Guru Nanak Gurdwara commissioned Black Country sculptor Luke Perry to develop the Saragarhi Monument on land close to the temple in Well Lane. City of Wolverhampton Council has agreed to the transfer of land for the statue.
Images of a clay model of the statue give a first impression of how the landmark memorial will look. Over the coming months, the model will be painted in wax and then cast in bronze. The completed statue will stand at 10 feet tall and will be officially unveiled in September next year.
Representatives from the Gurdwara approached the council with their plans for the statue which will commemorate the Battle of Saragarhi, a conflict which took place on 12 September,1897. The conflict saw 21 soldiers from the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Indian Army fight against thousands of Afghan tribesmen.
The battle centered on an outpost in Saragarhi which was surrounded and attacked by the tribesmen. The 21 soldiers inside the outpost chose to fight to the death rather than surrender. A further man, believed to be a Muslim cook who was not enrolled as a solider, also died after choosing to join the battle to defend the outpost.
The conflict is considered by military historians to be one of the greatest last stands in history. Saragarhi Day is commemorated by the Indian Army's 4th battalion of the Sikh regiment every year on 12 September. The statue in Wednesfield is also planned to be unveiled on this date in 2021.
The Saragarhi Monument will be placed on land close to the temple after members of the council’s cabinet resources panel agreed to transfer the council-owned land to the Gurdwara on a 99 year lease, subject to final terms being agreed.
Councillor Jacqueline Sweetman, Cabinet Member for City Assets and Housing at City of Wolverhampton Council, said she was pleased by the transfer of the community asset and by the images of the clay model.
“The latest pictures of the statue look impressive and I am looking forward to seeing the completed memorial. The Saragarhi Monument will be very important to a large number of people,” she said.
“The story of the conflict is a truly remarkable one and the statue will stand as a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of those who lost their lives that day.”
Wednesfield South Councillor Bhupinder Gakhal, who has worked to develop plans for the memorial, described the first look at the statue as very emotional. He said its creation was the thrilling end to a long journey, which dated back to a family trip to India in December 1980 and a calendar spotted on the wall of a bank.
“The picture on the calendar was in black and white, it was of old ruins and Sikh soldiers stood on guard. I was just transfixed on this photo and asked the bank manager what it was about,” he said.
“The bank manager looked at me over his spectacles and said, ‘Son that photo is of Saragarhi it's one of the famous last stands, it's a part of your history research it’ - and research I did.
“I am thrilled that the image I saw in that photograph all those years ago will now be commemorated in this wonderful memorial in Wednesfield for the community to appreciate and for more people to learn about the battle at Saragarhi.”
Sculptor Luke Perry said he believed the statue, which will stand on a six-foot plinth, could be the best he has ever made.
“Each commission that I create is inspired by the people I work with. My inspiration usually comes from the enthusiasm of the brilliant people who the work is about, or those who have drawn my attention to it through their own passion,” he said.
“With artworks like Saragarhi I want to create sculptures that are a visible marker of the under represented but vital, real people in our communities because when you represent people you empower them.
“That power gives people the confidence to make positive change. When you build a monument, you make a statement that has its literal foundations in the bedrock of our nation, these statements are real and permanent."