by RANVIR SINGH VIRDI & BHUPINDER SINGH HOLLAND
Forli, Italy : On Saturday 13 August, 2011, Sikhs from across the diaspora gathered at the Forli War Cemetery in Italy to inaugurate the first military monument dedicated to the the Sikh warriors who laid down their lives in World War II for the freedom of Europe.
The Sikhs who fought in Forli (1943-45 ) hailed from the 1st, 2nd, 8th, 11th, 15th and 16th Punjab Regiment, Nabha Akal Infantry, 1st Sikh Engineers, 11 Sikh Regiment, 12th and 13th Frontier Force Rifles, Indian Pioneer Corps and English Regiments including King George V's Own Bengal Sappers and Miners, 1st Duke of York Own Cavalry Skinner's Horse ), 6th Duke of Cannaught's Own Lancers (Watson Horse ), Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry and Royal Indian Army Services Corps.352 Sikhs died here, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.
For the liberation of Italy, 5773 British-Indian Soldiers laid down their lives in Italy, of which the majority were Sikhs. Besides Forly, Sikhs also fought in Cassino, Florence, Ravana and Sangro River during World War II.
Both the Montecchio Precalcino Communal Cemetery and the Taranto Town Cemetery Extension also have Samaadhs of a Sikh soldier each on their hallowed grounds.
Dignitaries from Punjab, Europe and across the diaspora graced the occasion of the unveiling of the memorial. The Sikh Sangat and Gurdwaras of Italy joined hands with the Town Hall of Forli to make it a resounding success.
Paul Breyne, Governor of West Vlanderen, the province in which Sikhs fought and defended during World War I; Luc Dehaene, Mayor of Ieper, the city which was defended by the Sikhs and where Chlorine was used in chemical warfare against them, in April 1915; David Symons, Director of Communication & Information, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who mantain all the memorials and Cemeteries of World War I & II in 50 countries; joinded many of our own community leaders on the day.
Stefan Popdimitrov, the sculptor who created the magnificent monument, also attended the ceremony with his wife.
The whole event was transmitted live by the SikhTV and Sangat TV channels.
A Diwan was held in a nearby marquee on the Forli Cemetery grounds. Amongst those honoured included some Italian soldiers who fought alongside Sikh soldiers. Amongst them was a doctor who had tended to the wounded Sikh soldiers. The Mayor of Forly was honored for his tireless service in makingb the memorial possible. Guru ka langar was served..
Finally, an open air Sikh martial-arts show was performed by the highly decorated team of Sikhs from Italy.
The following day, on Sunday, the Gurdwara Sangat Sabha in Terranuova, Arezzo, hosted the guests who had come from far and wide. One of us (Bhupinder Singh Holland) addressed the congregation and shared stories of the Sikh involvement in World War I and ll, reminding all that in the two wars, 83,005 turban-wearing Sikh soldiers made the supreme sacrifie, while a further 109,045 of them were wounded.
The plaque on the monument we left behind, placed by the Sikh Community of Italy, carries a quote from Sir Winston Churchill: "We are today able to live with honour, dignity and independence. In the war, they fought and died for us, wearing the turbans'.
In the words of General Sir Frank Messervy, K.C.S.I., K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., "Finally we that live on can never forget those comrades who, in giving their lives, gave so much that are great and good to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice. May they rest in peace."