Project Update: Away from the Western Front

Project Update: Away from the Western Front

Copy of First World War postcard published by ‘The Cairo Postcard Trust’, sent home to England (© Lyn Edmonds)

A National Music project and a Creative Writing Competition are part of the Heritage Lottery funded First World War ‘Away from the Western Front’ centenary programme. This aims to increase understanding of what made the conflict into a World War and raise awareness of the often overlooked campaigns in the Balkans, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Africa, Italy and elsewhere.

The Creative Writing Competition invites entries from all age groups. These can be poems or short stories, the main criterion is that they must be inspired by the First World War away from the Western Front.

The winner of each category will receive a £50 book token, with additional prizes for runners up. The deadline for entries is 14th September 2018.

Ideas for possible topics, a flyer and an entry form can all be found on the website:

Recruits in Jamaica 1916 © IWM (Q 52423).jpg (This item is available to be shared and re-used under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence)

The Away from the Western Front National Music Project invites community choirs, musicians, singers and brass bands to perform its new First World War song ‘No Parades’, which has been inspired by the experience of West Indian men who fought in the First World War.

Two battalions of the British West Indies Regiment served in Palestine and Egypt, and at the end of the war they joined the rest of the Regiment in the Italian port of Taranto. After poor treatment by their British officers the soldiers mutinied, demanding equal pay and conditions to the white troops they had served beside for four years. The mutineers were punished and the Regiment disbanded, sent home under guard and barred from the victory parades. The song continues the story:

From the islands and mainland we came

To fight and to show our allegiance

But returned to our homelands in shame

While for some there’ll be honour and glory

The West Indian will have no parades

Musicians, community choirs and brass bands can join the project in two different ways. They can record their performances of ‘No Parades’ by using the score and lyrics freely provided or use the song and accompanying information on the ‘Away from the Western Front’ website to inspire their own compositions. The project will produce a CD of the best performances, as well as promoting the performances through the website and social media.

For more information about how to participate in this exciting project and to listen to a demo of the song please visit or contact

Personal Reflections on the Battle of Saragarhi

Kiran Sahota is a longstanding community partner of the Centre for Hidden Histories. In this guest post, she reflects on how her work on the First World War has inspired her to examine another aspect of history.

Filmmaker Jay Singh Sohal at the Haughton plaque in Uppingham

I recently attended a special screening of Saragarhi: The True Story, in London on the 120th anniversary of the titular battle. The film was made by Captain Jay Singh Sohal who wanted to tell the story of what happened during the battle.

I was not sure what to expect other than being excited to learn about a history I was not familiar with. While my experience of researching Indian military history was limited, my love for learning about this subject was increasing and I wanted to know more about the twenty-one Sikh men who fought with such courage.

Watching the film, I was drawn to the brave sacrifices these men made and how important it is that we learn their story. Furthermore, it was a fascinating insight into a history I did not know existed. My previous research was about Indian soldiers in the First World War and I had assumed that that was the first time that Indian soldiers fought. The film taught me that Indian soldiers took part in battles of which few people are aware.

The battle took place on 12th September 1897. Twenty-one soldiers of the 36th Sikhs (now the 4th battalion of the Sikh Regiment) were attacked by 10,000 Afghan tribesmen in the North-West Frontier Province, which is now named Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and part of Pakistan. The British had built a series of forts. Two of the forts, Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan, were not visible to each other meaning that remote communication was not possible. Saragarhi was therefore created in between as a heliographic communication post. The Afghans were determined to seize control through sheer weight of number.

Sepoy Gurmukh Singh sent signal to the Colonel John Haughton, Commandant of the 36th Sikhs, that they were under attack but Haughton replied that it was impossible for him to send help. The detachment leader, Havildar Ishar Singh, rather than surrender, led his soldiers to fight to the death. The ensuing battle lasted ten hours. As Sepoy Grumukh was dying it is believed that he yelled out a Sikh battle cry “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” which translates to “One will be blessed, who says that God is the ultimate truth”. Each of the 21 Sikhs who sacrificed their lives were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, which was the highest gallantry award which an Indian soldier could receive at the time. The fort was retaken on 14th September, by intensive artillery.

Some of the actors from the film

The Battle of Saragarhi might be an untold story to some, but this battle is definitely not forgotten. The film depicts visits to memorial Saragarhi Gurudwaras in India that were dedicated to the men who died. There is one in Amritsar, located near the Golden Temple, at which the names of the twenty one are engraved onto the walls, highlighting their bravery. This Gurudwara is relatively unknown and many people pass it without knowing its significance. There is also a Saragarhi Gurudwara in Ferozepur. This Gurudwara, which was opened in 1904, is surrounded by cannons and is also engraved with the names of the soldiers. The battle is also commemorated by the armed forces in the UK every year on its anniversary.

Learning this history has been informative, especially for someone from a Sikh background. As a British Indian Sikh woman, I have found a new understanding how these men took pride in the religion and culture and have been given much to think about on the determination that these Sikh men had to protect the land and with such pride and courage.

At the end of the screening Jay took time for question and answers session that allowed to speak in depth about the reason this was an important history to highlight. I really enjoyed the screening and having the opportunity to learn more about the history left in India regarding these soldiers.

The film is now available to buy, as is Jay Singh Sohal’s book, Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle. Screenings of the film are currently taking place. If you are interested in having a screening get in touch with Jay at and you can follow him on Twitter @sikhsatwar

Press Release: Centre for WW1 Internment and Internee Database at Knockaloe

We are delighted to announce that the long-awaited Centre for World War 1 Internment and Internee Database, collating and detailing information on enemy aliens interned in the British Isles, will be will be opening at Knockaloe in Patrick Village on the Isle of Man in Spring 2019. 

George Kenner, German civilian World War I POW, at the Knockaloe internment camp on the Isle of Man PoW Camp, 8 June 1918 (Wikimedia Commons).

Our Community Charity project launched with the website on 17 November 2014, 100 years to the day that the first internee moved into Knockaloe. Our aim being to create a Visitor Centre and interpretation of Knockaloe Internment Camp, and a Database bringing together the stories of the men who lived in our small village 100 years ago.

Over the past three years, we have been focussed on our work of bringing together what is a huge amount of fragmented information about the civilians interned in the British Isles from sources all over the world. We were thrilled to work with Panikos Panayi, Professor of European History at De Montfort University, and have the support of major UK universities via the “Centre for Hidden Histories: Community, Commemoration and the First World War” Project at the University of Nottingham, to develop our initial framework for the database, getting the tens of thousands of internees listed. Our work now is focused on bringing together fragmented information from all over the world to allow us to collate internees’ experience of internment, as well as their movements between camps during their internment.

A phenomenal amount of work has been done by the community, volunteers and grant/donation funded staff and we are delighted to confirm that the “Centre for WW1 Internment” at Knockaloe will be launching in March 2019 with a major event (details to be announced shortly via, its timing to coincide with the centenary of the end of “Knockaloe Internment Camp” whose final internees only departed in the autumn of 1919.


Impact: Uncovering Secret Soldiers at the Military Intelligence Museum

Dr Jim Beach (The University of Northampton) and Joyce Hutton (Archivist) at the Military Intelligence Museum have been working with a team of volunteers associated with the intelligence services in order to excavate the ‘hidden history’ of the Intelligence Corps during World War One.  So who were the Intelligence Corps and what was their role during the conflict?

From August 1914 the British army recruited a miscellany of individuals to its newly-formed Intelligence Corps. Drawing initially upon civilian linguists, the corps evolved from a small collection of well-meaning amateurs of variable quality to a large, well-structured, and professional organisation. By the Armistice its officers and men were shouldering the main weight of Britain’s intelligence work on the fighting fronts.  But the Intelligence Corps in the First World War has been difficult for historians to research. Primarily this is because it was a temporary organisation, with the army deliberately omitting the corps – for security reasons – from key reference documents such as the Army Lists. This problem is further complicated by the fact that the corps constituted only one segment of the army’s intelligence personnel, so many doing intelligence work never belonged to it.  Since the 1960s a number of historians have synthesised the corps’ history between 1914 and 1919, but this has usually been within the context of a broader ‘regimental’ history or general surveys of military intelligence.

Funded by the Centre for Hidden Histories and Everyday Lives in War,  the  ‘Secret Soldiers’ project seeks to contribute a more comprehensive history of the role played by the Intelligence Corps in World War One.  Key aims held by Jim, Joyce and the volunteers are to establish a more accurate estimate of the number of Intelligence Corps officers in this period and to have a more complete record of the organisation’s activities.  Working with ex-Intelligence Corps volunteers on this project has allowed Jim to delve far deeper into this area of history than he thought possible. In an interview in September 2017, Jim noted that the former investigators who work on this project sometimes think through problems associated with the Military History Museum’s collection in a very particular way. For example, if the information cannot be found in one record set, the volunteers are often able to suggest another section of the archive where the information might be discovered.  This is based on their administrative knowledge of how the Intelligence Corps works. In relation to this process, Jim has noted, “What they have shown…is that the information available is of an order that I didn’t think was possible…the depth and quality of the material is way beyond what I would have thought at the beginning.”  For Joyce, the ‘Secret Soldiers’ project is an opportunity to excavate the archives, closely read documents and understand their value within the context of the Museum’s collection.

The Centre for Hidden Histories looks forward to reading the publications that are planned to arise from this fascinating collaboration.  Click here to read about a recent ‘Secret Soldiers’ event held at the University of Northampton in December 2017.


Impact: Exploring the Consequences of WWI in the Middle East with the ‘Beyond Destruction’ Project

Dr Mark Jackson (Newcastle University), Research Associate Niveen Kassem and creative writing cultural organisation, Identity on Tyne, have been funded to uncover hidden histories within the Gertrude Bell Archive about Middle Eastern ethnic minorities during WWI.

The First World War and its aftermath saw the establishment of new nation states after the fall of the Ottoman Empire but this period also resulted in massacres, forced relocation and mass-movements of minorities. A century on, many parts of the region are still a war-zone and minority communities continue to suffer.

Using the Gertrude Bell Archive located at Newcastle University, the Beyond Destruction project engaged members of the minority Iraqi, Christian Assyrian communities from Northern England in their history in Iraq before and after WWI and since in the UK.  Fostering inter-generational dialogue in relation to this history, the project encouraged community discussion of destroyed heritage sites in the Middle East, the importance of the preservation of languages such as Aramaic and Syriac as well as the uncovering of documents in the archive written by Gertrude Bell’s neighbor, Cyril Porter.  Porter was a British Army engineer who was stationed in Iraq between 1914-1918.  He frequently wrote back to his family in Carlisle.  In one of these letters, Porter powerfully described hearing about what would become known as the Armenian genocide from witnesses who managed to survive.  You can access this letter by clicking this link. 

Reflecting on the significance of Centre for Hidden Histories funding for this project, the Beyond Destruction team commented:

“The funding you have provided has been very important to our work with the Middle Eastern communities for whom WWI had radical consequences. We have been able to engage communities from Iraq with Gertrude Bell archives and explore their responses and reading to these histories and how these histories resonate today. We have run successful workshops that provided the communities with the space to explore their voices, memories and identity in the shadow of the past. Our next plan is to reach out for more Middle Eastern communities living in Europe and beyond by developing sample size social media and the internet.”

This blog was co-written by the Beyond Destruction team and Larissa Allwork