Woking’s Muslim Burial Ground is a reminder of the significant contribution made by some three million Indian service personnel who fought alongside the Allied troops during the First and Second World Wars. It was built during the First World War as the only designated place of burial for Muslim soldiers who had died at the temporary Indian Army Hospital in Brighton Pavilion and elsewhere along the south coast. Those who died received burial rites according to their religion. There were special crematoria at Patcham, (Sussex), Netley and Brockenhurst (Hampshire) for Hindu and Sikh soldiers, while Muslim soldiers were buried. However, rumours spread that Muslim soldiers were not receiving burial according to their religious customs. These were dispelled once the War Office commissioned a special burial ground at Woking, chosen for its close proximity to Britain’s only purpose-built mosque at that time.
This unique Grade II listed site is situated among pine trees, tucked away on the south east corner of Horsell Common. Designed by architect T H Winney and built by local Woking firm, Ashby and Horner Ltd, it is bounded by ornate brick walls and has a domed archway entrance and minaret, reflecting the design of the nearby Shah Jahan Mosque. The site was completed in 1917 with 19 bodies being received from Brighton during the First World War but a total of 27 with subsequent burials from the Second World War.
In 1921, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission took over the upkeep of the site. Local people remember that it had a yellow path, iron gates at the entrance and two seats inside. All the graves faced east according to Islamic custom.
With later burials taking place at Brookwood Cemetery the Horsell site fell out of use. During the 1960s the site was vandalised and the bodies were removed to the Military Cemetery section at Brookwood.
Names and regiments of servicemen originally buried in the Muslim Burial Ground, Horsell Common, Woking
The graves can now be found in Plot 2a of the Military Section of Brookwood Cemetery, Woking. The majority of the soldiers died while in hospital in Brighton during the First World War. They served in different regiments, many of which were recruited from villages in what is now Pakistan. There are graves of a further 28 Indian soldiers in the Old Muslim Cemetery in Brookwood Cemetery. During World War Two, one Indian airman serving in the Royal Air Force and four soldiers from the Indian Army were buried in the Muslim Burial Ground
|Shaikh Abdul Wahab||Sowar, 29th Lancers (Deccan Horse)||16 July 1915|
|Zarif Khan||Sepoy, 127th Queen Mary’s Own Baluch Light Infantry||22 July 1915|
|Sarmast||Rifleman, 57th Wilde’s Rifles Frontier Force||22 July 1915|
|Mahrup Shah||Sepoy, 129th Duke of Connaught’s
|16 Sep 1915|
|Sikandar Khan||Sepoy, 82nd Punjabis||25 Sep 1915|
|Bagh Ali Khan||Sepoy, 82nd Punjabis||29 Sep 1915|
|Khan Muhammad||Sepoy, 108th Infantry||9 Oct 1915|
|Bostan||Driver, 9th Mule Corps||19 Oct 1915|
|Mehr Khan||Sowar, 19th Lancers (Fane’s Horse)||24 Oct 1915|
|Fazal Khan||Naik, 93rd Burma Infantry||14 Nov 1915|
|Hansa||Follower, Army Hospital Corps||7 Dec 1915|
|Abdullah||Follower, 32nd Signal Company||16 Dec 1915|
|Sher Gul||Sepoy, 57th Wilde’s Rifles Frontier Force||18 Dec 1915|
|Shaikh Mohiuddin||Bearer, Army Hospital Corps||5 Jan 1916|
|Ashgar Ali||Follower, Army Hospital Corps||29 Jan 1916
(amended death certificate)
|Kala Khan||Driver, No.2 Mountain Battery||2 Feb 1916|
|Alla Ditta Khan||Sowar, 15th Lancers (Cureton’s Multani’s)||3 Feb 1916|
|Babu||Followers Central Depot||3 Sep 1919|
|Mirza Iqbal Ali Beg||Gentleman Cadet, Royal Military College, Sandhurst||23 June 1920|
|Mohamed Ben Hamou||Soldat, French Foreign Legion||13 Jan 1941|
|Mohamed Ben Tahar||Brigadier, French Foreign Legion||17 June 1941|
|Jan Muhammad||Sepoy, 16th Punjab Regiment||14 Aug 1944|
|Ibrahim Yolkoff||Soldat, French Foreign Legion||5 May 1945|
|Muhammad||Masalachi, Indian Army Medical Corps||17 Sep 1945|
|Khwaja Din||Pioneer, Indian Pioneer Corps||19 Jan 1946|
|Karam Khan||Gunner, Royal Regiment of Indian Artillery||9 July 1946|
|Yousef Ali||Leading Aircraftman, Royal Air Force||12 May 1947|
The names and details in the list above have been taken from the programme for the opening ceremony of the Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden (produced by Woking Borough Council and Horsell Preservation Society, 12 Nov 2015) and the in situ memorial at the Peace Garden.
To find out more about Sepoy Sikandar Khan, see http://www.woking.gov.uk/woking/heritage/muslimburialground/sikandarkhan
To find out more about Leading Aircraftman Youssif Ali, see http://www.woking.gov.uk/woking/heritage/muslimburialground/youssifali
To find out more about Sepoy Mahrup Shah, see https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/military/india-woking/mahrup-shah/
Note: It has also been pointed out that the name Mahrup Shah may have been recorded wrongly. It is known that British military and hospital clerks transcribing Indian names incorrectly and anglicised spellings. Ilyas Khan has informed us that there is no such name as ‘Mahrup’, and it is likely to be a mis-spelling of the common name ‘Maruf ‘ or ‘Mahruf’ Shah, “Probably a Syed of the NWFP area of British India”.
A new lease of life – The Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden opens
During the summer of 2013, works to restore the unique Grade II listed Muslim Burial Ground to its former glory and create a garden of peace and remembrance commenced. Funding and support from a number of organisations, including Woking Borough Council, Historic England, Armed Forces Covenant Grant Scheme, Department for Communities and Local Government, Shah Jahan Mosque, Surrey County Council, and the Sultanate of the Government of Oman has helped create an Islamic style garden within the walled structure for visitors to enjoy its tranquillity, and to reflect on the sacrifices made by those servicemen who gave their lives in battle during two World Wars.
The Peace Garden features 27 Himalayan birch trees representing the number of servicemen formerly buried at the site, a water feature incorporating a memorial stone bearing their names, bold strips of pink and white heather orientated towards Mecca, scented plants such as Rosa rugosa and Sarcococca orientalis, two stone ceremonial prayer mats, and benches. The garden is a significant heritage site for Woking and will provide a focal point for acts of commemoration and remembrance.
The garden was officially opened by HRH The Earl of Wessex, KG, GCVO, on 12 November 2015.
For more information about the renovation of the Muslim Burial Ground please see the Horsell Common Preservation Society website and Woking Borough Council http://www.woking.gov.uk/woking/heritage/peacegarden.
For Woking Borough Council’s introductory video to the Muslim Burial Peace Garden see http://youtu.be/Ffogn5w2dQM.
A news feature about the start of the renovation work can be seen on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-23593060 and the opening is featured on http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-34792865.
A BBC documentary about the renovation of the Burial Ground into the Peace Garden was broadcast on BBC1 on 3 Jan 2016 and can be seen again on iplayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06vb8rv/britains-muslim-soldiers.
For a virtual tour of the renovated Peace Garden see the website for the HLF project ‘Unknown & Untold’, run by British Future, and New Horizons in British Islam, which aims to commemorate and raise awareness of the 400,000 Indian Muslims who gallantly fought during the First World War as part of the British Army http://ww1muslimsoldiers.org.uk/.
Gallery of images from the opening of the Peace Garden (photographs by Di Stiff)
On 16 July 2017 a commemoration service to mark the anniversary of the first Muslim soldiers buried at Horsell was held at the Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden. For a full report of the proceedings and images from the day see: http://thebignote.com/2017/07/19/muslim-burial-ground-peace-garden-inaugural-commemoration-service-16th-july-2017/#more-27572
Sources for the Muslim Burial Ground at Surrey History Centre
File of information on the Shah Jahan Mosque in the main Searchroom (942.2)
Postcard of the entrance to the Muslim Burial Ground, c.1937 (Ref.PC/160/ALB1/84)
Views of overgrown burial ground taken by Paul Rimmer of the Horsell Common Preservation Society in 1993 (Ref. PX/80/3, PX/80/17-19)
Large scale Ordnance Survey maps, 1870s-1930s, showing the site.
Photographs of the Muslim Burial Ground taken as part of the Historic Buildings and Antiquities of Surrey survey, 1975 (Ref.CC1101/3/80/96/103)
Papers in the archives of Mohammad Ilyas Raja, trustee of the Shah Jahan Mosque, refer to the Muslim Burial Ground (Ref.Z/454/-).
Please also see the History Centre’s guide to sources for the Shah Jahan Mosque.
Guide to tracing sources for the Indian Army – click here to download a pdf () copy.
Remembering forgotten heroes, exploring the Indian Army contribution to the First and Second World Wars (English Heritage, 2005) 940.46 (SHC hold spare copies to distribute).
A hidden history, the Chattri and The Muslim Burial Ground (Woking Galleries, 2004), 940.46
Cockett, Tina, The Muslim burial ground, Horsell Common, Woking, (Woking Galleries, 2004), 940.46
Salamat, Muslim Purwez, Miracle at Woking : a history of the Shahjahan Mosque, 2009
Surrey History Centre also holds other specialist publications, such as:
Islamic Society of Britain 1000 years of Islam in Britain, 2005
Islamic Society of Britain Muslims in Britain, 2006
Ansari, H, The Infidel within: the history of Muslims in Britain, 2002
Khulusi, S.A. Islam our choice, The Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust, 1961.
Eid Sermons at the Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking, England 1931-1940, Nasir Ahmad, Aftab-ud-din, 2002. (This contains useful chapters on the early history of the mosque.)
Other records and online sources:
Few original sources survive but the following records and useful websites are easily accessible:
- Brookwood Cemetery website http://www.woking.gov.uk/woking/heritage/crem
- Woking Muslim Mission has issued several articles on the Muslim Burial Ground and Shah Jahan Mosque during the First World War using contemporary reports from the Islamic Review, including:
- Muslims in Britain and the start of the First World War, compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz, Website Editor, www.wokingmuslim.org – click here to download a pdf () copy of the article.
- Burial of Indian Muslim soldiers of World War 1 in England — How it began in November 1914, compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz, Website Editor, www.wokingmuslim.org – click here to download a pdf () copy of the article.
- Contemporary historical reports by Maulana Sadr-ud-Din, Imam of the Shah Jahan Mosque, regarding his visit to Royal Victoria Hospital Netley and the War Office London, and the first burials at Brookwood, the purchase of land at Horsell, and problems faced by wounded Indian soldiers http://www.wokingmuslim.org/work/ww1/muslim-burials.htm#sdmeeting and translations of the original Urdu reports http://www.wokingmuslim.org/work/ww1/muslim-burials-report.htm.
- Rachel Hasted, Indian Army WW1 deaths in England (researched using British Library and Commonwealth War Graves Commission sources), 2014 – click here to download a pdf () copy of the research results.
- For an article by Rachel Hasted, ‘Remembrance and Forgetting: The Muslim Burial Ground, Horsell Common, Woking and other Great War Memorials to the Indian Army in England‘ click here to download a pdf () copy. (This paper was given at the University of Chester conference ‘Minorities and the First World War’, April 2014; the author retains copyright).
- For the British Library’s blog ‘Design for the Muslim Burial Ground, Woking’ by Rachel Hasted, which includes images of the plans by architect T.H Winney, now held in the India Office Records, see http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/untoldlives/2016/03/design-for-the-muslim-burial-ground-woking.html
- Tom Donovan, Muslim Brighton Casualties buried at the Muslim Burial Ground in Woking & Brookwood Military Cemetery, extracted from ‘The Chattri’, Durbar, the Journal of the Indian Military Historical Society, Vol 26, No. 2 (Summer 2009) and on the Sikh Museum’s ‘Dr Brighton’s Pavilion’ website http://www.sikhmuseum.com/brighton/remembrance/honour/muslim.html.
- The National Archives holds records Ref.MAF 25/53 – ‘Surrey: Horsell Common: re Moslem [sic] Cemetery, Inclosure 1916-1922; and Ref.WO 32/18578 and 18579 – Proposed purchase of land for a Mohammedan Cemetery at Woking, Surrey, 1914’
- English Heritage holds contemporary photographs of the burial ground when completed as part of the National Monuments record (NMR): email: [email protected] English Heritage Outreach project in partnership with Aik Saath, Slough, called “Remembering Forgotten Heroes” was carried out some years ago and produced oral history material from ex-Indian Army servicemen in the area.
- For English Heritage’s website featuring the Muslim Burial Ground, see https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/future-golden-for-muslim-burial-ground/
- The Imperial War Museum holds information regarding the site and also the role of Muslim soldiers in the First World War. Their National Inventory of War memorial listing is at http://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/53989 (The site was built before the Royal Charter establishment of the Imperial War Graves Commission in 1917 and the listing indicates that the ground was transferred to the War Graves Commission in 1921).
- The Lightbox (formerly Woking Galleries) http://www.thelightbox.org.uk/ have a display area relating to the Shah Jahan Mosque and Woking’s Muslim community. This includes a film made by Said Adrus featuring Woking’s Muslim Burial Ground, ‘Lost Pavilion’. A viewing copy is held with Screen Archive South East, University of Brighton, Grand Parade, Brighton BN2 2JY. Tel: 01273 643213; email: [email protected] Their searchable online catalogue is www.brighton.ac.uk/screensearch.
- Screen Archive South East (SASE) holds original archive film footage of Indian servicemen at Brighton Pavilion http://www.brighton.ac.uk/screenarchive/. This includes footage of King George V and Queen Mary presenting Indian soldiers with medals during the First World War. SASE also holds a copy of the previously known newsreel featuring Indian soldiers being visited at Brighton Pavilion by the King and Queen, see the extract.
- The Brighton and Hove Black History website records the use of Brighton Pavilion for Muslim soldiers during the First World War, as well as the Brighton Chattri at http://www.black-history.org.uk/21st-century/the-chattri-memorial/
- At Brighton Pavilion, there is a display about Indian soldiers who were sent there for recuperation. There is a published guide available for purchase from the Pavilion (Surrey History Centre holds a copy). Tina Cockett was the first member of staff there to research the soldiers and their origins (see ‘Books’ section above).
- Historum discussion forum: Soldiers of the British Empire – Pakistan.
- For a series of online articles about India and the First World War using material from London School of Economics South Asia Centre, see http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/tag/first-world-war/
Making Britain – South Asians Making Britain, 1858-1950 – in 2011, Surrey History Centre hosted the travelling display for this project, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by The Open University in collaboration with the University of Oxford, King’s College London, the British Library and SALIDAA (South Asian Literature and Arts Archive). The display was accompanied by a talk by Dr Florian Stadtler of the Open University, entitled ‘For King and Country? – South Asian Soldiers Fighting for Britain in Two World Wars’. The talk explored the role of South Asian soldiers in both world wars as part of the world’s largest volunteer armies ever raised. It highlighted their contributions as soldiers, journalists and commentators to the cataclysmic ‘national’ and global events of the First and Second World War and how this shaped their perception of Britain.