Sunday, November 12, 2017

Remembering Sikhs in World War 1 and 2

“In World War I and II, 83,005 Sikhs were killed and 109,045 wounded fighting for the allied forces” Australian Sikh Heritage (1) 

World War 1 
In honor of Remembrance Day (yesterday), I thought I would post more about Sikhs in the World Wars. A BBC documentary states, “More Indians volunteered to fight for Britain in the First World War than all Scots, Welsh and Irish combined” (2). Out of the volunteers in the Indian Army, 22% of those were Sikhs despite the fact that they only formed 2% of India’s population (1). This amounted to 35, 000 Sikhs at the start of the first world war and 100,000 by the end (3). The Sikhs were known as ‘The Lions of the Great War’ and used weapons such as chakrams, and talwars (4). There are records of ten Sikh Canadians who voluntarily served in the First World War (5). These were John Baboo (wounded at Vimy Ridge), Sunta Gougersingh (killed in action), Buckam Singh, Hari Singh, Harnom Singh, John Singh, Lashman Singh (killed in action), Ram Singh, Sewa Singh, and Waryam Singh (5).

As Manveer Singh Ji points out, the Sikhs fought in the British Army because wherever there is oppression, a Sikh goes to fight (3). He told the story of Baba Maghar Singh Ji in his katha on Sikhs in World Wars. The Sikh soldiers all kept rehat. He described how Baba Maghar Singh made a kirtani jatha that did Asa Di Waar in the Army (3). He was sent to France in 1914 (3). On the ship over, the Sikhs made degh for a Gurpurb, but one of the british officers, Mr. Carlton, kicked it over (3). Mr. Hill intervened and ordered them to use it despite the disrespect that had taken place (3). Baba Maghar Singh Ji threw it in the ocean, saying “We have sold you our bodies, but we have not sold our Sikhi to you” (3). When it was time for the ship to land in France, Mr. Hill agreed to have the Guru Granth Sahib Ji leading the Sikhs (3). Ardas was done before battle began, and even after winter fell the soldiers continued to do Amrit ishanan with cold water (3). Baba Maghar Singh served as an inspiration to his fellow Sikhs and upheld the highest of values.

Austrailian Sikh Heritage writes, “In the Gallipoli campaign, the 14th Sikh regiment was virtually wiped out, losing 379 officers and men in one day’s fighting on 4 June 1915…During this battle, the 14th Sikhs (as part of the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade), composed entirely of seasoned Sikh soldiers from the Punjab, launched repeated attacks, in the face of murderous machine gun fire, against the Turkish positions astride Gully Ravine. Held up by the barbed wire that was unaffected by the allied artillery bombardment a section of men leapt the barbed wire and charged the Turks with their bayonets. However, human valour was unavailing against modern weapons of war, and on that day the battalion’s casualties amounted to 82 percent of the men actually engaged in the battle “(1).

After the War: Jallianwala Bhag Massacre
Despite the brave efforts of Sikhs fighting for the Indian Army, on Vaisakhi 1919, the British ordered the massacre of 1500 unarmed men, women and children at Jallianwala Bagh (2).

World War 2
Again, large numbers of Sikhs served in the war. Notable contributions were in the Battle of Malaya, Burma Campaign and Italian Campaign (4).  

Let us remember those who fought for justice, and those who continue to protect us. 


Picture: France- 1915

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