Westminster Service Honours Parsi/Irani Soldiers in United Kingdom

A service was held in remembrance of the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Somme 1916-2016. Many Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives during this devastating war and 19 Parsi soldiers died on the battlefield of Somme.

This article by FIROZA PUNTHAKEY MISTREE appeared first in the Jam-E-Jamshed and was forwarded to us via email by Rusi Dalal

sohrab_dalal

On July 1, the British Government was set to hold a full service at Westminster Abbey to commemorate lives lost and the unparalleled courage shown, by those who fought at the Battle of Somme in France during World War I.

Few know, that in this terrible battle, a million soldiers died fighting in service of their country. Many Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives during this devastating war and 19 Parsi soldiers lost their lives on the battlefield of Somme. The Parsi Battalion was the only fighting force in British India that was granted the same status as the British army.

But it all seemed to be so far out in time and place that one paid little attention to the upcoming event. Then, quite out of the blue, I received an email from Col. Sohrab Rusi Dalal (son of Rusi and Roshan Dalal, ZTFE, UK). He was invited to participate and read a passage at the National Remembrance service to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Somme, at Westminster Abbey.

Col. Dalal wanted a passage, a letter or a write up that he could read on the Parsis to mark their presence at the battle of Somme.I knew of only one person who had compiled and chronicled the history of Parsi Irani soldiers who gave their lives in World War I. I turned to Marzban J. Giara’s recently published book, The Contribution of the Parsi Community during the First World War (1914-1918).

There I discovered the names of the Parsi Irani soldiers who fought in the many theatres of the Great War, the most hallowed being the battlefield of Somme. In the book compiled by Giara I found just what I wanted, a moving poem addressed to “Ye sons of Zal and Rustam” a reference to the great warriors in the epic poem, Shahname.

The poem, composed by the eminent Parsi scholar and author Rustom B. Paymaster, and found in his book The Voice of the East on The Great War was published by Giara in his book.

Giara is a determined chronicler of community history and heritage and we thank him for it and the Sorabji Burjorji Garda College Trust Navsari that sponsored the book.

This poem in honour of the Parsi Irani soldiers, was read by Col. Sohrab Rusi Dalal and was the first of 39 pieces read out at the Westminster Abbey service, a moving tribute of remembrance, of those members of our community who gave their lives during the Great War so that we may live in freedom.

For the record, the soldiers of the Parsi Battalion, according to Giara, carried with them a small Khordeh Avesta, which was given to them before they left the shores of Bombay and before every mission they would perform their Kusti before going into action.

This poem was composed by Shams-Ul-Ulma Dastur Dr. Darab Peshotan Sanjana, High Priest of the Parsis, who exhorted them to take up arms for their King and the Empire (vide The Times of India, 12th August 1914). This poem is from The Voice of the East on The Great War, by Rustom B. Paymaster, Bombay 1916.

Ye sons of Zal and Rustom, now’s the time,

For you to show your loyal zeal sublime.

Take Mazda’s name, and quick gird up your loins,

Up! Up and do what duty now enjoins,

Ye Parsees, sooth, the very life-blood owe,

Which in your pure Iranian veins doth flow,

Your flesh and bones and skin, your freedom full,

Nor pearls nor diamonds have such wealth contain.

So, Parsees awake! When called for fight prepare,

Unfurl your Gavian standard in the air!

Fling the light saddle on your charger’s back,

Not one, when called to arms, must spirit lack.

Ay, walk with British soldiers pace to pace,

March to the battlefield with manly grace

Draw your proud ranks by your brave ruler’s side,

Unmindful in what future maybe-tide-

What matters it if o’er you mountains slip!

Or foe men’s hateful Swords your bodies rip?

What matters it if you in sea are drowned,

Or in the air you’re shot to plunge aground?

To your great fame brave deeds will e’er rebound,

Return or die with lasting glory crowned

In just and righteous cause your sword unsheathe,

To future times your brilliant fame bequeaths.