Empire, Faith and War: The Sikhs and World War One

A fascinating exhibition on the contribution of Sikhs (and indeed the Indian Army more generally) to Britain’s war effort has just opened at the Brunei Gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies.  There is imaginative use of archives alongside a broad range of artefacts and audio-visual material.
Sikh exhibition
It has been put together by the UK Punjab Heritage Association and runs to 28 September.  For more information see


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Jesuit Chaplains of the Irish Province

The Irish Jesuit Archives in Dublin has an interesting Flickr site which includes a set of images commemorating the 32 Jesuit chaplains of the Irish Provice who served in World War One.   It is here.

Four Jesuits were killed and two died from illness on active service.  Additionally, ten Irish-born Jesuit chaplains of the English Province served in the war, two died on active service.

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Lascars in World War One

Tower Hill Memorial

The Tower Hill Memorial to sailors of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. (Photograph copyright Basher Eyre)

The contribution of South Asians to the war effort, particularly the Lascars, who served in large numbers in the Merchant Navy, is highlighted in this blog from the Everyday Muslim project in East London.


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World War One at Lambeth Palace Library

Lambeth Palace Library holds considerable archival material relating to the First World War, and to highlight these resources it has produced a Research Guide. The largest body of material is to be found in the papers of Archbishop Davidson, and it covers a huge range of topics, from agricultural work on Sundays to the wartime role of the Church Lads’ Brigade.

The Guide is at  http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/files/first_world_war.pdf

In the coming months Lambeth Palace Library will highlight items from the collections on its blog

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Propaganda and Islam: from The National Archives

The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war in November 1914 posed a great danger for the Allies.  Both Britain and France had empires with substantial Muslim populations and important supply routes and strategic interests were potentially threatened.   The declaration of a jihad against the Allies raised the possibility of mass insurrection.

No such insurrection occurred.  Muslim leaders in French Africa and in the British Empire issued statements of loyalty and the French Government, seeing the propaganda value in publicizing these more widely, published those from West Africa, Algeria, Tunis and Morocco in volume 29 of the Revue du Monde Musulman (December 1914).   In June 1916, the British Government discussed issuing a propaganda volume containing assurances of loyalty from Muslims in Nigeria, the Malay States, Sierra Leone, East Africa and so on (The National Archives, CO 323/719, 520-522) .

However, such statements were not to be relied upon.  A note of caution was added to the file.

Somali loyalty

At about the same time, the British War and Colonial Offices were considering how to use a document that, it was claimed, had been captured by General Smuts’ forces at Moshi (German East Africa) in March 1916 (FO 141/666/2512).  This was in the form of a directive, hostile to Islam, supposedly sent to District Commissioners by Dr Schnee, Governor of German East Africa, in winter 1913.  The document included suggestions that circumcision be banned, preaching in Mosques prohibited and pig-breeding encouraged.

An Arabic translation by the British Directorate of Special Intelligence (MI7) was circulated in Egypt in May 1916 but, unsurprisingly, the British Residency reported back that ‘…in Egypt people generally have been unwilling to believe in its authenticity.  They consider it as a fabrication – and not a very clever one’.  The text was ‘corrected’ by T.E. Lawrence in June but there does not seem to have been any further attempt at general circulation.

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