Remembering the service of Commonwealth Forces

Earlier in the week a letter published in the Times highlighted that 1944 also “saw service personnel from across the commonwealth fight important battles all over the world, from Monte Cassino in Italy to Burma and Northern India,”.

Signatories included a former Chief of the General Staff and Chief of the Defence Staff; the Director-General of the Royal British Legion (RBL) and leading historians and faith and charity leaders.

The letter also emphasised that the service of commonwealth personnel in the Second World War, in crucial but often less famous battles, must not be overlooked as D-Day 80 was marked.

New Focaldata polling for British Future finds that:

– Six in ten Britons (62%) are aware that large numbers of soldiers from India fought for the Allies in the Second World War but only 35% know about the service of those from Jamaica and just 30% know that Kenyans also fought for Britain.

– Only 38% know that large numbers of Muslim soldiers fought for Britain, yet up to 2.5 million people from pre-partition India fought in WW2, many of them Muslims from present-day Pakistan.

– Some 85% of the public agrees that we should commemorate all those who fought for Britain in the world wars, regardless of where they came from.

– Some 77% of the public agrees it is important for integration today that children are taught in school about this shared history.

– Most of the public (54%) thinks we don’t talk enough about the contribution of soldiers from Commonwealth countries in the World Wars, while just 5% say we talk about it too much.

“We should ensure that all who served are honoured,” the letter says, because “The service of Commonwealth forces as part of the British Empire in WW2… has shaped the multi-ethnic and multi-faith society we share today.”

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:

Britain’s diversity today owes much to the legacy of Empire, and troops from across that Empire fought alongside British forces in the Second World War. This is shared history, across people from different backgrounds, which we should remember together.

Most people now know that Indian soldiers fought in the world wars – but fewer know that a third were Muslim or about the contributions of other minority faiths. Raising public awareness, by the time we mark the VE Day anniversary next year, can help build a shared sense of identity today.

The letter to the Times also mentions: “1944 Victoria Cross roll of honour includes Sikh, Muslim and Hindu soldiers from India, as well as Nepalis from the Gurkha regiments.”

One of those awarded the VC for bravery was Sepoy Kamal Ram of the Indian Army’s Punjab Regiment, fighting at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. Aged just 19, Ram single-handedly took out two enemy machine-gun emplacements that were firing on his Company.

King George VI pinning the Victoria Cross on Sepoy Kamal Ram, 26 July 1944. (Picture Credit IWM(Image credit IWM) King George VI pinning the Victoria Cross on Sepoy Kamal Ram, 26 July 1944