First came the Gurkhas, Nepali warriors who fought for the British in the First and Second World Wars. A big campaign last year saw them winning the right to stay in Britain. And that’s the least the British could do to repay their service.
During its rule in the Subcontinent, the British always had preferred ethnicities to fight their wars. The Gurkhas were one. The Pathans, where possible, were another. After the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, the British steered clear of employing Muslims and certain Hindu castes as soldiers.
In the First World War, some claim that Sikhs formed 20 percent of the British army. With its worldwide colonial empire, the British had globalized its fighting force to great effect, and had no qualms about pushing out a steady supply of colonial recruits into battle. The First World War, as we all know, was a war of attrition, a contest about who can throw the most bodies into trenches and into machine gun fire till the guns run out of bullets.
Even after all that fighting for their colonial overlord, it took the Gurkhas many years to win the right to stay. And Sikhs, now, are guarding the Buckingham Palace for the first time.
One of them, Sarvjit Singh, was born in India. A member of Army Air Corps, he said he was excited about the opportunity to guard the queen: “My experience being a Sikh on the queen’s guard is beyond words. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I feel privileged to have this honor.”
Full circle of the globalization of the guards?