Unveiling of Lions of the Great War statue
Published 4th November 2018
A 10-foot high bronze statue of a Sikh soldier was unveiled in Smethwick High Street today (Sunday 4 November) to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War.
The Lions of the Great War statue, which stands on a six-foot granite plinth, is the first full statue of a South Asian First World War soldier in the UK.
Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick commissioned Black Country sculptor Luke Perry to create the statue to honour the sacrifices made by South Asian service personnel of all faiths from the Indian subcontinent who fought for Britain in the Great War and other conflicts.
Millions of men from the Indian subcontinent fought in the two world wars, serving in the British Indian Army. Most never visited the country they were fighting for, yet many sacrificed their lives on the battlefield or afterwards.
The Lions of the Great War statue is sited between High Street and Tollhouse Way, where Sandwell Council has worked with the gurdwara to create a paved public space with seating and lighting as well as improving an adjoining green space.
The site will be also protected by Centenary Fields, run by the national charity Fields in Trust in partnership with The Royal British Legion.
Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick has covered the cost of designing and building the statue.
President of Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick Jatinder Singh said: “We are so proud to be unveiling this memorial to honour the sacrifice of all those brave men who travelled thousands of miles to fight for a country that wasn’t their own. These men volunteered to serve and fought to defend the freedoms we enjoy today. The memorial will ensure that this part is never forgotten. Although Sikhs were less than two per cent of the population, they made up 20 per cent of the British Indian Army in the Great War. The monument makes us feel proud to be Sikh and proud to be British."
Sandwell Council Leader Councillor Steve Eling said: “It’s a very proud moment for Smethwick and Sandwell to see this impressive statue unveiled. Many people from the Indian subcontinent have made Smethwick their home and I hope this contributes to the growing recognition of the sacrifices that servicemen from South Asia and across Commonwealth countries have made for our country.”
Sculptor Luke Perry said: “It is an honour to have been involved in what feels like a very important moment in our nation’s history. The impact of this project is much larger than anyone anticipated. The statue is 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. It will be a striking and permanent marker of the richness of our community and that those who have been under-celebrated are finally getting the recognition they deserve.”
Preet Kaur Gill MP said: “As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs, I want to congratulate Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick and Sandwell Council for recognising and celebrating the significant contribution made by Sikhs in both World War I and II. Sikhs have had a long-established community here in Great Britain for generations. Despite being small in number in British India, Sikhs played an important part in the war making up more than a fifth of the British Indian Army. This statue will serve as a reminder to those Sikh soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defence of democracy and in the fight for freedom.”
Angela Lewis, Head of Programmes at Fields in Trust, said: “I feel privileged I will be one of the first people to see the magnificent Lions of the Great War statue. I would like to thank Sandwell Council and Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick for protecting this space forever as a Centenary Field so future generations will remember the sacrifice made by Sikh and all South Asian communities in the Great War.”