PALACE TRIBUTE TO INDIAN SOLDIERS 

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By FROM AMIT ROY in London
  • Published 28.03.00
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London, March 28 :     The winning design of wrought iron gates which will be erected right outside Buckingham Palace to commemorate the contribution of mainly Indian soldiers in two World Wars, is to be unveiled in London tomorrow. The gates, which will be 20 metres across and attached to four piers, are to be put up at the junction of Hyde Park corner with Constitution Hill, one of the busiest and most prestigious locations in London. The site reflects the importance attached to the contribution made by India in the two World Wars. Many - and not just Indians - have felt this recognition was long overdue. Since India cannot be mentioned in isolation, the names of Pakistan and Bangladesh will also be carved in gold lettering into the piers, although the latter are post-war creations. The piers will also carry the words, Africa and the West Indies, to signify that Britain received help from all her former colonies. However, it was Indian valour which turned the war in Britain's favour at critical moments. The biggest volunteer army known in history was raised in India. At the end of the First World War, 113,743 Indians were reported dead, wounded or missing; by the end of the Second, 36,092 Indians had been killed or were missing, 64,350 were wounded and 79,489 taken prisoner. Yet, until recently, all this was ignored by Britain. The campaign for the memorial gates to remember Indian war dead has been led by, among others, Baroness Shreela Flather, the first Indian woman in the House of Lords. Out of six designs submitted, the one picked was submitted by Liam O'Connor, a 38-year-old London architect. A design by the Bombay architect, Charles Corea, was among those shortlisted. O'Connor said the gates would be hand-made, using age old English techniques of wrought iron work. When erected, the gates would fit in with two other important architectural elements in Hyde Park - Aspley House and the Wellington Arch, built in 1815 and 1828 respectively by Decimus Burton. The three constructions would comprise an "architectural trilogy", he pledged. The concept of the memorial gates is being strongly supported by Prince Charles and his sister, Princess Anne. She said she was surprised when she came across Indian names in a war cemetery in Ethiopia and felt that "it's not before time that somebody has thought of doing something about it". The gates will cost one million pounds, with the expense being met through donations and a grant from the Millennium Commission. Another 700,000 pounds will be used for an educational programme so that British school children are taught about the sacrifices of Indian and other Commonwealth soldiers in their history lessons. Baroness Flather was among many Indians who were offended when a comedian, Bernard Manning, made a racist jibe on television two years ago. He said: "There were no Pakis in Dunkirk" and suggested that Asian troops were not on the frontline during the Second World War. This enraged Lady Flather, who said today: "If I had been in the audience, he wouldn't have got away with it. To the question, where were the Pakis I would have told him, actually, they were a little busy - taking Monte Cassino. The British and the Australian assault failed but we took it." This was a reference to one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War in Europe when Sikh soldiers distinguished themselves by their bravery and military professionalism.