Commemoration Service at the Muslim Burial Ground, Horsell, 17 July 2022
by Mr Azhar Ahmad and Mrs Samira Ahmad BEM
We were invited by Woking
Borough Council’s newly elected Mayor, Councillor Saj Hussain, to attend the Commemoration Service at the Muslim Burial Ground
Peace Garden, Horsell Common,
for 27 Muslim soldiers originally buried here who died in World Wars 1 and 2.
The ceremony started with the Imam of Shah Jahan Mosque and Reverend Adrian Beavis, Vicar of Christ Church (where we had dinner on the 17th August for our 2019 convention). After the dua and prayers, Dr Zafar Iqbal recited a poem which was written by a family member of Sikandar Khan, who was buried at this site.
Then Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar Chauhan MBE read a message which was written by Sophena Chisembele, the daughter of Youssif Ali, the airman who was the last soldier to be buried in the Muslim Burial Ground. Sophena mentioned the great work of Maulana Sadr-ud-Din, so I requested to have that speech to print in our “HOPE” bulletin or on Woking Muslim Mission Heritage website. That permission was granted by Ashok Kumar, and he said Sophena did permit for her speech to be given to others. (See below for the text of her speech.)
After a few more messages they started the “Laying of Wreaths”. The order of wreath laying was: Major-General Tim Sulivan, CB CBE DL representing the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, the Mayor of Woking Councillor Saj Hussain, Lord and Lady Sheikh, Brigadier-General Vikramjit Singh Gill representing the High Commissioner of India, Commodore Muhammad Zeeshan Nabi Sheikh representing the High Commissioner of Pakistan (who was not present unfortunately).
It was nice to attend this Commemoration Service as representatives of AAIIL (UK). We were honoured to meet all the guests. We were both personally introduced to Lord and Lady Sheikh, Major-General Tim Sulivan, Brigadier Vikramjit, Deputy sheriff of Surrey Mr Shahid Azeem, the new Mayor of Woking and the new Chief Executive of Woking Borough Council.
Lord Sheikh was very interested to meet me at some other time so that I could take him to show all the famous Muslim graves. He is chairperson of The National Muslim War Memorial Trust. He also invited me to his Trust function in November.
Speech by by Sophena Chisembele
It is again a pleasure to have this opportunity to say a few words at this Commemoration Service held to honour the Muslim servicemen of the First and Second World Wars who were originally buried here in this tranquil, beautiful Peace Garden.
The history of this Muslim Military Burial Ground Peace Garden is very interesting. It dates back to 1915, the year after the declaration of the First World War. No arrangements were made for the burial of the Muslim War casualties who died in the United Kingdom. The Head of the Muslim congregation in Britain was the Maulvi Sadr-ud-Din, who in that year of 1915 was strenuously negotiating with the Government to establish a Burial Ground for the Muslim military causalities of the war, those who died in Britain.
Eventually the Government agreed to the Maulvi’s request. However, they did not agree to maintain or allot a caretaker. A donated piece of land in Woking was selected for its proximity to the Mosque, which became the first burial ground for the Muslim military in Britain.
In the intervening years, 27 servicemen were buried here from the First and Second World Wars, the last of whom was my father, Youssif Mohammed Ali, who died on the 12th of May 1947, in the Royal Air Force Halton Military Hospital. In 1968 the graves were desecrated, causing my mother, Ethel Emma Ali, a widow at 37 years to take up the matter with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A decision was made to re-bury the serviceman in the Brookwood Military Cemetery and this was done.
Time brings change and in 2015, at last, the Muslim war dead were recognised for their sacrifice and contribution in aiding Britain to fight and win through in War. Nearly 4 million servicemen from the sub-continent of India had joined the British Forces, many of whom did not survive. This burial ground became desolate until the Woking Borough Council, the Horsell Preservation Society with the guidance of the instigator, Dr. Zafar lqbal, and the Military undertook the task of clearing and carefully designing the transformation into this beautiful Garden of Peace. The opening ceremony of the Muslim Military Burial Ground Peace Garden took place in 2015 and we are thankful to the Woking Borough Council for they have faithfully held to this annual Commemoration Service which has now become a tradition.
On behalf of myself and other descendant families not able to be physically present, I am thankful for this Service which commemorates the 27 servicemen who were buried here. They are representative of the many thousands of Muslim servicemen who lost their lives whilst serving for another’s cause. This Commemoration Service is acknowledged, and it is right that they be honoured and given the dignity they deserve.
— Sophena Chisembele, daughter of Youssif Ali.
Photographs from the ceremony
Above: (1) Brigadier-General Vikramjit Singh Gill, with Mrs Samira Ahmad BEM and Mr Azhar Ahmad. (2) Major-General Tim Sulivan, centre, and Lord Sheikh, right.
Above: Tributes by British military officers
Above: Lord Sheikh and Mrs Samira Ahmad BEM
Above: The Mayor of Woking Councillor Saj Hussain (left) and Deputy High Sheriff of Surrey Mr Shahid Azeem (right), with Mrs Samira Ahmad BEM and Mr Azhar Ahmad