Peace Garden at Muslim Burial Ground opened by The Earl of Wessex
In an act of remembrance, His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex KG GCVO, officially opened the new Peace Garden on Thursday 12 November 2015 at the site of a beautifully restored Muslim Burial Ground.
The Earl of Wessex was accompanied on a tour of the national and internationally significant heritage site by project leader, Dr Zafar Iqbal from Woking Borough Council, where the Earl was introduced to representatives from the organisations that have supported the project and family members of the servicemen formerly buried there.
The Earl had the honour of declaring the memorial officially open with the unveiling of a plaque that will adorn the entrance of the restored Chattri, inscribed in Arabic with the words “in the name of God the most merciful and most kind.”
Keeping alive the memory of all those who have fought to protect our freedom
Among the civic dignitaries attending the opening ceremony of the Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden, The Rt Hon Earl Howe PC, Defence Minister, said: “It is vital that we keep alive the memory of all those who have fought to protect the freedoms we now enjoy in the UK, including the enormous contribution of Muslims who came to our aid when we needed it most. The MOD is delighted to celebrate the achievements of past Muslim personnel, and those currently serving in Armed Forces operations, from conflicts to humanitarian efforts.
“This new Peace Garden, transformed from a post-War burial ground into a beautiful and calm place of contemplation affords us an opportunity to reflect on our shared values and remember all personnel who served, and especially those who valiantly work to keep Britain safe both at home and abroad.”
“Our Armed Forces share the values of the Islamic faith, and protect those values at home and abroad.”
Keeping in our thoughts our current serving personnel
Speaking at the reception that followed at the Shah Jahan Mosque, Major General PAE Nanson CBE – Commandant The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, said: “The Army is incredibly proud of the strong links it has with our Muslim communities. The ceremony this morning has presented us with a unique opportunity to remember the vast sacrifice Muslim soldiers and officers have made, and continue to make, on behalf of our Country.”
A site of architectural interest
Speaking about the renovation works, Paul Stamper, Senior Designation Adviser at Historic England said: “The Woking Muslim Burial Ground was established in 1917 to inter soldiers of the Indian Army who died in south coast war hospitals. Its architectural interest, and unique status as a site of memory for Muslims who died fighting for Britain in two World Wars, is recognised in its national designation as a Grade II listed structure.
“Historic England is pleased to have been able to support the work of Woking Borough Council and the Horsell Common Preservation Society to ensure that the fabric of this important war memorial in a conservation area is restored to mark the centenary commemorations of World War I.”
Restored to its original state
Horsell Common Preservation Society has owned the Muslim Burial Ground since the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reinterred the bodies and relinquished responsibility for the site in 1969. Despite two decades of discussion and planning between Woking Borough Council and the Society, it wasn’t until the offer of financial help from Historic England (formerly English Heritage) was received that restoration works could commence.
Chair of Horsell Common Preservation Society, Robin Hoyle, said: “We are delighted that the structure is now restored to its original state and surrounds the newly installed Peace Garden. It is now a place of beauty, peace and tranquillity and a very fitting memorial for the many thousands from the Indian subcontinent who died serving this country. The Society hopes that this restored War Memorial will be much visited and used in the future.”
Pride of place
Speaking on behalf of the many organisations and community groups involved in the restoration, Councillor John Kingsbury, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “We were honoured to welcome His Royal Highness at the opening ceremony for the Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden. His presence symbolised the importance this unique site holds both nationally and internationally, and for the people of Woking.
“An asset for the community, we have been delighted to involve students from Bishop David Brown School, who worked alongside serving personnel to plant the colourful heathers and install the last of the silver birch trees. We hope the experience helped this younger generation to understand about remembrance, conflict, and the importance of peace – exactly what we aspired the legacy of this Peace Garden to be.
“A key objective of the restoration project has been to enhance pride of place, encourage visitors to attend and provide a focal point for future acts of commemoration. My sincere thanks and gratitude to all those who supported the project. Together we have delivered a future heritage site for all to appreciate, to pay their respects and give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Restoration of the Muslim Burial Ground and creation of the Peace Garden would not have been possible without the funding and support of the following organisations:
- Armed Forces Covenant Grant Scheme
- Department For Communities And Local Government
- Historic England
- Horsell Common Preservation Society
- Shah Jahan Mosque
- Sultanate Of The Government Of Oman
- Surrey County Council
- Woking Borough Council
Attended by nearly 200 guests, the post ceremony reception held at the Shah Jahan Mosque featured prayers and welcome by Imam Sayed Hashmi and speeches from Elizabeth Cuttle, Trustee of Horsell Common Preservation Society; Sophena Alison Chisembele, daughter of Leading Aircraft Youssif Ali; Captain Naveed Muhammad, Chair of the Armed Forces Muslim Association, who read a statement from Omar S Khan and family, descendants of Sepoy Sikandar Khan; Zafar Iqbal Ph.D., Project Lead at Woking Borough Council; Major General PAE Nanson CBE, Commandant, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; The Rt Hon Earl Howe PC, Defence Minister; and Ray Morgan OBE, Chief Executive at Woking Borough Council.
The text and photographs are extracted from the official press release from Woking Borough Council, the original version can be found here.
Find out more about the Peace Garden at the Muslim Burial Ground here.