The spectacular backdrop for a landmark memorial in Wolverhampton which will commemorate the bravery of 19th century Sikh soldiers has been craned into place.

The 8 metre steel plate depicting a mountain range and strategic outposts will form part of the city’s new Saragarhi Monument, which will stand on land in Well Lane in Wednesfield.

Black Country sculptor Luke Perry is creating the memorial, which has been commissioned by Guru Nanak Gurdwara and is the first monument in the UK specifically honouring the fallen soldiers. 

Members of the congregation have undertaken a massive £100,000 fundraising programme for the monument, with donations made by the temple and the project supported by the community. 
City of Wolverhampton Council has also contributed £35,000 towards the memorial after it agreed to transfer land to the Gurdwara on a 99 year lease.

The completed sculpture will include the steel plate with commemorative wording as well as the bronze figure of a Sikh solider. The statue, which is 10 feet tall, will stand on top of a 6 foot plinth and will be officially unveiled on Sunday 12 September.

The memorial commemorates 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 centred 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. 

Councillor Bhupinder Gakhal, Cabinet Member for City Assets and Housing at City of Wolverhampton Council and ward member for Wednesfield South, has worked closely with the Gurdwara to develop plans for the memorial.

He said: “I am delighted to be here to see the steel plate being craned carefully into place. As the memorial progresses, it becomes easier to see what a remarkable and beautiful tribute this will be to those who fought so bravely.

“The steel plate represents the hills and mountains of Saragarhi which formed the backdrop to a truly courageous sacrifice and I know the completed memorial will be very important to a large number of people - in Wednesfield, in Wolverhampton and across the world. 

“The battle is recognised as a famous last stand and I hope this wonderful memorial will encourage more people to learn about what happened and the brotherhood and sense of loyalty shared by those men who fought to the end.”

City of Wolverhampton Council Leader, Councillor Ian Brookfield, said: “I am delighted that the council is able to support this incredible monument to the brave soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the British Indian Army. 

“The statue is also a representation of both the diversity and the togetherness of our city and this is something we hope will be recognised by many visitors who come to see it and pay their respects. We hope to show those visitors what our city has to offer as well as providing a boost to the local Wednesfield economy.”

Sculptor Luke said the backdrop was the first one of its kind he had done for any sculpture and had been cut out by hand to capture the range of hills and mountains at Saragarhi as well as 3 outposts held by the British Indian Army.

“The wording on the panel is in both English and Punjabi – I believe this is one of the first statues in the UK where the fonts are in equal size script. This equality is an important aspect of the memorial and many of the people who see the sculpture will appreciate that significance,” he said.

“In addition, the shape of the hills matches the flow of the letters and creates a presence behind the statue, giving the soldier a frame. Lone statues can sometimes look isolated, this memorial will give a real life context.

“The heritage of our diversity has been overlooked for too long and it's people like Councillor Gakhal and his colleagues whose passion is bringing that history to light for us all, it's an honour to be able to work on such an important piece.”