Woman racially abused in Harborough pays a powerful tribute to her Indian-born soldier father at the town’s war memorial

The Sikh war hero, who hailed from the Punjab region of India, volunteered to fight for Great Britain when the Second World War broke out with Nazi Germany in September 1939

Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 4:21 pm
Stewart Harrison and Sheila Caberwal holding a picture of her late father Jagat Caberwal. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

A woman racially abused in Market Harborough was “unbelievably proud” to pay a powerful tribute to her Indian-born soldier father at the town’s war memorial on Armistice Day.

Sheila Caberwal, 63, stood beside Stewart Harrison, chairman of the Market Harborough branch of the Royal British Legion, as she held a picture of her beloved dad Jagat Singh Caberwal at the poignant ceremony last Thursday (November 11).

The Sikh war hero, who hailed from the Punjab region of India, volunteered to fight for Great Britain when the Second World War broke out with Nazi Germany in September 1939.

Jagat went on to serve with great distinction in the British Army’s world-famous Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) throughout the bloody six-year global conflict.

And Sheila filled with pride as she held a treasured photo of her dad in his army uniform during the iconic two-minute silence to salute our fallen heroes on The Square in Market Harborough.

“I was so proud of my dad, he was my hero.

“I was honoured to go along to the Armistice Day ceremony on Thursday and pay my own respects to him at the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month,” she told the Harborough Mail.

“And I was particularly determined to do so after I was racially abused in Market Harborough in March this year.

“I hadn’t been here long and hardly knew anyone and I got talking to an elderly man on a park bench in the town one day.

“I told him that my dad had fought in the army during the war and had risked his life for this country,” said Sheila, who was a physics teacher in Birmingham for 40 years.

“But he turned round and calmly asked me what my immigration status was.

“I couldn’t believe it, I was shocked to the core.

“I’ve never been subjected to racism like that before.

“My dad volunteered to go and fight for king and country in 1939 as soon as the war started.

“Just as my grandfather had gone marching off to join the British Army to fight in the First World War before him,” said Sheila, who has a 31-year-old daughter.

“My father joined the REME corps as an engineer and saw action fighting the Japanese with the fabled 14th Army in Burma.

“He went on to fight the Germans at the devastating battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944.

“And he finished the war in Nagasaki in Japan in August 1945 after the atomic bomb was dropped there.

“My dad went on to serve in the army until 1949 and he moved to the UK to live in Coventry in 1950,” said Sheila, who has two brothers and whose mum Rani, 85, still lives in Coventry.

Jagat worked at the city’s machine tool maker Alfred Herbert and electronics giant GEC before dying in 2015 aged 93.

“My dad put his life on the line fighting for Great Britain throughout the Second World War.

“And he was one of hundreds of thousands of brave men from India, Africa and across the British Empire who fought - and often died – for our country when we were in our greatest peril,” said Sheila.

A staggering 87,000 Indian servicemen were killed fighting for this country in the last war – and a further 75,000 died in action in the Great War.

“I want people to know that empire soldiers, sailors and airmen like my dad helped us to win the two world wars.

“We are all the same.

“I don’t see a person’s colour, I just see a person.

“And that’s how I want us all to be,” insisted Sheila.

To make matters worse she moved to Market Harborough early last year hoping to marry her sweetheart Roger Gill, an agricultural engineer.

“But he tragically died of multiple organ failure last November, he was just 61 – and he fell ill just a week before we were due to be wed,” said Sheila.

“It was so heartbreaking.

“I’m going to bury his ashes with those of his parents in the village of Haselbech on Friday November 26 – the first anniversary of his death.

“It’s going to be another highly emotional day.

“So I was feeling especially vulnerable and lonely when I was abused just a few months after Roger died.

“But I have got to know some good people in Market Harborough since then.

“And I’d like to say a huge thank you to Stewart Harrison of the Royal British Legion for supporting me and standing beside me as I saluted my dad on Armistice Day last Thursday.”

Stewart, 74, told the Mail: “I am now going to invite Sheila to join our local branch of the Legion.

“She can come along to our meetings and dinners and I’m sure she’ll quickly make some good friends.

“I am so angry and upset that her right to even be in this country was questioned right here in Market Harborough of all places.

“Her father Jagat was a genuine hero,” said the RAF and Army veteran.

“And Sheila was so proud and so dignified to stand beside me holding up a picture of her dad on Armistice Day, the most sacred day in the Legion’s calendar.

“He risked his life time and again on the frontline in some horrific battles during the Second World War and could have easily been killed.

“We should never forget the veritable army of courageous men from all over Asia, Africa and across the empire who flocked to fight for us in 1939 when our backs were right up against the wall.

“I don’t care what colour, religion, creed or race the men are who went into action for us – with many of them making the ultimate sacrifice,” declared Stewart.

“We will remember them all to a man.

“And Sheila’s heroic dad was one of that unique band of brothers, one of our Greatest Generation, to whom we all owe the most enormous debt.”