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Rare exhibit highlights India’s contributions to WWI

13 Nov, 2014
An exhibit detailing the little-known story of India’s contributions during WW1 drew a large crowd to SFU’s Surrey campus on Nov. 10. 
 
Creator and Surrey historian Steven Purewal has spent many years tracing the history, including the pivotal role of Sikh soldiers in the war, and hopes to share the story across Canada. 
 
More than 50 Surrey school teachers also joined in a workshop on campus aimed at developing lesson plans focusing on the story. 
 
The campus also hosted a special presentation on The India Army and the Great War, featuring Major Gordon Corrigan, author of Sepoys in the Trenches: The Indian Corps on the Western Front 1914 -15. An internationally known war historian, Corrigan is a former officer of the Royal Gurkha rifles. 
 
“As part of the war effort, South Asians made a significant contribution, and today, communities across Canada have little or no knowledge of the role India played and its shared history with Canadian counterparts,” said Purewal. “These are the ties that bind; it is a common heritage we can build upon.”
 
“It’s fitting that SFU is helping to raise awareness and bring this story closer to the community,” says SFU Surrey campus Executive Director Steve Dooley. “We will also be working on developing curriculum to tell the story in a formal educational setting, so that its relevance in WW1 history is not lost.”
 
Said SFU historian John Craig, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences: “It is important to remember that the terrible conflict of the First World War was a global war of empires. The events of the 20th century dismantled those empires but political change doesn't wipe out the importance of the experiences and memories of war.
 
“The story of the Indian regiments of the British Army is a particularly telling instance of this. At the time they fought for a sovereign and cause common to Canada and the Commonwealth, with a cheerfulness, industry and sacrifice equal to any of the Dominions of Britain.”
 
The founder of the non-profit society Indus Media Foundation Canada, Purewal plans to work with SFU and community groups to promote the Indian WW1 story among young people in schools across the country.
 
BC Minister of Advanced Education Amrik Virk also attended the event. The provincial government contributed to the exhibit's development.