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Indian Soldiers in WW1
Chattri Group Grant Award


This year's India Gate Commemoration Ceremony for the brave soldiers of Undivided India was the biggest yet.

The ceremony at the India Gate was in honour of the Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton Pavilion and elsewhere in the city during World War One, and concluded with the unveiling of a Blue Plaque to VC Holder Mir Dast, for his bravery.

Standard bearers provided by the Royal British Legion and a guard of honour from the Sussex Army Cadets ensured this solemn occasion was accorded the dignity it deserved.

There were twenty wreath layers - more than in any previous year - representing community organisations such as the Gujarati and Punjabi Societies, the uniformed services, both British and Indian, local Members of Parliament, heritage associations and local dignitaries.

The location of the Blue Plaque on Pavilion Buildings, only yards from India Gate itself, the southern entrance to the Royal Pavilion, meant that the act of remembrance and the plaque unveiling were part of one and the same event.

The pomp seemed to attract plenty of visitors and Pavilion Gardens was so jammed with people, that people wanting to get from Pavilion Gardens to North Street had to filter through in single file!

Davinder Dhillon, as organiser and Chairman of the Chattri Memorial Group, who holds the annual Chattri Service in honour of the Indian soldiers who died in Brighton whilst fighting on the Western Front, was also responsible for the Mir Dast Blue Plaque application. He opened the event referring to the "loyalty, determination, courage, discipline and faith...in a war not of their own making." of the brave Indian volunteers.

 As he pointed out in his address, "by November 1914, 30% of British forces on the Western Front were Indian." Their achievement was of key importance - the Indians "stopped the enemy from breaking through the lines to the Channel Ports, thus helping to avoid defeat".

This vital contribution to history was for a long time forgotten. But in recent years it has been unearthed, and through the annual commemorations held in June at the Chattri Memorial and the Dr Blighty events of the 2016 Brighton Fringe Festival have meant that the Indians' stories are becoming recognised for the first time for nearly one hundred years.

The Mir Dast Plaque unveiling served to underline the link.

Duncan Cameron of the Blue Plaque Committee reminded the audience of Mir Dast's great bravery in risking his life over a period of hours in order to save the lives of officers and men stranded wounded and gassed in No-Man’s-Land during the Battle of Ypres.

The Blue Plaque was unveiled by the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex, Peter Field. The audience also heard speeches by the Mayor of the City, Cllr Pete West and the guest of honour, the Deputy High Commissioner of India, Dr Virander Paul. They both underlined and reminded the audience of the vital contribution the British Indian Forces made to the eventual outcome of the First World War. And quite rightly both alluded to the courage displayed by the soldiers in a devastating war.

Dr Paul also mentioned the enduring partnerships between India and Britain, and it is worth remembering that the Mir Dast plaque is the first of its kind in Brighton and Hove to someone of Asian-Indian origin in a city known for the diversity of its multicultural population.

Duncan Cameron

Photos of the event



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