On Thursday 25 May, His Excellency Mr. Y.K. Sinha (High Commissioner of India) was joined by 300 school children and community group members from Leicester at the Arch of Remembrance in Victoria Park for a unique remembrance event dedicated to the Indian Labour Corps of World War One.
At the same time, another special event took place at India Gate in New Delhi attended by Sir Dominic Asquith, British High Commissioner to India. India Gate and the Arch of Remembrance are ‘sister’ memorials designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. There are 1,174 Indian Labour Corps names engraved on India Gate in Delhi, and this event connected the two memorials together for the first time with a powerful remembrance moment.
The Indian High Commissioner laid a wreath in Leicester, and at the same time the British High Commissioner laid a wreath in New Delhi.
Through a live link-up, New Delhi and Leicester shared an exhortation in honour of the Indian Labour Corps, the Last Post played on the sarangi in what is believed to be a world premiere, and a minute of silence was held for the fallen.
City Mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby spoke about the importance of remembering this shared heritage, alongside other dignitaries from the city.
His Excellency Mr. Y.K. Sinha spoke of the Indian Labour Corps: “The contribution made by the Labour Corps is not commemorated very often. As part of the larger Labour Corps in World War One, the Indian Labour Corps made an immense contribution.”
This was accompanied by a rich programme of music and community activities, and attendees held up high the 1,174 Indian Labour Corps names in a powerful act of remembrance.
School children from Moat Community College read aloud an Unremembered Voices archive script with firsthand accounts by Indian Labour Corps men.
Everyone attending was given an Unremembered certificate and a marigold pin – the remembrance flower for India. Marigold ribbons were tied on the fencing around the war memorial with messages written to the Indian Labour Corps.
Workshops in the afternoon for local schools and community members included paper marigold wreath making, creative writing, planting real marigolds in Victoria Park and a visit to Welford Road Cemetery to explore the 18 British Labours Corps buried there.
This event was supported by the High Commission of India in London and the Department for Communities and Local Government, and is dedicated to the sacrifice of the Indian Labour Corps and the many thousands of workers in India’s Army and Merchant Navy who were crucial to the war effort. They served on the Western Front, at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia, in East Africa and Salonika, the Middle East and the North West Frontier.
Today, they are all but forgotten. They served and suffered. Many died. They are The Unremembered.