Remembering Forgotten Heroes

On the Occasion of UN Interfaith Harmony Week, WPOF and the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking joined forces to commemorate soldiers of all faiths who participated in the Great War.  

Remembering forgotten heroes of all faiths


Forgotten Heroes were remembered in Woking on Tuesday 4 February when Shah Jahan Mosque and Woking People of Faith got together to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. It was particularly appropriate as the first week in February had been designated World Interfaith Harmony Week by the United Nations.

Richard Peters (Communications Officer, Guildford Diocese) wrote:

'The event took place at the Shah Jahan Mosque in front of a large audience which included members of the local community of all faiths, representatives of the armed forces and a number of distinguished guests, who included Dame Sarah Goad, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey; Wajid Shamsul Hasan, High Commissioner for Pakistan; Jonathan Lord, MP for Woking; Major-General Stuart Skeates, Commandant of The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, as well as representatives of Woking Borough Council and Surrey County Council.


After a welcome from Somia Shafiq, chairperson of Woking People of Faith and prayers from Imam Hashmi, head imam of the mosque and Bishop Ian Brackley, military historian Jahan Mahmood described the history of the Shah Jahan Mosque and the part played by the Muslim community in the First World War. Hugo Clarke, director of the Curzon Institute, which focuses on addressing issues facing government agencies and public and private sector organisations in their interactions with minority communities, then spoke more broadly on the role of Commonwealth soldiers in the First World War and how this had played a part in accelerating the change from empire to Commonwealth.


Together the two speakers painted a very interesting and largely unknown picture of the Commonwealth contribution to the war effort. In 1914, the united country of India was the prime source of trained soldiers in the empire and the first units arrived on the western front in France as early as September 1914. Over four hundred thousand soldiers in the Indian army were Muslim. In all some 1.2 million from India volunteered to fight, 48,000 were killed or missing in action, 65,000 wounded and the war nearly bankrupted the Indian economy. Soldiers from India won 13,000 gallantry medals and 13 VCs.


Brighton Pavilion, with its oriental architecture became a hospital for wounded Indian soldiers and in 1917 part of Horsell Common, near Woking was designated a Muslim Burial Ground to ensure burials appropriate to Islamic faith and also to off-set German propaganda that Indian soldiers were not being buried according to their religious beliefs.  The site is now a Grade 2 listed and a registered war memorial. However, due to vandalism in the 60’s the bodies of the 27 soldiers were moved to Brookwood Military cemetery and the site became derelict.  With its arches, minarets and domed gateway the burial ground reflects the style of the Shah Jahan Mosque. Plans are underway to renovate the structure and install an Islamic-style peace garden with a memorial stone for the 27 soldiers buried from First and Second World Wars, for visitors to enjoy its tranquillity and learn from the site’s history and heritage.


An address by Brigadier Mark Abraham, chief of staff, Head Quarters Support Command in Aldershot completed the proceedings. He talked about the Army of today, how there are now some 55 different faith sects represented in the Army.  He pointed out that the Army needs to reflect the multi-faith society that we live in, and that the Army is committed to recruiting and supporting more soldiers from more faiths.'


 The event has been very well received. Participants wrote

' It was very informative, interesting and also a great pleasure not only to meet up with several acquaintances but also to meet a number of new people. I believe that event will be the catalyst for engagement in a number of areas, which will prove to be beneficial to all.

 There was lots to ponder, and I came away very encouraged by the work of the Multi Faith team in and around Woking.'


'Well done to you and everyone else involved on organising such an important and memorable event today.  I thought it went extremely well and I was very pleased to be able to attend.


It was great to talk afterwards with such interesting - and distinguished - fellow-guests.  Even as a historian who studied the period at school and university, I learnt a great deal about the contribution of Commonwealth countries and soldiers in the Great War - not only from the official speakers but also from some of the guests talking to me about their family histories.  What amazing stories.'


'Well done! The comments on the day were excellent and the speakers engaged with the audience and I, for one, learnt a great deal about the history of the many nations that served in the army.

It is these events that underline all the good work that WPOF does across the community and makes Woking an example of harmony and shared understanding.'


An outline of the main address can be found below. 

Bishop Ian Brackley and Imam Hashmi open the proceedings with prayer


Distinguished Guests at the ExhibitionDistinguished Guests and Speakers 4th Feb 2014



Outlines of our introductory and main Lectures can be found below: 

First: Introductory Lecture by Jahan Mahmood


Welcome to The Shah Jahan Mosque – 125th Anniversary


PART1: The Mosque was built in 1889 by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner 

Dr Leitner was born to Jewish parents in Hungary

  1.          I.          His father died young , and his mother moved to Istanbul where she re-married a Jewish convert to Christianity
  2.     II.          Leitner studied at madrassah schools attached to the mosques in Istanbul, and by his own account memorised large portions of the Quran.
  3. He came to England aged 17 and attended Kings College London, he was appointed lecturer at19 & by 21 he was professor of Arabic and Islamic Law. At the age of 24 he took up the post of Principle of the Government College Lahore.


Dr Leitner & The Shah Jahan Mosque 

  1.                I.          He returned to England with the purpose of establishing an Oriental Institute.
  2.                  II.          He purchased what had been the Royal Dramatic College, a large Victorian building in Woking
  3.   III.          In 1883 he established an Oriental Institute and with a donation from the Begum Shah Jahan of Bhopal, built England's first built mosque in 1889 – The Shah Jahan Mosque
  4.   IV.          The purpose of the Institute was to enable visiting dignitaries from India to stay and study in culturally sympathetic surroundings. It also enabled Europeans being posted to India to learn the language and culture.
  5.       V.          Interestingly, there is no clear documented evidence that Leitner himself accepted Islam he was none the less an active sympathiser and supporter.
  6.      VI.          After his death the Institute closed down and was sold and the mosque fell into disuse.


Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din 

  1.          I.          At the turn of the 20th Century a visiting Indian lawyer, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, was moved by the neglect of the mosque
  2.     II.          Leitner's son was on the point of selling the mosque. Khwaja took him to court arguing that the Mosque was consecrated ground and enjoyed the same rights and status as a church. He won and as a result was able to purchase the mosque and its grounds for a nominal sum.
  3.         III.          'Amongst one of the early converts was Lord Headley who became a lifelong friend of the Khwaja


Lord Headley

 AKA (Rt. Hon. Sir Rowland George Allanson)

He was a Peer, Statesman, and Author

  1.               I.          Lord Headley was born in 1855, he was Educated in Cambridge and served in the army as a captain and later as Lieut.
  2.                                II.          Lord Headley embraced Islam on 16th November 1913
  3.                 III.          “It is possible some of my friends may imagine that I have been influenced by Muslims; but this is not the cause, for my present convictions are solely the outcome of many years of thought. My actual conversations with educated Muslims on the subject of religion only commenced a few weeks ago, and need I say that I am overjoyed to find that all my theories and conclusions are entirely in accord with Islam.”
  4. “Conversion, according to the Koran, should come out of free choice and spontaneous judgement, and never be attained by means of compulsion.”


Lord Headley on Hajj with Kamal Ud-Din (left) and Abdul Mohy Arab



PART 2: The Western Front and the Shah Jahan Mosque

Centenary Commemorations

  1.          I.          When the King Emperor George V declared war on the Central Powers on 4 August 1914, he did so on behalf of the whole British Empire which meant India was automatically involved.
  2.               II.          At the time India was the only source of trained units that could be immediately sent out to France
  3.     III.          Indian troops arrived in Southern France from late Sept 1914 and were thrown into action around Ypres in late Oct 1914.
  4.      IV.          The first regiment to see active combat was the 129th Baluch regiment, this unit made up of predominantly Muslims from the Frontier and Punjab.


129th Baluch Regiment



From 155k to 1.3 mil Army: Muslim Soldiers ratio and numbers on Western Front?


From ‘The Western Front’ to Brighton Pavilion



Once a former Royal residence, it was sold by Queen Victoria and became a Hospital during the Great War


From Brighton Pavilion to Woking Burial Grounds

 Due to rumours that questioned British attitudes to the Muslim dead, the War Office commissioned a special burial ground. Woking was chosen for its location because of the Shah Jahan Mosque.

The burial ground was built on Horsell Common near to the Mosque. Its arches, minarets and domed gateway reflect the architectural style of the Mosque. Completed in 1917, the burial ground received 19 burials of the Indian army soldiers


The Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking

List of Dead Soldiers



Mahrup Shah, Sepoy 155, 129th Baluch Regiment


 The Shah Jahan Mosque is a landmark building


  • It is of deep historical significance and connects people of many faiths. Whether it be the soldiers buried nearby or the pioneers of this Mosque we can safely conclude Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and indeed Buddhists have all influenced this marvellous institution and the current staff continue the good work of its forebears. I hope all of you will support the Shah Jahan Mosque in its forthcoming projects and programmes this year and in the distant future.

 The Shah Jahan Mosque




Hugo Clarke: Curzon Institute

Presentation Content - Outline

Slide 1 – Title Slide

There is much to learn about the First World War and indeed there is much to argue and debate about.  Now, 100 years after it started we are at a point where there are no longer any survivors but there still remains a lasting memory, not only in our national consciousness but also within our collective community and family consciousness as well.  We are not going to argue the reasons and wherefores of the Great War, there is certainly a time and place for this, but perhaps this is not the moment to start that quest.  The focus of this lecture is to raise awareness of a large part of the First World War that has not been widely understood - The significant contribution made by Commonwealth countries during the Great War.  We are here to commemorate the sacrifice made by brave soldiers from undivided India, the Caribbean, Africa, Australasia and many other nations during one of the most brutal conflicts this world has ever witnessed.  To look at the stories of Khudadad Khan VC, of Walter Tull, a footballing legend and the first black British officer of Colour Sergeant George Williams from Ghana who won the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, and others who fought together, fell together, and together defended the freedoms we enjoy today.

We have forgotten large parts of our history or we have never been taught them.  We have neglected areas which are part of our shared past and our common future.  This lecture is designed to bridge the gap in our collective memories and to broaden our collective understanding of a hugely important part of our history.

Slide 2 – Intro

Whilst the focus of this presentation is on the Commonwealth contribution during the First World War, it is important to remind ourselves of why there was a war in the first place and then to develop that thread into the significant contribution made by Commonwealth countries across the globe.

To that end I will begin by briefly outlining the reasons for the conflict, where the conflict was fought and then look at those who fought from across the Commonwealth.  I will then look at how this affects all of us.

  • European struggle affecting the world.
  • Complex tangle of diplomacy and political maneuvering.
  • 9 million soldiers died - Civilian loss 13 million - Spanish flu killed additional 20 million (approx.) - Total loss of life over 40 million
  • Context - four times population today in Belgium or Portugal, more than total population today of Canada or Poland and two thirds of the population of the United Kingdom.
  • Rapid development in technology and industry.  Military technology leading the way.
  • Introduction of tanks, submarines and airplanes.   Machine guns increasingly efficient, artillery responsible for 60-65% of military casualties and chemical warfare was used on a large scale with such gruesome consequences that many countries vowed never to use it again. 

Slide 3 – Road to War

The language used as we go back in history is uncomfortable for us in the modern day, but it is important we look at the world as it was then to fully understand it.  The world back in 1914 consisted of vast Empires mostly ruled and administered by European Countries.  The British Empire, established from the late 16th century comprised of dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories.  At its height, Britain held sway over one fifth of the world’s population.   

  • Emergence of Germany as a world power
  • Imperialism
  • Militarism
  • Nationalism
  • Alliances -  Triple Entente and Triple Alliance.
  • The Spark - The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Slide 4 – Spark to Bang – 38 Days      

  • Period of 38 days - magnified the spark into a bang affecting the globe.
  • Serbians rejected Austria’s proposals and Austria invaded Serbia.
  • Russia mobilized army placing it on border with Germany and Austria.
  • Germany declared war on Russia and after France mobilized, declared war on France.
  • Germany demanded passage through Belgium and crossed border.
  • Britain declares war on Germany.

Slide 5 – Map Europe.  

  • Geography of Europe in 1914, different to the Europe we know today. 
  • Great Britain, representing the Commonwealth is depicted in light green, whilst the countries allied to the Triple Entente are in darker green whilst the Triple alliance powers are shown in red.

Slide 6 – Map Global.  

  • Struggle in Europe affected the world. 
  • Influence was held by European powers across the world.

Slide 7 – Fronts

  • Eight major areas of operation during the period of 1914-1918. 
  • The Eastern Front, the Italian Front, Africa, the Balkans, Asia, Australasia and Egypt. 

Slide 8 –Belligerents

  • Adversaries and casualty figures.
  • Surface of what the true contribution was. 
  • Top line - UNITED KINGDOM (Great Britain and Commonwealth) does not give due credit to the many Commonwealth countries who contributed so much.

Slide 9 – CC – Contributing countries

  • Close to 80 British dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories that fought . 
  • Soldiers from across Commonwealth.
  • Contributions not just in soldiers - also labour forces, use of deep sea ports, economic assistance, use of trade routes, food production, industrial output or other key necessities were fundamental to sustaining the war effort.
  • Chinese contributed 120,000 for Chinese Labour Corps on Western Front.
  • Strategic effect - economic, material and manpower resources.
  • Support from Home Front.

Slide 10 – Facts and Figures

  • India – 1.5 million volunteers - 140,000 troops on Western Front. Pivotal and essential part of effort. Fought in every major operation.
  • Indian Corps - half attacking force at Battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915, and Lahore Division thrown into the counter-attack at the Second Battle of Ypres in April of the same year.
  • Nearly 700,000 Indian troops then served in the Middle East.
  • Gallipoli - Indian, Gurkha, Australian and New Zealand troops fought side by side.
  • The Indian Corps won 13,000 medals for gallantry including 12 Victoria Crosses. Khudadad Khan won the Corp’s first Victoria Cross.
  • West Indies contributed sugar, rum, oil, lime, cotton, rice, clothing, logwood, airplanes and ambulances as well as £2m.
  • Donations despite economic hardship at home.
  • 15,000 soldiers from the West Indies Regiment served in France, Palestine, Egypt and Italy.  2,500 of them killed or wounded.
  • West Indies won 81 medals for bravery, and 49 mentioned in despatches.
  • 55,000 men from Africa fought and hundreds of thousands of others carried out the vital roles of carriers or auxiliaries.   
  • Contributing African countries included Nigeria, the Gambia, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Zambia, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Nyasaland (now Malawi), Kenya and the Gold Coast (now Ghana).
  • Estimated that 10,000 Africans were killed.  African troops awarded 166 decorations for bravery.


  • Ability of Britain and France to harness vast manpower and economic resources.

SLIDE 11 - The Cost

  • Impact of the First World War was considerable across the world.
  • Some good emerged: Votes for Women, growth of home ownership and Medical advancements – skin graft surgery
  • However: Many countries vying for independence from contribution did not get wish granted for a long time afterwards.
  • Poverty, famine and hardship.
  • India - 47,746 people killed in the war and 65,000 wounded.   
  • Pushed close to bankruptcy.
  • Britain still controlled central Government and held onto key positions within provincial Government.
  • 1919 the Government of India Act introduced.  Act planned for a commission in 1929.
  •  Stimulus for Ghandi's independence movement.
  • Africa - Price of commodities soar - average wage did not match the inflationary increase.   
    • Trade and development declined. 
    • Colonial Governments increased taxes to raise funds for the war effort - deep impact in many communities. 
    • West Indies - Significant event in ongoing process of identity formation in the post-emancipation era of West Indian history.  
    • Stimulated socio-economic, political and psychological change.
    •  Facilitated protest against oppressive and colonial rule.
    • Many returning soldiers subject to race prejudice during and after war.
    • Brought on by the competition for jobs after demobilization.
    • Little preparation for invalids.
    • Excessive bureaucracy for those entitled to benefits or pensions.
    • Spanish Flu pandemic:  3-5% of the world’s population died. 
    • Pandemic hastened by close quarter conditions and massive troop movements from so many countries.
    • 100,000 deaths in Caribbean. Samoa lost 20% of population, Somalia 7%, Tonga 8%, Fiji 5% and Western Samoa had90% of its population affected.  India is believed to have suffered 12.5 million deaths.

Slide 12 – Video

Slide 13 – Case Studies

  • Father arrived in England from Barbados in 1876. 
  • Both parents died when he was very young - raised in orphanage. 
  • Played football for both Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town. 
  • NEXT SLIDE (14)
  • Outbreak of war joined army and sent to France. 
  • Noted by Officers as man with courage and great leadership ability.
  •  Recommended for Officer training, promoting as a Lieutenant in 1917.
  • First black officer in British Army - Served on Western and Italian Front.
  • Mentioned in Dispatches for his gallantry and coolness under fire. 
  • Recommended for a Military Cross - never received. 
  • Killed by machine gun fire on 25 March 1918 and body never found.
  • Pathan from Punjab  - joined for regular pay and chance of honour and glory.
  • Sent by sea to France with regiment of Baluchis.
  • NEXT SLIDE (16)
  • Immediately sent to front to stop German push on strategic ports in both France and Belgium.
  • Outnumbered by 5-1.  Appalling conditions - alien country -under resourced with manpower and armaments.
  • Baluchis pushed back.  Khudadad Khan and machine gun team remained  - only survivor – severely wounded– played dead.
  • Made way back to Regiment.
  • Action of Baluchis ensured no German breakthrough – strategic effect.
  • Awarded Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace, the first Indian to receive Britain’s highest award for valour. 
  • Died, aged 84 in Pakistan.  Several descendants now live in England.
  • Kings African Rifles (KAR)
  • Sudanese soldier with English name.
  • Awarded KAR Distinguished Conduct Medal in East Africa in 1914.
  •  NEXT SLIDE (18)
  • 1915 in the Umba Valley, Colour Sergeant Williams, under heavy enemy fire, extricated remainder of platoon after one officer killed and the other seriously wounded.
  • Personally carried away platoon machine gun after crew killed or wounded.
  • Recommended for Victoria Cross but received Bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal.  War Office did not want Victoria Crosses handed out by Colonial Office.
  • Killed in July 1918.

Slide 19 – What should we Commemorate

  • Commonwealth - Soldiers from countries including India and the West Indies, Australia and Canada. Soldiers such as Khudadad Khan, Walter Tull, George Williams and so many others do not only tell a story of bravery and sacrifice, they also tell a story of men who came together from all corners of the world for a common purpose.
  • SLIDE 20 - Peace - 16 million deaths. Cost of peace and freedom high.
  • Invest in peace.
  • 1922 King George V in Flanders stated: ‘I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.’
  • Slide 21 - Learn - Opportunity for schools and communities of all ages – common past and shared history recognized by nation.
  • Slide 22 - The last Tommy, Tajiq or Tajinder – Having lost living links, now more important, not less, to understand defining part of our history and how it shaped today’s nation.
  • Slide 23 - Sacrifice - Debt to those who fought and who died to protect our way of life.
  • Commonwealth War Graves -  all faiths and backgrounds lying side by side - Khans, Singhs, Johnsons or Smiths.
  • Hundreds of Cemeteries large and small - Tower Hill Memorial – 35,000 dead, Delhi Memorial -13,000, Kingston Military Cemetery -145 and Bulawayo Cemetery - 140. Tiny Cemetery in Northern Namibia that has just 9 graves.  Every single one of them has a story.


Slide 24 – Summary

This effects all of us.  Many of you in this room, would have had Great Grand Fathers, Great Great Uncles or distant Cousins who fought.  Perhaps you may have had Great Grand Mothers, Great Great Aunts or distant Cousins who contributed significantly to the war effort from home.  Though most of us are unaware of this lineage.  We want to develop this interest, to foster the investigative side in us all.  So many of us will have a connection of some kind and that connection can help us to comprehend the sacrifice our forefathers made.  Not only that, it demonstrates the shared heritage that belongs to us all.

This shared heritage is an important part of our national psyche and our culture.  It is something that should not only be commemorated but celebrated.  This is a heritage that was forged during a time when men and women from across the Commonwealth were called on and in answering the call so many made the ultimate sacrifice.

This remembrance is so very poignant now as we approach the run up to commemorating the beginning of the First World War.  It is a time to unite in contemplation on the remarkable stories of those across the globe who served but also it is a time, in unity, for looking forward.

How we commemorate the beginning of the war must reflect a quest rather than pre-empt the answers – just as those who went to war in 1914 did not know what they faced, did not know when or if they would come back home, and were not sure of their own courage.

All of us in this room are writing history, a history that will be shared with future generations to come. It is so important, that now, as we mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War that we develop our understanding of this remarkable and tragic time and that we, as a nation, collectively remember the immense contribution that so many, from so many c0rners of the world made. 

Final Slide (25)

I would like to finish by mentioning that there are some really interesting projects being developed by The National Army Museum, The Imperial War Museum, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and The British Library amongst others.  Many of these projects are trying to establish links between those who fought and those who live in Great Britain today.  One such project I have been deeply impressed by is Never Such Innocence, which is producing a landmark series of events though educational and artistic legacy whilst supporting five military charities. Another brilliant project is being undertaken by the Institute of Education who are taking two pupils and one teacher from every state funded secondary schools on First World War Battlefield Tours over the next four years.  I thoroughly recommend any one interested to look at their websites.  Links to these websites can be found on the Curzon Institute’s website listed here.

UN Interfaith Harmony Week First World War commemorations soldiers of all faiths


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