Lest We Forget | Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar column

This morning as a council we marked Armistice Day with a civic service as we do every year, this will be followed up with the annual Remembrance Service on Sunday at the Peace Gardens.

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th November 2021, 4:12 pm
Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar

An opportunity to remember those who served their country and made the ultimate sacrifice so we could enjoy our freedoms.

The Remembrance Service is an opportunity to reflect not only on those who served in both World Wars but also all conflicts around the world since and to remember those who lost their lives.

Over recent years I have come across many stories that have been truly inspirational and heroic including of Muslims who risked their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust, the volunteers from the Caribbean during World War Two and the role of Asian soldiers in the fight against Nazi Germany.

An often-overlooked fact is that the vast majority of the three million men from Britain's Empire who served in World War One were the one and half million Indians who volunteered and took to the battlefields in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Over 74,000 Hindu, Sikh and Muslim men from what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who lost their lives.

While the contribution of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand is well documented, particularly in the battle at Gallipoli, the participation of non-white servicemen from Britain’s Empire is not.

During World War Two when India was well on the way to Independence the British Indian Army had the largest volunteer Army in history numbering approximately two and a half million.

Our history books didn’t cover this when I was at school, but it is encouraging to see these stories told as schools move towards a more culturally inclusive curriculum.

When commemorating the centenary of the start of World War One in 2014, Burnley and Pendle schools ran an Arts project through Lancashire libraries and I came across the story of Khudadad Khan, the first British Indian soldier to become the recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Khudadad Khan was born in Punjab in current day Pakistan and in 1914 at the age of 26 was sent to the Western Front during the First World War where he fought gallantly despite being badly wounded.

Thanks to his bravery, the German Army were prevented from reaching vital ports; Khan was awarded the Victoria Cross. He died in 1971 and is buried in Mandi Bahauddin. His Victoria Cross is on display at his ancestral home in Chakwal, Pakistan.

As a council we are proud of the support we provide for our Armed Forces and veterans.

Later this month I will be accompanying officers to collect an award along with Healthier Heroes CIC, where we will receive the Employer Recognition Scheme Gold Award for outstanding support towards the Armed Forces community.

This is the highest badge of honour, awarded to those that employ and support those who serve, veterans and their families.

Another proud moment for Burnley.