity, of their flag and country.

British travellers saw the splendour of the court of the True Guru - Guru Gobind Singh.

British colonialists witnessed the fall of the Mughal Empire - and rise of Ranjit Singh, Lion of the Punjab.

British expansionists thought long over the declining power of the Sikh State post-Ranjit - eventually fighting two wars with the Sikhs and annexing the Punjab.

And all the while the art the heritage and the stories of those who witnessed these major Sikh events were brought back to Britain by eye witnesses.  Stories of the valour and bravery of the Sikhs permeated every corner of society.

Duleep Singh was the first Sikh to step foot in Britain, albeit after he converted to Christianity.  He lived the life of an English gent  - but perhaps his struggle with his faith at birth and his adopted country broke the boundaries for what future migrants might have to deal with.

As Duleep continued to sport his eastern garbs - including a Turban - as a novelty.  Something which was not lost on the locals.  British officers wore regimental Turbans when leading Sikhs in India, and Sikh soldiers parading in Britain during Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee were welcomed as celebrities.

Throughout this vast history, and the bits in between not mentioned; the story of British Sikh endeavours has been a rich and fruitful one.

One which has inspired many Sikhs today to fight for Great Britain - something I'm grateful to be capturing for a forthcoming mini-series of films for the British Army (below).

One which has seen many Sikhs contribute, across many sectors of our economy, to British prosperity - something we raised during the recent "Turbanology At Vaisakhi" events at Ernst & Young with the event "How Sikhs contribute to prosperity in Britain".

And in appreciating our connected history we get to move forward - as British Sikhs.

In promoting this story to those who don't know we show our pride in the journey our forefathers have made to become successful British Sikhs.

For me, British Sikh history has always been crucial - to know where we are going as a community we must understand where we've come from.  To contribute to the greatness of Britain we must focus on developing our own narrative.

And to be pivotal members of wider society, we must appreciate that which have enabled us to add flavour and colour to British life - and live in accordance with our Guru's principles in a modern western setting.

British Sikh Heritage is not the domain of one man or organisation - or the work of those who's ego or greed see them hogging the agenda for personal gratification.

British Sikh Heritage is the domain of all British Sikhs - one which we should all work at understanding and promoting.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Sandhurst Sikhs

We spent a WHOLE day filming at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for the upcoming short feature series "Slough to Sandhurst."

What we thought would take a few hours ended up being a whole morning and afternoon - there is so much history and heritage at Sandhurst that it's not very easy to do it justice in a short film.  Nor is it simple to combine the stories of so many role models from the BME communities currently serving.

We were there filming with Sikh officers and soldiers (above cameraman Juggy with Capt Sartaj Singh Gogna and recruits) for a new short film series about the various stages people go through to join the British Army - from civvies inspired to serve, to walking through the doors at the recruitment office and signing up, to undertaking medicals, tests, being accepted as 'Soldiers under Training' and going through to Phase 1 training.

At Sandhurst, we filmed two young aspiring officers discovering more about what Sandhurst has to offer - and telling us about what inspired them to want to serve.  They had the opportunity to see the historic buildings - and the history contained in them relating to the British Raj in India.

We were all inspired in particular by Capt Sartaj Singh Gogna (above) an officer with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.  Capt Gogna joined the British Army 12 years ago, what's extraordinary is that he chose to start growing his hair and tie a Turban AFTER he joined.  While most find joining the military difficult with these articles of Sikh faith intact, Capt Gogna described the process of learning that led him to chose to don this very important headdress - and compliment his Officers uniform with a Turban.

We'll feature the interview in the "Slough2Soldier" series.  Our thanks for allowing us to film at Sandhurst to the Protocol Officer L Col Parkinson and the National Army Museum for making use of the display items (about which I will post a separate entry.)

Monday, 14 May 2012

Captain Makand Singh MBE

We had the pleasure of filming with Captain Makand Singh (Royal Logistic Corps) and his family - after his visit to Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE for services to Great Britain.

Captain Singh joined the British Army in 1977 at the age of 17 - when Britain was very different to now - what makes his story all the more fascinating for our upcoming series is that his father was the first Sikh to join an English regiment WITH his Turban and Beard.

It might seem bizarre because of the rich history of Sikhs fighting for Great Britain during the Worlds Wars, but we often forget that turbanned Sikhs who wanted to join mainland UK regiments had to conform to uniform policies at the time which did not make allowances for the Turban and uncut hair.

This was not because of any racist or discriminatory policy but because of the conformity of these units which ensured that all soldiers and officers were the same, in spirit de corps or administration.  It's similar to what US units have been through recently, although they too have now begun to allow Sikhs to maintain their distinct identity.

The British held the Sikhs in high esteem because of the bravery and valour shown during the Anglo-Sikh Wars, WW1 and WW2 - and in far flung parts of Empire.  But never had a Sikh joined a British unit in the UK...

That was until Makand Singh's father - Baldev Singh - applied to join.  He was rejected because he would not cut his hair.  Baldev Singh persisted, taking his case to policymakers - and won - being allowed to serve with his uncut hair.

Without his efforts, Sikhs today would have struggled to serve with their uncut and Turbans intact.  In fact, it is because of Baldev Singh's immovable belief in his Sikh identity that the British Army has developed into such a modern and diverse workforce with a focus on recruiting black and minority ethnic soldiers and officers.

His actions inspired many people, and foremost amongst them is his son Makand Singh - who this blog post celebrates as a role model and inspiration.

Captain Singh spoke very little English when he came to the UK from Malaysia and joined the Army - but he worked his way up becoming well known for his contribution to the forces especially within sports such as Hockey and Kabaddi (which he introduced to the Army).  

After 33 years in the Army - which includes postings to Germany, Belize and Hong Kong - Singh rightly adds the MBE to his achievements which include the prestigious Meritorious Service Medal for his commitment to recruiting members of the BME community.

Our interview with Makand Singh will feature in our new series coming soon - as we delve into what inspires young Sikhs to join and serve their country.  Hearing his answers outside the memorial celebrating the contribution of soldiers from all over Empire has enabled us to appreciate more the sacrifices our forefathers made for Great Britain.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


What inspires Sikhs to join the British Army?

It's a question I'm currently asking a lot of officers and soldiers in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, for our new short film series.

Is it awareness of the Sikh contribution during the Worlds Wars and history with the British?  Or a desire to serve one's country and excel in the military?

If you're Sikh - either thinking of joining or are joining - I'd like your thoughts ... please comment to this post...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

New Film Project

The team at Dot Hyphen Productions has spent the past few months working on bringing the "Turbanology" exhibition to central London in April - now that is over I'm pleased we can move forward with a series of exciting films.

Not to give much away, we've been tasked with looking at the role of Sikhs in the British Army - past and present.  Over the next few months I'll blog about what we're researching and finding.

We started the project, in fact, back in March by filming with a young Sikh from Slough who's joining the Army - and the Parachute Regiment!  Sounds very interesting, but more so when you hear that he is a Sikh with a full beard and wears a Turban!  So how will he cope when the job spec for the Reg is for him to jump out of planes?

We'll let you know soon...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

HMS Sikh E-book on Amazon

Two months after it's release, we've had a fantastic response so far to the e-book version of HMS Sikh - which is available (below) on Kindle via the Amazon store.

The book was originally a research paper I wrote as I explored making a short film for the Sikhs@War project. But the footage never quiet lived up to do the project justice, and so I released my written research first as a short book.

But knowledge should be available for all to access - and it was a defining moment for the Sikhs@War project to release this as an ebook, demand has been high and so too has the thirst for quality research.

Our sales stats have been very healthy indeed, but rather than being about making profit what we've learnt is that this is a new generation of history enthusiasts who want to learn more about the Sikh contribution to the World Wars.

While the HMS Sikh did not have any serving Sikh personnel on board, it was certainly named and launched with the martial race in mind.

With this in mind, we're pursuing our research interests through the Sikhs@War project and will have more ebooks in store soon!