France: On 26 September 2014, the 100 year anniversary of the first Sikhs to land in France to support the British and French troops in 1914 was marked in the city of Marseille, France.
The 3rd Lahore Division landed in Marseille less than six weeks after Britain declared war on Germany in 1914. The local press at the time announced the arrival of “unique stalwarts from the east” and the soldiers were universally welcomed by the French.
The commemorations took place at Marseille’s ‘Monument Aux héros de l’armée d’Orient des terres lointaines’, a memorial built for soldiers of the Eastern Army who died protecting France.
The ceremony included a commemorative prayer and the laying of wreaths by various French, Indian and British dignitaries, including Lieutenant-Colonel Cochet, representing the French Army; Yves Moraine, Mayor of Marseille; and Andre Malrait, Municipal Adjoint to Veteran Affairs. There was also a reading of a Sikh soldier’s letter home followed by a moment of silence.
This took place in the presence of the 1914 Sikh platoon, re-enacting the very regiment that disembarked at Marseille in 1914 on the exact date.
Patron of the 1914 Sikhs campaign Maj Gen Peter Davies said: “When the British Empire declared war on Germany in 1914, the Indian sub-continent answered the call to arms.Over a million men marched from their homes, many landing at Marseilles in order to fight for Britain and to defend France and Belgium from invasion.
“One hundred years on from those first landings, Marseille once again witnessed the sight of Sikh soldiers and commemorated the contribution and sacrifices they made a century ago.”
Despite facing mortars, hand grenades, high explosive shells, rifles and machine guns, many Sikh soldiers used traditional weapons such as the sabre and circular metal throwing weapon known as a quoit.