In amongst the assorted Batmen, Pink Panthers and Wonder Women running this weekend's Brighton marathon, there will be one very unusual sight: a First World War Sikh soldier, running in full battle uniform.
The man wearing the garb of the prestigious 15th Ludhiana Sikh regiment will be 27-year-old London Angad Singh, a volunteer with the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA). Running 26 miles in full battle dress will be stifling in the extreme, but Singh has decided to put his endurance to the test in honor of men like Manta Singh, who rescued an English comrade in a wheelbarrow during the battle of Nueve-Chapelle.
Indian soldiers played a significant role in the Great War on the Western Front. At the breakout of hostilities in 1914, Sikhs formed 20% of the British Indian Army, comprising a vital element of the Empire's military capability.
Singh's inspiration came following a visit to a UKPHA exhibition in the summer of 2011 (entitled The Golden Temple of Amritsar: Reflections of the Past) and reading books on Sikh military tradition. Through his volunteer work, he subsequently discovered a close connection with the Great War. A Sikh soldier from his ancestral village in India had fought and died in the Gallipoli Campaign.
"Jivan Singh, from the Malay State Guides, would have been a contemporary of my great grandfather," says Singh. "This exciting find stirred a much bigger, and more personal interest in WW1 history." He is one of a growing number of volunteers raising the profile of the community's historic contribution to the British Army, especially the world wars.
As with most endurance athletes his training has had to be focused and incorporated into his daily routine. He has clocked 1,000 km since the start of his programme six months ago, covering 50-60 km a week, in preparation for racing in an authentic turban, leg putties and an ammo belt (Singh has made a couple of concessions, eschewing the period rifle and swapping WW1 boots for running trainers).
Singh, who has run half-marathons in the past, describes the challenge this coming weekend as his "most ambitious run to a date." But he hopes to raise awareness of a proud military tradition.
Anglo-Sikh military heritage stems back to a bygone era when the war cry 'Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal' ('victory belongs to those who recite the name of God with a true heart') sent fear into enemy lines, be it when Sikh sepoys rescued besieged Englishmen during the Mutiny of 1857, or later in the tumultuous battlefields of the Afghan frontier. During the Siege of Malakand in 1897, a young Churchill famously saved an injured Sikh shot by Pashtun tribesman.
Turban-wearing Sikhs became a familiar feature in the ranks of the British Army, especially during the Great War. From the battlefields of the Somme to Gallipoli, through to the deserts of the Middle East and Africa, Sikh soldiers served alongside Allied forces in the many theatres of war.
So far Mr. Singh has raised £6,909.41 and is aiming to reach a total of £10,000 for the UKPHA. Monies raised will go towards the Empire, Faith & War project, which is part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The project follows on from an exhibition last summer at the School of Oriental & African Studies in London. It aims to provide educational materials for schools in line with the national curriculum, a documentary film, a commemorative publication and a database of stories - all available for free. The association intends to create a repository of a thousand stories of Sikh soldiers from the Great War, through public engagement - via an initiative they describe as 'Citizen Historians.'
Amandeep Madra, author and founder member of the UKPHA, told me: "We knew that family recollections and memories of 100 years ago are close to being lost. It seemed like the ideal time to work on capturing those stories before they're gone forever."
Madra and his colleagues are determined to keep the memory of the Sikh contributions alive; he describes it as an "untold story."
Whatever the weather this weekend, Singh won't be the only one running in memory of Sikh soldiers. The 'Empire, Faith & War' team has recently expanded with the addition of Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE the founder of the Parkrun movement, who will be running alongside his wife Joanne. They will be participating in the 10k run which precedes the marathon. Other volunteers like Satnam Singh, a member of the Datchet Dashers running club, will also be joining the team to run his first marathon.
I'll end with a heartfelt message posted anonymously by a generous donor on (Angad) Singh's JustGiving page. His efforts are clearly appreciated across Britain and beyond.
'Proud of you & your personal stand. You honor the soldiers who had no choice in WW1/WW2 other than to express Sikh values of courage, duty, loyalty, compassion & brotherhood. I salute you.'
Hardeep Singh is a freelance journalist and tweets @singhtwo2.