Learning objective

To analyse a range of original sources from one culture as evidence of how some people from it viewed people from another culture.

Learning outcomes

  1. To have analysed a range of British sources dating from the First World War about Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers.
  2. To have identified a range of attitudes evident in British sources and from evidential information about the First World War and Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers.
  3. To have participated in a debate about British attitudes towards Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers during the First World War, referring to specific detail in support of an assertion.
  4. To have reached a balanced conclusion from a range of evidence about how the British viewed Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers during the First World War.

START by setting up the desks in the classroom to roughly resemble a map of the world, with desks pushed together to form land masses. From the list of locations given in Resource H ask individual pupils to stand by desks that correspond to the rough location on ‘the world map’.

HOLD UP a notice with the name of the location on it (Resource H contains a list of labels which could be blown up and copied). Invite suggestions as to how these locations might be linked.

THEN display Resource I: Slide 1 which shows the worldwide locations where Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers fought on behalf of the British Empire between 1914 and 1920.

Note: the locations and dates given on the first slide of Resource I are listed below:

  • Western Front (1914-1918)
  • Italy (1917-1918)
  • Macedonia (1915-1918)
  • Gallipoli (1915-1916)
  • North Africa (1915-1916)
  • Sinai and Palestine (1915-1918)
  • Persia (Iran) (1914-1918)
  • Mesopotamia (1914-1920)
  • South Arabia (1914-1919)
  • North-West Frontier Province (India) (1914-1918)
  • Russia (1918-1919)
  • East Africa (1914-1918)
  • China (1914)

EXPLAIN that these locations represent:

  • campaign theatres of the First World War;
  • campaigns in which Sikhs served as part of the British Indian Army.

EXPLAIN that 18% of the British Indian Army (which numbered around 194,000 combat soldiers in 1914) were Sikhs even though Sikhs only made up around 1% of the population of British India.

SHOW Resource I: Slides 2 and 3 and explain that they show:

  • Slide 2 - celebratory Japanese propaganda of the role of Indian soldiers in the fighting;
  • Slide 3 - the warm welcome Sikh soldiers received in France.

GIVE OUT British propaganda representations of Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers from Resource J1, Resource J2, Resource J3, Resource J4, Resource J5, Resource J6, Resource J7, Resource J8, Resource J9, Resource J10, Resource J11 and Resource J12 for pupils to analyse in small groups.

Note: for effective use in the activities below these should be reduced in size.

FIRST ask each group to look at each source in turn and decide what each artist or journalist wanted British people who saw the pictures or read the newspaper articles to think of Sikh soldiers.

THEN display the list of terms on Resource I: Slide 4 and invite suggestions for how particular words might be supported by reference to particular sources from Resource J.

NEXT, display Resource I: Slide 5 which shows the photograph of a Sikh corporal (naik) of the British Indian Army dating from 1910. Give out a copy of this image from Resource J11 and ask groups to arrange the other sources from Resource J around them, placing the ones they think are more realistic compared to the photograph closest to it, and those that are least realistic further away.

LEAD a discussion about how realistic or not particular sources might be, taking suggestions from different groups and probing their reasoning by asking them to refer to detail within the sources which support that point.

NOW display an enlarged copy of the photograph of the Sikh soldier from 1910 Resource I: Slide 5 and hand out post-it notes to groups. Within a set time ask groups to write down sentences on the notes describing what they think the artists of the sources in Resource J wanted British people to think of Sikh soldiers.

THEN ask individuals to bring up their notes in turn, stick them around the image of the soldier, reading them out to the class as they do so.

TAKING suggestions from individual pupils, agree a single sentence which describes what British people were supposed to think of Sikh soldiers and display this statement for future reference.

LEAD a discussion about what kind of evidence pupils might need to see to prove that:

  • British people did think highly of Sikhs and other Indian soldiers;
  • British propaganda was successful in its aims.

NOW go to this website and display the photograph (which has been presented as a virtual tour with hotspots) showing the treatment of Indian soldiers wounded on the Western Front and sent for care in the Royal Pavilion, a former palace in Brighton.

HIGHLIGHT the hotspots and read these out.

ASK groups to discuss whether these details support or contradict the claim that the British had a positive attitude towards Indian soldiers.

INVITE suggestions from groups, asking pupils to justify their point of view by reference to a detail from the photograph.

NEXT tell some groups that their task will be to try and prove that:

  1. British propaganda was right.
  2. British people did think highly of Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers fighting for the Empire.

Tell the other groups that they will try and prove that:

  1. British propaganda got it wrong.
  2. British people did not think highly of Sikh (and Indian soldiers) after all.

GIVE all groups Resource K1 which summarises British treatment of wounded Sikh (and other Indian soldiers) in Britain during the First World War. Within a set time limit ask groups to:

  • skim and scan the document carefully;
  • highlight details which might prove that British propaganda was right and that the British thought highly of Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers;
  • highlight details which might prove that British propaganda was wrong and that the British did not think highly of Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers;
  • decide which details to use in proving their case;
  • decide how to argue that the groups who disagree with their position are wrong.

SELECT two opposing groups to lead a brief debate and allow pupils from other groups to contribute if they wish. Where necessary intervene to probe pupil understanding of a particular argument or ask them to support a contention by reference to detail from the document.

THEN repeat the above process over several rounds using Resource K2, Resource K3, Resource K4, Resource K5 and Resource K6, which summarise British treatment of, and attitudes towards, Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers during the First World War.

Note: some documents are shorter than others and more than one could be given out at a time. Also, Resource K3 refers to the word ‘nigger’ in the text, which is contained within an illustrative original source showing the racism of some British soldiers towards Indian soldiers.

An additional element of competition could be to shorten the length of reading and preparation time with each round or allow a spokesperson for a group to consult with the members of their group within a limited time before answering a point.

LASTLY give out post-it notes to groups (these should be a different colour than those used previously). Give time for groups to write different statements about what the British thought about Sikhs (and other Indian) soldiers during the First World War, e.g.

‘Sikhs are brave and loyal’


‘Indians are inferior to British people’

NOW ask individuals from each group to come forward and stick their post-it notes on the blown up image from Resource I: Slide 5 of the Sikh soldier and read out each statement as they stick them on.

FINALLY hold a vote in class about whether on balance British propaganda did or did not reflect what British people in general thought about Sikh (and other Indian) soldiers during the First World War.