School pupils are highlighting the contribution of black and Asian people during the Second World War ahead of Remembrance Day by uncovering the stories of servicemen and women of colour.
Students at two secondary schools in diverse areas of Rochdale and east London undertook a project called ‘Remember Together’ with the charity British Future to “help make Remembrance an inclusive moment that brings people together”.
The pupils at Falinge Park High School in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, and Eden Girls’ School Waltham Forest, a Muslim girls’ school in east London, appealed to local people to come forward with their family stories of relatives who served in the Second World War.
They then interviewed the descendants of these veterans and documented their stories.
More than 2.5 million soldiers from pre-partition India – what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – served alongside servicemen and women from Africa, the Caribbean and other Commonwealth nations in the Second World War.
Amin Janjua from Rochdale, interviewed for the project about his father Fazal Karim, said: “I’m glad you’ve given me the chance to show to the world that our people, my dad, they fought for their lives, for Britain. They’re the Pride of Britain, those Commonwealth soldiers.”
Dr Avaes Mohammad, a teacher at Eden Girls School, said that until they did the project “some students didn’t know that they had a great-grandparent who fought in the war”.
“It’s made them think about their history, and why we pause to remember it each November. And I think it’s made them think differently about their identity too,” he added.
Maimunatu, a pupil at Eden Girls School, said: “Lots of people still don’t know about the millions of soldiers from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean who fought for Britain. I’d like other people to know that our great-grandfathers served alongside theirs. It means remembrance is something for all of us.”
And Ahsan, a student at Falinge Park High School, said “Everyone is more connected to the Second World War than we thought. Now I know that it wasn’t just white British people, it was all of us.”
Steve Ballinger, communications director of British Future, said the charity wanted to see the scheme “rolled out in schools across the country”.
“We hear a lot about how commemorating our history is difficult and divisive,” he said. “But it can also bring people together – especially when we think about the history that is shared by people from different backgrounds.”
“Remember Together aims to make our national tradition of Remembrance feel relevant and inclusive to everybody in Britain today.”
Adil Javed from Rochdale, speaking about his grandfather Muhammad Sadiq Malik Qadri, who fought in Burma during the Second World War, said: “I just feel really proud. I’ve got a real sense of belonging, a real sense of identity, because of him – I’ve got a great sense that I belong in this country because I know I’ve got a right to be here – my grandfather fought in a war.”
Shaukat Hussain from East London, speaking about his father who served in North Africa and Italy, said: “I grew up in this country and it was always that refrain of ‘You’re not English, you don’t belong here’. Well, my father fought for this country – how can I not belong here?”