09 Nov Remembrance: A Day at the National Memorial Arboretum
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
‘Ode of Remembrance’ poem from ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon.
Written by Ava and Lola, Year 8 student reporters
On October 18th at 9:20am, 46 eager pupils (and 3 equally excited teachers) from our school hopped on an incredibly spacious coach and began the journey to the National Memorial Arboretum, located in Staffordshire, West Midlands.
At 10:15 am, when we saw the flowers and monuments in great numbers trundle past our windows, we knew our destination had finally been reached. We stepped off the coach and everyone stared in awe at the colourful flowers of remembrance all around us. After taking in our surroundings, we made our way into the large Visitor Centre building, and we were greeted warmly by the host and General Secretary of BOPA (British Organisation for People of Asian Origin) Mr Davinder Prasad.
After passing a large crowd of people, we were taken into one of the remembrance theatres, where the day’s events were about to start.
The main focus of the day was the special service of remembrance for the massive sacrifice and outstanding bravery of Indian soldiers from different wars, including The Battle of Koregaon in Pune, India (1818), and the First World War. It was not long before we were surrounded by many important figures, including British Armed Forces Officers, the Royal Air Force Officers, the Royal Navy Officers, the internationally well-known Israeli singer Tally Koren, a few Generals and some Lieutenants.
At 11:00am, the event was opened with a message sent by The Queen. It was read by Mr Ian Dudson, Lord Lieutenant for Staffordshire. The Queen’s message highlighted the appreciation of the contribution of the Commonwealth soldiers, and in particular, the sacrifice of the soldiers from the Indian sub-continent. A number of VIP guests were invited to be on stage to greet the audience, including Mr Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor, and the Patron of BOPA, Mr Harmohinder Singh Bhatia.
Afterwards, Tally Koren (an Israeli musical artist who won the London Fringe Award for best singer-songwriter) took us all through a very emotional journey by singing two emotional songs. “Two Kisses”, a touching song about a woman losing her husband to the war, and “Dark Hand, Light Hand”, the winner of last year’s National School Poetry Competition written by a 13-year-old. The whole audience went completely quiet taking in the powerful words from the songs. It really set the mood for the day.
“Kisses on my cheek bring tears to my eyes. A kiss to say Hello then a last Goodbye…” (lyric of the song Two Kisses).
“Peace could be where a rich man helps a poor man, peace could be where all people feed their elders…” (lyric of the song Dark Hand, Light Hand).
Next, Dr Opinderjit Kaur Takhar and Professor Stephen Badsey of Wolverhampton University, passionately talked about the outstanding contribution of the Sikh soldiers during World War 1 and the Battle of Saraghari. You could hear a pin drop in the audience whilst the talk went on.
Do you know that…
The Sikh soldiers were and are renowned for their martial spirit in combats.
Whilst serving for the British Armies, the Sikh soldiers are often known as ‘the black lions’.
In the Battle of Saragarhi (12th Sept. 1897), 21 Sikh soldiers kept on fighting for several hours whilst being surrounded by 10,000 Afghans. They chose to fight instead of surrendering.
In September 1914 , only 6 weeks into the outbreak of the First World War, the Sikh soldiers arrived in Marseille to fight on the Weston Front.
It was now time for a Sikh martial arts display. The performers used real swords and weapons we had never seen before and worked quick on their feet with drums playing in the background. Everything was amazingly thrilling right in front of our eyes! British soldiers in their uniforms were then invited to be part of the performance. The Sikh soldier put on a blindfold and sliced bananas in half the soldiers were holding! The audience was in ore of the happenings!
When the excitement of the performance had quietened down, we listened to a presentation of the Muslim contribution to the First World War 1.
Do you know that…
Around 400,000 Muslim soldiers made up 1/3 of the Indian army of 1.3 million.
The first Victoria Cross was awarded to the Muslim soldier named Khudadad Khan.
The Muslim soldiers were known for their humane ways to treat prisoners of war.
Next on the agenda was a song from Lolly Pain, who had been crowned Miss Derbyshire. Lolly shared with us her support for the British Legion and the Firefighter Service Charities. She also said that her Great Grandfather was a veteran of war and that she came from a mixed Muslim and Christian family background so the day had meant a lot to her. Lolly shared with us the song “Even When It Hurts”. We took in every word.
“Even when the fight seems lost
I’ll praise you
Even when it hurts like hell
I’ll praise you
Even when it makes no sense to sing
Louder then I’ll sing your praise”
Later on in the day, we were even able to listen to the song ‘Bring Him Home’, from ‘Les Miserables’ by Miss Black Country, Alexandra Darby. The song is about the moving story of Jean Valjean in the play, who had to serve 19 years of his life after stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. But we felt the story of broken dreams of young boys; and above all, unrequited love for all human beings. We imagined the figures of young boys running in the trenches who had lied about their ages in order to join the First World War. It was very moving to witness everything happening in front of our eyes.
In another talk from Mr Jay Joshi, we were told about the sacrifice of Hindu soldiers during the First World War.
Do you know that….
Gabar Singh Negi of the Garhwali community was born in Uttarakhand, India. On 10th March 1915, at the age of 19, during an attack on the German position in France, he entered their main trench and drove back the enemy until they were forced to surrender. He was killed during this engagement. Gabar Singh Negi was awarded the Victoria Cross.
By the time the presentations were over, our bellies were growling for food, but we had one more thing to do. Every single person seated in that room rose to their feet and we all sang the National Anthem. We felt a sense of attachment, the connection amongst us and all the soldiers who died so that we may live freely today.
After a quick lunch with spicy curries, naan bread and salad, we made a move to look around the gardens and the monuments of the Memorial Arboretum. We could see many monuments with their own stories to tell.
Not long after, everyone made their way up a long staircase to the Armed Forces Memorial, which has walls that have over 15,000 names engraved on them. They were the names of all the British servicemen who died in wars or terrorist attacks since 1945. No rank, just their service and the years they had sacrificed their lives. There was still one curved wall left for more names. We realised that war is happening now and that it is a very relevant matter to this day and age.
Then sooner than we would have liked, we gathered around where a podium with a microphone had been set up. After a short introduction from Mr Davinder Prasad, we all joined in with prayers from different faith leaders including Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. It was moving to see us all, old and young, different skin colours, from different ethnic backgrounds, standing together and staying silent, listening to the prayers, even though some were spoken in different languages.
At 2:30pm, it was time for pupils to say a few words. Ciaran and Duncan (our Year 10 students), proudly and confidently made their way to the podium and delivered their speech about their trip to the First World War Centenary Battlefields Tour in February 2018. For your information, this trip was funded by the Government and run by the First World War Centenary Battlefields Tour. Ciaran and Duncan spoke of the cemeteries they visited in Somme, France and Ypres, Belgium, and the impact these cemeteries have had on their world views.
Shortly after, we all recited a short poem titled “Ode of Remembrance” from “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon. We then did a minute silence with the Last Post to commemorate the soldiers that died in all wars.
We explored some more of the displays around us. But again sooner than we wanted, we had to divert our attention, this time to get on the bus back home. We had an astonishing, informative day, and it was a very different and practical way of learning about war. Ciaran and Duncan’s words still powerfully resonate in our minds.
“We had completed the journey and had made it home. Unlike so many 100 years ago…”
Our SPECIAL THANKS TO BOPA (British Organisation for People of Asian Origin) and Mr Davinder Prasad.
Thank you for reading our blog.