Learning objective

To understand how an imperial power successfully recruited its former enemies for military service.

Learning outcomes

  1. To have understood British attitudes towards Sikh soldiers during the first Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46).
  2. To have explained how the British successfully recruited Sikhs for military service between the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46) and the First World War (1914-18), and how British and Sikh attitudes towards each other shifted over time.

START by giving out the images from within Resource A1, Resource A2, Resource A3 and Resource A4 as a set of cards to small groups (the context to each image is provided below). Ask each group to:

  • place the images in a circle on a large piece of paper;
  • draw lines across and between the images linking them together.

NEXT, within a set time limit, ask groups to discuss how particular images might link together and write their suggestions along the lines between the images.

THEN display the same series of images in the PowerPoint from Resource B showing each image in turn, leading a discussion about how a particular image might link to another one.

Note: The aim of this starter activity is to elicit any prior learning that the sight of a particular image might trigger and to gather suggested links between the images, which can be referred to at the end of this stage of the enquiry.

Context of each image from Resources A and B:

Image 1 The Koh-i-noor (Persian for ‘Mountain of Light’) diamond in its original setting. It was confiscated from the Sikh State by the British East India Company after the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849 and subsequently presented to Queen Victoria. In England, it was cut down to almost half its original size in an attempt to make it more attractive to European eyes.

Image 2 A cloth cornflower worn as a symbol of remembrance in France for French soldiers who died during the First World War.

Image 3 A British Victorian print showing Sir Henry Hardinge, British governor-general of India and his officers surveying the battlefield at Ferozeshah (a village in Punjab, North India) on the first night of this crucial battle during the first Anglo-Sikh War in December 1845 when British forces faced defeat. The images show exhausted British soldiers sleeping amid the British dead.

Image 4 The Guru Granth Sahib or holy scriptures of the Sikh religion. It contains poetry written by several of the ten Sikh Gurus. It also contains the devotional writings of Hindu and Muslim saints who expressed the same universal message as the Sikh Gurus. It was first compiled in 1604, the same year that the King James's Bible project had begun in Europe.

Image 5 The sword of the Duke of Wellington previously belonging to Napoleon the First and given by Wellington to Sir Henry Hardinge, British Governor-General of India. Hardinge sent this sword off the battlefield for safe keeping with his son during the Battle of Ferozeshah in 1845 when his forces faced defeat by the Sikh army.

Image 6 A replica of the crown of the late Queen Mother, with the Koh-i-noor diamond set within it. The historic Koh-i-noor diamond was one of the most precious treasures of the Sikh Kingdom, which was taken over by the British East India Company following two battles in 1846 and 1849. From the time of its gift to Queen Victoria it has formed part of the British Crown Jewels and by tradition is only worn by women.

Image 7 The village church at Elveden in Norfolk where the last ruler of the Sikh Kingdom, Maharaja Duleep Singh, was buried in 1893. After his kingdom was annexed by the British he lived in exile on a nearby country estate as an English gentleman. Sikhs from around the world visit his grave to this day.

Image 8 The Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest award for military service. In May 1915 on the Western Front in France, Lieutenant John Smyth, a young British officer commanding Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery. Eight out of the ten Sikh soldiers who volunteered to accompany him on his dangerous mission of delivering bombs across open land were killed or severely wounded. All of the Sikh soldiers in Smyth’s party were also awarded medals.

NEXT display Resource C: Slide 1 which shows a map of the British Indian Empire in 1856. Explain that by 1856 Britain dominated India but that in 1845 its power was challenged by the independent north Indian kingdom of Punjab sometimes known as the Sikh Empire. (Refer to the map of the Sikh Empire from Resource C: Slide 2.)

THEN, while displaying Resource C: Slide 3 (which shows an image of the main Sikh place of worship, the Golden Temple in Amritsar), invite suggestions from pupils about what they may know or remember about Sikhism.

NOW display and discuss the features of Sikhism shown on Resource C: Slide 4 (this could be supplemented by reference to other reliable material on Sikhism).

WHILE displaying Resource C: Slide 5 explain that the 19th century Sikh Empire was built up by the skilful ruler displayed in the image, Maharajah Ranjit Singh (seated on the throne). Explain that he built-up a powerful Sikh army called the Khalsa, expertly trained by European and American mercenaries and armed with European weapons. Explain that after his death in 1839, war broke out between the Sikh Empire and the British in India in December 1845.

NEXT display Resource C: Slide 6 which shows the exhausted British military on the battlefield at Ferozeshah during the first Anglo-Sikh War and explain that on the first day of the battle the British came close to defeat.

NOW give out the documents from within Resource D which include extracts from British accounts of the First Anglo-Sikh War.

Note: The original references within these extracts to the Battle of Ferozepore as it was then known have been altered to Ferozeshah for the sake of consistency - for the historical background on the Anglo-Sikh Wars refer to Resource G.

Set groups time to read the extracts and highlight or underline words or phrases which might help them answer the following questions:

  • What did the British think of themselves during the Anglo-Sikh Wars?
    (i.e. Were they proud of how they fought? Did they think that they were superior to Sikhs? Did they think that they ought to have been superior? Did some British soldiers enjoy being in battle? etc.)

  • What did the British think of their Sikh enemies?
    (i.e. Did they fear them? Did they despise them? Did they admire and respect them? If so why? Did they hate them? Did they pity them? Did they think they think they were cruel? etc.)
    Note: As a form of differentiation pupils could be given a list of different qualities matched to different colours which might indicate how the British felt about Sikh soldiers and the way they fought, e.g. Fear, Hatred, Admiration ,Courage, Loyalty, Strength, Cruelty, etc. Pupils could use these colours to underline words or phrases in the sources which indicate particular qualities.

NEXT display two separate number lines from one to ten on opposite walls of the classroom with one labelled ‘Sikh attitude to the British’ over one number line and ‘British attitude to Sikhs’ over the other number line.

Under the number 1 of each number line put the label ’Complete distrust’ and under the number 10, ’Complete trust’. Ensure that the number tens of both number lines are close to each other. Select a pupil to stand by the number 1 on each number line.

NOW download Resource E1 (or E2 which is a shortened version of the same chronology) and cut it up, giving different paragraphs to fluent readers across the class. Display the PowerPoint from Resource F which shows a series of images, each one accompanying a particular paragraph describing the events of particular years from Resource E1 or Resource E2.

Ask pupils who have been allocated to read particular paragraphs from Resource E to read these out in date order, one by one. As a particular paragraph is being read display the matching image from Resource F.

AFTER each reading set a strict time for pairs of pupils to decide how the events of a particular year might affect British attitudes to the Sikhs and Sikh attitudes to the British.

THEN lead class discussion taking suggestions from pairs in reaching an agreement so the pupil standing on each number line can be instructed to shift backwards or forwards along each one depending on whether the events might lead Sikhs to greater or less trust of the British in a particular year and the British greater or less trust of Sikhs in the same year.

LASTLY give out the sheets of paper that pupils annotated in groups from the lesson starter which noted possible links between the initial images shown to pupils from Resources A and B. Hold a discussion about:

  • how correct pupil’s original suggestions were for how the images linked proved to be;
  • how images actually linked given what pupils have just studied.