Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Sikhs request clearance for take-off

A COLLECTION of historical artefacts at the country's first Sikh history museum looks set to be expanded to recognise Sikhs who flew planes in the first and second world wars.

The National Sikh Heritage Centre and Holocaust Museum opened in Derby in November and not only showcases Sikh history but also looks at the Sikh holocaust, in which more than a million people lost their lives because of their faith.

The museum, which is opposite the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara temple, off Prince's Street, is now planning on expanding its collection to recognise the first Sikhs who flew for the Royal Air Force.

And the people behind the project are hoping to secure a fighter plane flown by Sikh pilots to form the centrepiece of the exhibition. Councillor Ranjit Banwait, a spokesperson for the National Sikh Heritage Centre, said officers from the RAF were due to visit the museum on Wednesday to discuss the plans.

He said: "The RAF Sikh exhibition will be a fantastic expansion on the current museum exhibitions that celebrate the history of Sikhs and their proud contribution in two world wars.

"Through real-life stories it will also promote British Sikh values of patriotism, courage and bravery.

"In time I hope a new generation of British Sikhs, from Derby, will be inspired to join the RAF and become future national heroes just like the first flying Sikhs, making us all proud."

The museum already features a collection of cannon, handheld weapons and coins from the Sikh empire in 18th-century India, plus memorabilia from the time of the British Raj.

The visit by the RAF will include assessment of the suitability of the site for any proposed new artefacts before a final decision.

Mr Banwait added: "It is also a fantastic opportunity for the RAF to work closely with local communities in promoting the RAF to a new generation."

If the plans move forward, the exhibition is set to open in April and the launch will include the showing of a documentary celebrating the lives of the first Sikhs who became decorated fighter pilots in the RAF.

Flying Sikhs: A History of Sikh Fighter Pilots draws on interviews with the last remaining pilots, rare and personal archive materials, and unseen footage.

It pays testimony to the brave and selfless contributions Sikh pilots made and will be shown at the city's Quad.

Pictured are Ranjit Singh and Flight Lieutenant Mal Lavin with a flying helmet at the event, also attended by city councillors. The exhibition was put in place as a tribute to Sikhs who flew and served in the RAF.


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