Learning objective

To analyse the extent of change in the attitudes of a group of people in the past within a given time period based on a range of evidence.

Learning outcomes

  1. Pupils will have analysed a range of source material about the attitudes of Sikh soldiers between 1914 and 1918.
  2. Pupils will have reached a conclusion about the extent of changing attitudes among Sikh soldiers between 1914 and 1918.
  3. Pupils will have been introduced to the events of the Amritsar Massacre in 1919.

START by displaying Resource Q: Slide 1 which shows the Sikh corporal of the British Indian army featured in Lessons 2 and 3 and Lesson 4.

EXPLAIN to the class that they have so far studied British and German views of Sikh soldiers but that now they will study evidence about how Sikh soldiers saw themselves.

DISPLAY Resource Q: Slide 2 which shows a rare colour photograph of Indian troops (cavalrymen) on the Western Front (the three soldiers with red showing under their turbans are Sikhs).

SWITCH back and forth between the two slides and lead a discussion about which image appears closer to what these soldiers must have actually looked like most of the time. Pupils might suggest the colour photograph because:

  • such images are more immediate than black and white;
  • it makes the soldiers seem less remote;
  • the group photograph was taken on campaign while the single soldier is in parade posture in peacetime around 1910.

REFERRING to the questions on Resource Q: Slide 3 explain that in 1972 an Indian historian interviewed 42 Sikh veterans of the First World War and asked them the following:

  • why they had joined the British Indian Army in the first place;
  • why they had remained in it;
  • what they had thought about the way the British had run it.

ASK pairs within a set time limit to guess what they think Sikh soldiers might have answered to the questions based on what they have studied about Sikh soldiers so far.

DISPLAY Resource Q: Slide 4 which summarises the answers given by the majority of the interviewees.

LEAD a discussion about whether there were differences between the pupils’ original suggestions about how the Sikh veterans might have answered and what they actually said.

DISPLAY Resource Q: Slide 5 which describes what the historian concluded from the results of the interviews.

LEAD a discussion about whether pupils agree with the historian’s conclusions.

PLAY an extract (02:47 to 13:52) from this BBC program ‘Remembrance - The Sikh Story’.

Note: The extract is a good survey of the Sikh contribution to the First World War and includes some footage of a Sikh man arming himself with symbolic weapons and emblems. Be sure not go beyond the end of the extract as this goes on to refer to the post-war Amritsar Massacre which is dealt with later in the lesson.

LEAD a discussion using Resource Q: Slide 4 about whether any information or views expressed in the programme add to our understanding of what motivated Sikhs to volunteer for military service, remain in it and what they thought of the British.

LEAD a discussion about whether pupils agree with the historian’s conclusions and use Resource Q: Slide 6 as a prompt for discussion as to what the programme might add to our knowledge.

GIVE OUT the letters of Sikh soldiers written during the First World War from Resource R.

DISPLAY Resource Q: Slide 7 and allocate some contrasting terms from the list on the slide (allocate differing terms to different groups).

ASK small groups to read all the letters in Resource R and use different colours to highlight phrases or sentences that seem to give evidence of particular terms.

LEAD a discussion about:

  • what these letters overall tell us about how Sikh soldiers saw themselves;
  • how reliable these letters might actually be, taking into account the points on Resource Q: Slide 8.

Note: take care to steer away discussion from reaching the conclusion that the letters are of no use at all because they were subject to British censorship.

GIVE OUT the three veterans’ quotes from Resource S for different individual pupils to read out when asked.

EXPLAIN that the historian who had interviewed Sikh veterans of the First World War in 1972 found out more than was referred to earlier in the lesson.

ASK a pupil to stand up and read out Resource S: Quote 1, then refer to the bullet points (a summary of the historian’s conclusions) on Resource Q: Slide 9.

NOW ask a second pupil to read out Resource S: Quote 2, then refer to the bullet points on Resource Q: Slide 10 and ask a third pupil to read out Resource S: Quote 3.

LEAD a discussion about whether the information and sources that have just been read out prove that:

  • the way Sikh soldiers saw themselves changed between 1914 and 1918;
  • their relationship with the British had changed or was at least starting to change.

EXPLAIN the following details while displaying the slides indicated from Resource Q at the same time:

  • Slide 11 shows a map of Punjab 1909. After the war in 1919 the British feared a revolt and army mutiny in the north Indian province of Punjab. Military law was imposed banning demonstrations although news of the ban did not reach many Indians.
  • Slide 12 shows General Dyer and the Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. On 13 April 1919 near the Golden Temple in Amritsar, General Dyer chose to teach Indians a lesson by deciding to fire on an unarmed crowd gathered in an enclosed area called the Jallianwala Bagh.
  • Slide 13 shows the narrow entrance to the Jallianwala Bagh today. Dyer tried to take machine guns mounted on armoured vehicles into the area but could not fit them through the narrow entrances.
  • Slide 14 shows bullets in a wall at the Jallianwala Bagh. Dyer ordered his Indian troops to fire on the crowd (which included Sikhs) with rifles, killing hundreds of people (the exact figure may have been a thousand).
  • Slide 15 shows a well in the Jallianwala Bagh. Dyer also ordered his troops to aim their fire at the heaviest part of the crowd where people were trying to escape down the narrow exits or by jumping down a well.

This clip from the feature film Gandhi could be shown to illustrate this.

Note: the filmmaker Richard Attenborough chose to portray the Indian nationalist speaker at the demonstration as a Sikh.

LEAD a discussion about the possible effect news of this massacre might have had on Sikh soldiers in the British Indian Army (it shocked the growing home rule movement in India into demanding complete independence and may have encouraged further distrust, suspicion and disaffection towards the British among otherwise loyal Sikh soldiers who had fought bravely during the First World War).

SEE the websites here, here and here for more academic detail on the Amritsar Massacre.