There are lessons to be learned from hidden history, says Eva Simpson

One of the oddest ­encounters I had as a 3AM showbiz columnist was a row with the actress Cathy Tyson, the award-winning star of Mona Lisa.

I can’t remember what ­triggered it but mid-rant I vividly recall her screaming about a British ancestor: “My grandfather fought for this country in the war!! What did yours do!!!”

My grandfather was born in 1935, so the answer was, well he was too little to do much, but that argument wasn’t washing with Cathy who disappeared still effing and blinding.

I was reminded of that encounter and the debate around who did what “for this country” this week when Laurence “I’m a victim of racism too” Fox moaned the sight of a Sikh soldier in First World War film 1917 was “distracting”, and “forcing diversity on people” is “institutionally racist”.

Yesterday the actor was forced to back-pedal when presented with actual facts about the role Sikh soldiers played in WWI to which he shrugged: “I’m not a historian.”

Exactly Laurence, you’re not. So quite why he’s going on prime time TV to opine on something he clearly knows nothing about is beyond me. The fact is many soldiers from India, Africa and the Caribbean fought for and alongside Britain and the Allies during both world wars.

I had the honour of meeting Ghanaian veteran Joseph Ashiteye Hammond, then 94, at the 2018 Guba Awards. Aged 20 he was in the Gold Coast Regiment in West Africa and saw active service.

At the time I had very little awareness of the involvement of African troops. I didn’t learn about them in school and neither did I see any of their stories told in any films or television depictions.

The irony is that without diversity, which Fox appears to hate so much, Nabhaan Rizwan who portrays Sepoy Jondalar in the Sam Mendes movie may never have been cast and we probably wouldn’t have had this debate.

So if anything good has come out of Fox’s meltdown, it’s the opportunity to be reminded of the sacrifices soldiers of all colours made for the freedom we enjoy today, a history refresher we could all use.

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