'Pervasive racism' led to thousands of Commonwealth soldiers being commemorated unequally, according to a report

  • Video report by Ajai Singh.

As many as 350,000 fallen African and Indian soldiers who fought for Britain in the First World War have not been properly commemorated, a report has found.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) was found to have had a culture of pervasive racism which meant that these heroic soldiers who gave their lives were ignored.

But now, descendents of these soldiers are finally able to tell their story in a bid to ensure their relatives are no longer forgotten.

Verinder Singh researched his Great grand Uncle Thakur Singh Credit: ITV Granada

Verinder Singh set out in search of a man whose name hasn't been spoken in more than a century. His great grand uncle Thakur Singh was killed in action during the First World War.

Basra war memorial Credit: Muhammad Al Abdullah

Thakur Singh should have been remembered at the Basra War Memorial in modern day Iraq which commemorates nearly 41,000 soldiers who fought in the Mesopotamian Campaign.

The majority of those who fought in the Campaign were Indian- but many did not have their individual names inscribed on the memorial. 

On realising that he did not have an inscription, Verinder's disappointment was palpable:

"I was so confused - I sent a few emails, asked a few people, and they said 'That is it. That is the plaque.' Only Viceroy Commissioned Officers were named. Anyone with a lower rank is not remembered - you're just a number. 

Plaque at Basra War memorial

Why were so many Commonwealth soldiers asked to give their lives- and then not remembered in death?

The answer - according to a new report by historians and experts - was a culture of "pervasive racism" in which colonial attitudes influenced decision making. 

An injustice the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is now working to put right.

Claire Horton CBE,  Director General of the CWGC said:

She added that the names of any forgotten soldiers will be inscribed on their memorials. 

A task more urgent than ever to Verinder who feels the impact of the past on his present day life. 

"I'm happy with the apology, I welcome the apology, but apology alone is not enough.

"1 in 6 Allied soldiers were Indian - that's a huge sacrifice, and on top of that, they were volunteers, so for people to understand that, that would make me happy. 

"It would mean I wouldn't have to explain myself to people sometimes - why I'm here, how we got here, why I'm not 'going home'. 

"These are the things that affect us in our daily life, the only way we're going to move forward as a community is if we are on the same page, we understand each other.

"We can't understand each other if the truth isn't told."

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was founded on the principle of equality of treatment in death- but the truth remains that too many names are still lost to the sands of time.