UK police hunt for vandals who defaced new Indian war memorial

'Lions of the Great War' sculpture
'Lions of the Great War' sculpture

A UK police force on Saturday launched an appeal to arrest vandals who attacked a newly-inaugurated Indian war memorial in the town of Smethwick in the West Midlands region of England.

West Midlands Police said officers are treating the vandalism to the retaining wall surrounding the ‘Lions of the Great War’ sculpture as “racially-aggravated criminal damage”.

The 10-foot high statue, which depicts a Sikh soldier symbolic of the contribution of South Asian soldiers to World War I, was unveiled last Sunday at a spot between the town’s High Street and Tollhouse Way and is believed to have been targeted with graffiti in the early hours of Friday.

“We understand that this attack has caused a lot of concern in the community, and we are working to understand the reasons behind it and identify whoever is responsible,” said Sergeant Bill Gill from the Smethwick Neighbourhood Team of West Midlands Police.

“Officers had already planned to be at the remembrance event which is happening tomorrow (November 11) at the statue. I’d urge anyone with concerns to speak to the officers attending the event,” he said.

He added that CCTV footage is being recovered and officers are working closely with worshippers and management at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, which had commissioned the statue to honour the sacrifices made by South Asian service personnel of all faiths from the Indian subcontinent who fought for Britain in the Great War and other conflicts.

The words “Sepoys no more” were daubed on the base of the sculpture while a thick black line was drawn through the words “Great War”. “Sepoy” was the term used in the British Indian Army for a soldier.

“There was some vandalism to the back wall which is disappointing. The graffiti was cleaned off and the matter reported to the police,” Jatinder Singh, President of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, said in a statement.

He added, “Working with the council, we won’t allow this vandalism to undermine the very strong message created by this new monument and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to its unveiling”.

“What makes this incident particularly distressing, is the complete disregard and lack of respect for the significance of the statue and inscriptions installed recently to commemorate the losses felt by many South Asian families who lost their dear ones during the First World War and to mark 100 years since the end of the Great War,” he said.

The bronze statue was unveiled last week to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in November 1918, also referred to as the ‘Great War’.

The gurudwara donated around £20,000 for the sculpture, with the local Sandwell Council investing in creating the public space with seating and lighting to house the new monument. The inaugural event was attended by hundreds, including Labour Party MP Preet Kaur Gill, the UK’s first female Sikh MP.

“It is an often overlooked fact that one in every six British soldiers was from the Indian subcontinent, making the British Indian Army larger than all the Commonwealth forces that they fought alongside, combined,” the Birmingham Edgbaston MP said in her speech.

“With the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham in 2022, this statue will serve as a timely reminder to our Commonwealth guests of the camaraderie and sacrifice shown by Sikhs throughout the wars, and who sacrificed their lives in defence of democracy and in the fight for freedom,” she said.

Over 74,000 soldiers from undivided India laid down their lives in World War I. This weekend marks a series of events to commemorate the sacrifices of soldiers from around the world who participated in the war effort between 1914 and 1918, as part of the centenary of the Great War.