"The life that I have, Is all that I have, And the life that I have, Is yours.
The love that I have, Of the life that I have, Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have, A rest I shall have. Yet death will be but a pause.
For the peace of my years, In the long green grass, Will be yours and yours and yours."
Leo Marks wrote this poem for a British heroine, Violette Szabo, in World War 2 who won the George Cross for her acts of bravery. A film called ‘Carve Her Name with Pride’ was made promoting her courage. The British and Americans are good at war movies to commemorate and promote values of courage and pride and valour and honour. The words of the poem are for the love of country. Patriotism. So it is with some fury I write this column.
The Commonwealth Memorial Gates outside Buckingham Palace carve with pride the names of all Commonwealth soldiers who won George and Victoria Crosses (the highest honour for valour in war). They were carved with pride thanks to Baroness Shreela Flather – a British Indian woman.
I am furious because a reader of Asian Voice newspaper, Dr Kusoom Vadgama, has attacked the Memorial and the Baroness. She has called it an act of ‘gold medal’ self-promotion by the Baroness. Her claims in the paper have included that the Baroness’s name appears ‘quite prominently’ and the names of Indian heroes ‘are nowhere to be seen easily.’
Well I can tell you I’ve read the names of each of those Indian heroes – prominently carved with pride thanks to the Baroness. And nowhere have I seen the Baroness’s name.
But what really infuriates me, is when Dr Vagdama writes, ‘…at a time when, not Germany, but Britain was India’s enemy…’ My grandfather and great grandfather were in the British Army in the Second World War, fighting the Nazis. So tell me Dr Vagdama as you libel not just an 80 year old Baroness, but every single Indian in the British Army who fought alongside the British, against the Nazis, do you think my family were fighting for the enemy, and that the enemy was Britain in the Second World War?
I know the Baroness. Whilst the British made films to honour their war heroes, you, Dr Vagdama, denigrate yours.
And I tell you this Dr Vagdama; I’d be proud to carve with pride the Baroness’s name on that Memorial. And I’m a Member of Council of those Gates, because those War Heroes need commemorating, because someone, a British Indian, did it, because my family were in the Army and because maybe some of those values will trickle down to me, me, me if I am in some way associated with it – how’s that for self-promotion? And every British Indian should undertake acts of such self-promotion – in so doing they will raise others and themselves – not throw cowardly stones from the side-lines at those who do great things.
So Dr Vagdama, as the sun shines in our British Indian Summer, should you find yourself strolling past the monumental Buckingham Palace, promoting the best of British during the paralymics, pay another visit to the Memorial Gates and know the sun shines a little brighter because of those war heroes, and because someone, not you, carved their names with pride.