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‘Commonwealth soldiers’ service in World Wars must be honoured too’

The service of Commonwealth soldiers must be remembered and honoured as the nation prepares to commemorate D-Day, leading voices from the worlds of the military, history, faith and charity have urged.

The call comes as a survey suggested just over half the public thinks the contribution of soldiers from Commonwealth countries in the World Wars is not spoken about enough.

Research for the think tank British Future has shown that greater efforts are needed to raise awareness to “help build a shared sense of identity today”, the organisation’s director Sunder Katwala said.

Of 2,063 adults in Great Britain asked in May in its survey, more than three quarters (77%) agreed it is important for integration today that children are taught in school about this shared history, while 85% agreed all those who fought for Britain in the World Wars should be commemorated regardless of where they came from.

Some 54% said the contribution of Commonwealth soldiers in the World Wars is not talked about as much as it should be, the research by Focaldata showed.

While six in 10 Britons (62%) are aware that large numbers of soldiers from India fought for the Allies in the Second World War, only 35% know about the service of those from Jamaica and just 30% know that Kenyans also fought for Britain, according to the polling.

Less than four in 10 people (38%) said they know that large numbers of Muslim soldiers fought for Britain, it found.

A letter, signed by a former chief of the general staff, leading historians and a Windrush campaigner, has hailed the service of Commonwealth forces for shaping “the multi-ethnic and multi-faith society we share today”.

The letter, printed in the Times, stated that while attention is “rightly” focused on the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the year 1944 also “saw service personnel from across the commonwealth fight important battles all over the world, from Monte Cassino in Italy to Burma and Northern India”.

It said: “The service of Commonwealth forces as part of the British Empire in WW2, from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and beyond, has shaped the multi-ethnic and multi-faith society we share today.

“We should ensure that all who served are honoured – and use the 80th anniversary of VE Day in 2025 to increase public awareness and understanding of every contribution to our shared history.

“Remembrance brings us together in recognition of all who fought and sacrificed for our country. They served together then, so we can and should remember together today.”

Signatories include General Lord Richard Dannatt, chairman of the Normandy Memorial Trust and former chief of the general staff, Mark Atkinson, director general of the Royal British Legion, historians including Professor David Olusoga, Patrick Vernon of the Windrush 100 Network, Dilwar Hussain, chairman of New Horizons in British Islam, Bishop of Leeds Reverend Nick Baines and Sir William Blackburne, chairman of the World Wars Muslim Memorial Trust.

Mr Katwala, also a signatory, said: “Britain’s diversity today owes much to the legacy of Empire, and troops from across that Empire fought alongside British forces in the Second World War. This is shared history, across people from different backgrounds, which we should remember together.

“Most people now know that Indian soldiers fought in the world wars – but fewer know that a third were Muslim or about the contributions of other minority faiths. Raising public awareness, by the time we mark the VE Day anniversary next year, can help build a shared sense of identity today.”