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The Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum (raf.mod.uk)
A memorial commemorating the Sikh soldiers who fought with the British Indian Army in the First World War was unveiled by Major General Patrick Sanders CBE DSO, businessman Peter Singh Virdee and the monument’s chairman Jay Singh-Sohal at a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. An ardaas prayer was recited and as well as the sounding of a traditional Sikh war cry, a one minute silence was observed by the guests.
The memorial is the first of its kind in the UK and serves to recognise the Sikh contribution to the British war effort. It was funded via a campaign on the Kickstarter website where more than 200 people from various faiths and backgrounds contributed anywhere between £1 to £1,000 to fund the cause.
Jay Singh-Sohal, the monument’s creator and charity chairman said:
It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have a dedicated memorial which will stand the test of time and attest to future generations the gratitude we have for the sacrifice and valour of our forefathers. This memorial is mindful of our glorious past and will inspire future generations to undertake public service as confident and proud British Sikhs. It is already attracting visitors from abroad, and will be a place of pilgrimage for people from all sections of our society to recall the bravery of a martial race that fought for Britain simply because it was their duty to serve and desire to seek glory in battle against tyranny and oppression.
Remarkably, while the Sikh population of India during the First World War was less than 1% of the total population they constituted around 20% of the British Indian Army. For their heroism, the Sikh soldiers received 29% of all Indian Orders of Merit awarded during the war and 24% of all Indian Distinguished Service Medals.
In July 2015 four Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters of the Indian air force’s No.2 Squadron from Kalaikunda air base travelled to the UK to participate in the Indra Dhanush IV military exercise which commenced on July 21st from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. The four Indian combat aircraft were supported on their deployment to the UK by an Indian Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and a Lockheed Martin C-130J transport aircraft. Additionally an Ilyushin Il-78 “Midas” tanker provided mid-air refuelling for the transit flight and will remained at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire during the duration of the exercise.
The following photographs were contributed to Defence of the Realm by Andy Laing who runs Aviationtrails which looks at different trails across the UK touring air bases past and present. The photos were taken on Tuesday July 28th 2015.
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RAF Typhoons (foreground) and Indian Su-30s (background) (livefistdefence.com)
RAF Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s operating from Estonia on behalf of NATO may be facing down Russian Sukhois over the Baltic but back in the UK Indian Sukhoi Su-30MKIs are sharing the tarmac at RAF Conningsby. Four Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters of the Indian air force’s No.2 Squadron from Kalaikunda air base have travelled to the UK to participate in the Indra Danush IV military exercise which commenced on July 21st from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.
The four Indian combat aircraft were supported on their deployment to the UK by an Indian Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and a Lockheed Martin C-130J transport aircraft. Additionally an Ilyushin Il-78 “Midas” tanker provided mid air refuelling for the transit flight and will remain at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire during the duration of the exercise.
Despite strong traditional ties joint exercises between the RAF and the Indian Air Force have been rare until quite recently with the first Indra Danush exercise taking place in 2006 when a flight of RAF Tornado F.3s from No.43 Squadron travelled to India. The exercise gets its name from an Indian children’s tv show about a group of children that build a robot that becomes possessed by an alien.
It has been a story worthy of a Monty Python sketch. At great expense the Royal Air Force managed to deploy three heavy-lift Chinook helicopters to India in order to conduct rescue operations in neighbouring Nepal which suffered two very powerful earthquakes in April and May 2015 resulting in the deaths of some 8,000 people with hundreds of thousands homeless.
Ready to come to the aid of Nepal the air and ground crews of the three heavylift helicopters found themselves actually forbidden from flying operations over the disaster zone. Left stranded in India the Ministry of Defence finally pulled the plug on the operation and on May 15th they began to be brought home without flying a single mission.
So just what caused the Nepalese to turn away British help? Here are some of the possible reasons;
The official Nepalese reason. The Chinook is a large and powerful aircraft. Its twin main rotors create a large downdraft and it was feared that this downdraft might cause further damage to the already weakened buildings thus endangering more lives. That’s what the Nepalese told the RAF and indeed the world’s press who took an almost bemused approach to the story. There is some truth to these fears and certainly had the aircraft undertaken missions in to Nepal then precautions would have to be taken but this doesn’t explain why the aircraft was refused to fly entirely. The Chinooks could have still moved large amounts of personnel and material around the country in support of the aid effort without coming in to close proximity to the danger zones where they could cause a problem. Interestingly the Nepalese government’s official reason later changed to [No.2].
Another more logical explanation could be that Nepal simply couldn’t handle any more aircraft in its airspace. In the days following the earthquake the international community flooded the tiny country with aircraft and humanitarian aid which actually caused the country’s main airport to shut down for several hours because it physically lacked the space on the tarmac to handle the military and civilian traffic. In an interview with Sky News after the decision to call the helicopters back to the UK was announced the Nepalese Prime Minister explained that this was the real reason the helicopters were refused permission to fly. It does still raise the question of why they didn’t fly any mission at all as surely some situation would have arisen where the Chinooks could have been of use especially as UN aid agencies repeatedly asked for more helicopters during the course of the whole affair.
The Chinese angle.
It has been reported in the west that China became quite anxious about the number of foreign military aircraft and troops operating in Nepal following the earthquake and put pressure on the little country to refuse certain countries from sending any more. Although not confirmed by Chinese or Nepalese sources the recent war of words between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan does support the idea that the Chinese were watching western military operations in Nepal very closely. India too has also been accused of not being happy with the number of foreign militaries in Nepal despite their humanitarian mission.
The prosecution of Lieutenant Colonel Kumar Lama. Some political observers have speculated that Nepal refused the British Chinooks in protest over the trial of Nepalese Army Lieutenant Colonel Kumar Lama at the Old Bailey in London which began in February of this year. Lieutenant Colonel Lama is accused of torturing two Maoist rebels in 2005; accusations he strongly denies. He was arrested in East Sussex in 2013 which soured UK-Nepalese relations as questions over whether Britain had the right to charge him for the crime or not were legitimate. With international law stating that any country can put someone on trial for torture it was decided by the Crown Prosecution Service to go ahead with the trial which is currently adjourned until August. The problem with this theory is that while the Chinooks were barred from flying RAF C-17 Globemaster IIIs and Hercules C.4 cargo aircraft repeatedly flew to the country bringing in supplies and repatriating westerners.
Whatever the real reason for the refusal to allow the Chinooks to fly one question remains above all others and that concerns whether or not the RAF, MoD or Foreign Office ever consulted the Nepalese government before deploying the aircraft in the first place? It is also curious that Britain was the only country who had assets deployed to the region that were refused to use them especially since Britain was one of, if not the, largest suppliers of aid with the UK sending around £65 million worth in the first month after the first earthquake.