Written by Jamila Houmadi - 7A Student reporter
On June 19th, 700 students from around Coventry, Rugby and Birmingham, came to the Coventry Belgrade Theatre to celebrate and remember the bravery and sacrifices of Black and Asian soldiers during World War 1. This was an event hosted by BOPA (British Organisation for People of Asian Origin).
By 10am, the hallway of the theatre was packed with students from schools and people from different organisations. We had nearly an hour to scroll along the beautiful and very impressive displays of decommissioned weapons, uniforms, photos, and memorabilia.
We stopped at some displays and talked to the soldiers in their uniforms. We found it very interesting to listen to them enacting as the WW1 soldiers. They explained how the decommissioned weapons were used during the war. We stood still touching the soldiers’ helmets thinking about how the soldiers coped with living in the trenches days and nights…the loneliness…the darkness… the thin line between life and death. We really struggled to think further than that.
We then went around to other stalls to look at the displays. We realised it was a part of the Positive Images Festival in Coventry.
Kian, a student in Year 7, said: “I really liked looking at the old hats and the medical equipment the soldiers had during the war. It was very fascinating comparing what we have now and what we had then”.
11:10 am – It was time for the ceremony.
All of us went into the theatre. We were lucky enough to be seated towards the entrance doors with lots of room for us to move around to take photos.
Back to the happenings on stage….
When thinking about WW1 there must be a common misconception that it was only the British soldiers fighting the Germans, but as many students had just learnt from the speakers, we realised more than 1.5 million Indian soldiers and 55,00 soldiers from Africa fought in World War 1 alongside the British forces. You could sense the silence in the theatre when we were told that 74,000 Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives in the war. The more numbers we heard the more quiet we were…
Then came the talk from Mr Paul Sabapathy, the Lord Lieutenant for the West Midlands. We were told that Mr Sabapathy was appointed Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands in 2007. He is actually the first ever non-white Lord Lieutenant who came to the U.K more than 50 years ago, and had a number of very important jobs before becoming the Lord Lieutenant. He told us he was very proud to be British.
There were two beautiful singers –Ms Bhatia with the song ‘Oneness’, and Ms Tally Koren with two songs: ‘Free Will’ and ‘Two Kisses’. The lyrics of the songs were so true and powerful….We felt all the words from the songs…
As the celebration was coming to an end, Mr Jahan Mahmood – the WW1 and WW2 historian, told us about the impact a bullet had on metal, especially the soldiers’ helmets. He surprised us by showing us the slide of the first British King who wore a ceremonial turban – King George V. Once again we learnt a lot of the bravery and sacrifice of the Asian and African soldiers during the First World War.
We know it is now a hundred years on and warfare must have changed massively. We do not want wars. We want peace. We feel very lucky to be born and brought up in this country – Great Britain. We need to feel proud of the fact that our ancestors fought bravely and sacrificed their lives, without which the peaceful British Society we live in today wouldn’t have been possible.
12:40pm - Children from schools went on stage, and talked about what they have learnt and how they felt about the event.
Selina – our student representing Whitley Academy- reflected:” It was an amazing opportunity. I counted myself lucky that I was chosen to be onstage to represent our school. At first I was nervous, but now I feel glad I attended the BOPA event today. I am very inspired.”
Selina’s thoughts summed up how we all felt on the journey back home…
Thank you to everyone who organised such an inspirational day for us all to learn, enjoy and share together.