"Indians in the Trenches" depicts the real life stories of those from the subcontinent who left their villages in 1914 to fight in a faraway land for the first time. The film uses the original letters sent from the trenches of France and Flanders to delve into what the Indian soldiers felt and experienced at different key points during the four-year war.
It’s the first time a Sikh re-enactment has taken place in Britain, and the first time the original writings of those who fought have been enacted and captured on film. Around 126,000 Sikhs fought during the conflict in every arena of the war – from the western front to Mesopotamia; and their contribution is all the more remarkable when considered that despite being only 2% of the Indian population at the time they made up 20% of the fighting force of the British Indian Army.
The letters contain a strong belief of their faith and identity. One Sikh soldier wrote “It was my very good fortune to be engaged in this war. We shall never get such another chance to exalt the name of race, country, ancestors, parents, village and brothers.” while another Sikh remarked “We are fortunate men to have been able to join in this great war. We will do our best to uphold the family traditions and the reputation of our tribe.”
But the experience for the Indians was also very harrowing as they faced the harsh realities of the conflict during the winter of 1914 without proper warm kit. One Sikh soldier remarked “The guns fire all day like the thunder in Sawan. The heaven and earth are indistinguishable and at night there is a regular Diwali festival.”
Speaking about the film, director Jay Singh-Sohal said: "This has been a fantastic way of highlighting the Indian contribution during the war through real life letters and experiences. The Sikh story itself is inspiring because of the overwhelming contribution this small community made to the war effort, and this is reflected in that a quarter of Indian gallantry awards were given to this martial race. It’s something people today should not forget."
This was the first role for aspiring young actor Pavandeep Singh Sandhu (pictured above), who plays the role of cavalrymen Bhaga Singh says: "It’s been a really exciting opportunity to portray this role, especially as Sikhs made such a dramatic impact during the course of the war. It makes me feel proud that our forefathers made this sacrifice. To delve into the psyche of the soldiers enabled me to appreciate what they went through – and be inspired by it.”
The film is being released on the online film site www.sikhsatwar.info and broadcast on British television as part of efforts to raise awareness during the centenary commemorations of World War One.
The team will then be working alongside members of the Armed Forces to create a national memorial to remember the sacrifices of Sikh soldiers.