Punjab and Sikhs
Punjab region in North India has been a cradle for grains and vegetables that supported people for centuries. Its five rivers and lush green fields have been a region for saints, poets, musicians and warriors alike.
Punjab has witnessed many wars with invaders from various foreign lands. It was first invaded by Aryans in 1500 B.C. Arabs and Turks under Muhammad-Bin-Qasim invaded about 17 times around 711 A.D. followed by Mongols, Timur, Gazhni, Alexander and many other till Portuguese and British.
British ruled most of India capturing major ports for trading and opening shipping routes to England. British could not capture Punjab till the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh that ruled from Lahore.
After the first Anglo-Sikh war between 1845-46, parts of Punjab fell to the British in 1849, subsequent years saw most of Punjab cessation. Sikhs were adept to gorilla warfare and were well known for their valor, sacrifices, commitment and courage, British heavy recruited Sikhs, Muslim and Punjabi’s to the British forces.
Sikhs in Gallipoli & World Wars
Being part of the British colony, over 1.2 million Indians participated directly in great wars that saw them fighting for the British. Over 300,000 Sikhs soldiers were recruited and sent to wars across the globe defending Britain and liberating Europe.
Sikhs have always sacrificed their lives for the protection of the oppressed, the helpless and other religions. Their stories of courage, commitment and mateship are well known.
The battle at Gallipoli was one of frontier that was fought between the Ottoman Empire, German Empire, and Austria-Hungary and the Allies of WW- I (United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire). The British Empire had the support of the forces of Australia, India, Newfoundland, and New Zealand with it.
Gallipoli is a peninsula connected by land to the European part of Turkey with its other three sides in the waters of Dardanelles strait which lies completely in the Turkish Empire. The period of the proper battle is considered to be from February 1915 to January 1916.
At Gallipoli, Sikhs were part of the British Indian Army and about 5000 of them were fighting in support of the Allied Powers. They served with honor at Gallipoli along with the ANZACS from August 1914 onwards. However, their contribution has been relegated largely to a passing reference in most accounts of the campaign, though they suffered thousands of casualties during the campaign.
The ‘14th Sikh Regiment’ and the ‘Ferozepore Sikh Regiment’ lost, respectively, 379 and 380 men on June 4, 1915.
Articles on the contribution of Sikhs in World Wars
“In loving memory of my ‘Johnny’ pals in the Indian Mule Corps, who kept the rations and munitions up to us at Anzac. – Sgt. ‘Silver.’ “Friday 25th April 1941.
This note was tied to a little wreath placed on the State War Memorial. A similar wreath has been there every year since the last war. The man who remembers as Mr. M. D. Kirwan, of Adelaide, an Anzac with the 16th Battalion, who acted as interpreter in Hindustani with the Indian Mule Transport Corps when the Indians were called up to do all the transporting of supplies from the beach to the front lines on Gallipoli.
Simpson and his donkey have become the most famous figures of the Gallipoli campaign. They are immortalised in statues at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, and his story is told in children’s books and school history classes. Most Australians know the story of Simpson and his donkey, but it’s not well known that Simpson lived in a camp with Indian mountain gunners at Gallipoli.
The role of Indian soldiers in Gallipoli needs a proper acknowledgement. Let it be on memorials or at a governmental level. On Anzac day commemoration there is an abundance of information in the media. But we still lack to educate people about the martial contribution of other communities. It is important that we remember them, the fallen, who fought for this land so that we might remain a free country.
“Many men defended their country and gave their lives to protect their country, but there is nothing more heroic and courageous than the actions by the Indian Mule Corps”.
The Sikhs for the most part man the mountain batteries and the mule teams, and I reckon every one of the mule drivers deserves a V.C. They used to have to drive along the beach at Anzac to Wilson’s pier, pelted with shrapnel all the time. They used to get wounded badly, but no matter how badly their first concern was the Mule.– (Lance-Corporal Neeld, Australian Convalescent Hospital, Al Hayat, Helouan)
The Mule Corps comprised the largest contingent of Indian troops in Gallipoli. Mules formed part of the supply and transport section of armies and were particularly popular with expeditionary forces which had to travel over rougher terrain. The lack of roads on the peninsula rendered motor transport useless. The transport difficulty was largely resolved by the allotment of an Indian mule transport train from France consisting of more than 4000 mules and 2000 carts.
Food, water, ammunition, entrenching tools, signalling, the wounded and medical equipment are carried on the mules, which accompany the troops wherever they may be sent. Uncoupled from their carts, the mules were also used in trains to take supplies up into hills to brigade dumps closer to the front line trenches.
The Indians did great work with the mules in carrying ammunition into the firing line. On one occasion laden mule in charge of an Indian was shot down, but the Indian calmly unstrapped the two cases of ammunition (weighing about 200 Ib) and himself dragged them one after another through the fire zone and over the brow of hill to one of our trenches. Throughout the whole operation he was as cool as cucumber.– (Major Loach.1st Canterbury Infantry).
“The Mule Corps basically kept forces alive for eight months of the campaign.”
“I don’t know what we would have done without the mules in Anzac. I reckon we would have starved. You should have seen some of the tracks they had to climb and talk about slippery, every bit of food, ammunition; clothing and nearly all our water had to be carried by the mule teams up to the trenches. It was a task I can tell you and it had practically all to be done at night time for the Turks could see them in daylight. The Indians were responsible for all this work and deserve a heap of praise, There were a good few of them chaps killed at Anzac”.– ( Private Archie Barwick, 1st Battalion, AIF )
Mules are loyal animals. In the army, there are several stories of valour, loyalty and courage specifically involving mules. One story goes that a mule was captured by Pakistani troops during one of the wars.
The enemy troops probably made the captured mule work for them, but not for too long.
The patriotic mule escaped from enemy hands and returned to its parent unit bringing along a load of rations for its own welcome back party!
‘There were detailed analyses by many army men to understand the reasons for the mule’s daring escape. Humans would escape and return to their country not only for patriotism but also to be back with their loved ones. But these army mules don’t have family, so why did they return? It had to be loyalty.’- D K Havanoor
Colonel A.C.Ferguson relates… Narain Singh no.667, served as a Mule Driver in the 21st (Kohat) Mountain Battery (Frontier Force).
…..The only other point worth mentioning before the Suvla Push is the communications. Owing to losses among signallers, and the battery being split up into three bits, each with a distant O.P., we were soon reduced to one signaller per phone who was on duty day and night, always sleeping with his instrument in his ear. The headquarters phone was run by the Mess Orderly, Pyara Singh, in addition to his other duties. We had one linesman only who managed to keep alive during the whole war in some wonderful way. He was always out repairing lines in dangerous places, and two or three times brought back chits from Australian Officers to say they had seen him repairing lines under heavy fire. His name was Narain Singh and he got an I.D.S.M…
Major H.M. Alexander, the commander of the Indian Mule Transport Unit, noted that the ANZACs got on well with the Indians (who were Sikhs) and treated them well. Many accounts of Gallipoli remember the Indian Ambulance Brigade and the Indian Mule Transport. “The Anzacs called every Indian ‘Johnny’ and treated them like a brother, with the consequences that the Indians liked them even more.
While the stamps, the medals, and the currency have all helped immortalise Simpson and his donkey’s name, perhaps after reading to a note written by Sergeant Silver, the commemoration that most befitted about the Indian Soldiers deserve is a due recognition.
Article by: Harchand Singh Bedi
True to their Salt – A Real Hero Story
Karm Singh ~ 21st Kohat Mountain Battery (Gallipoli)
Many acts of bravery were conducted by the officers’ men in the Battle of Gallipoli which is worth sharing. But this one is incomparable.
At Anzac, during a major Turkish counter attack, Lance Naik Karm Singh No. 424 ( 21st Kohat Indian Mountain Battery) would hear the order shouted from above, and would pass it on down below… Karm Singh was passing down his orders when an orderly from his battery walked down the trench. The orderly noticed that Karm Singh was sitting close up against the side of the trench, with his head near the wall and his hand over his eyes, as if he had a headache. ‘What is the matter, Karm Singh?’ he asked, ‘Oh, it’s nothing; don’t worry. I am quite able to pass messages’, was the answer and the orderly passed along on his business… Sometime later when the business in hand was finished, they went down and had a look at Karm Singh. They found he had been shot through both eyes… Karm Singh could still speak, If he could not see – that was all he cared for until his job was finished. Karm Singh stuck to his duty until forcibly removed. For his bravery, he was awarded the Indian Order of Merit. ~ (Charles Bean, official dispatch). 19th May 1915
It was, befitting that future generations should not forget that, when Britain’s need was highest, Indian comrades, who were free men and voluntary soldiers, true to their salt, gave their lives in a quarrel of which it was enough for them to know that the enemy were foes of their Sahibs, the Empire, and their King.
The following is one of the true stories of this war, It was on 19th May, the day of the most serious attack the Turks have made. The attack was spent, and should have been stopped, but a few isolated waves of it continued to heat up fiercely against Quinn’s Point where the Fourth Brigade then were until early midday. The Turkish artillery had given us something of a bombardment overnight, and it started again in the morning.
One of the Indian mountain batteries was in action, and all except two of its complement were under cover. One of them was at the back of the guns and the other, Karm Singh by name in the communication trench leading down to the guns. The phone was not being used they were passing the orders and corrections down by word of mouth. Karm Singh would hear the order shouted from above, and would pass it on down below, They were waiting for a particular gun to open in order to jump down its throat in the very sudden way these Indian mountain batteries have. All at once a new two gun battery opened that had not previously, been in action against us, at any rate from that position, Karm Singh was passing down his orders when an orderly from his battery walked along the trench. The orderly noticed that Karm Singh was sitting close up against the side of the trench with his head near the wall and his hand over his eyes as if he had a headache, What is the matter, Karm Singh,” he asked. “Oh, it’s nothing – don’t worry I am quite able to pass messages,” was the answer, and the orderly passed along on his business.
Sometime later, when the business in hand was finished, they went down and had a look at Karm Singh. They found he had been shot through his both eyes, The first shot from the new guns had hit not only him but the other man who was out in the trench. Karm Singh could still speak if he could not see. That was all he cared for until his job, was finished.
On the beach at Gallipoli one of the doctors in the Indian Hospital attended to his wounds. Karm Singh feebly asked, “Sahib, shall I have my sight?” The doctor hadn’t the heart to tell him the truth, and answered, “Perhaps, after in time, but only in one eye”. “It is nothing, Sahib,” said Karm Singh. “Have I not eaten your salt and taken your bread?” He breathed as he leaned back on his stretcher. And never had a man more faithfully held by that high code.
Article by: Harchand Singh Bedi
Mr. G. V. Furphy J.P. has received the following interesting letter from Major Jack Kendall of Shepparton, Australia dated, October 2nd, 1918 Amman, the Mountain of Moab.
“Just a little over a week ago there was an army of 80,000 to 90,000 Turks and Germans, all good, big strong men, standing up against our force. Today between 60,000 and 70,000 of them are prisoners, and the remainder gone to dust (for a body only lasts a few days in this climate). So you can see what may happen in a very little time. I understand it was one of the greatest feats of the war, practically to wipe out a complete army in four days, and at the same time advance from Jerusalem to Damascus, over 100 miles”.
KHUDA BUKSH, GHULAM MUHAMMAD, MANBIR RAI, BIRMANI GURUNG, SULTAN SINGH, GULAB SINGH, KARTAR SINGH and many others, were all children of British India. They travelled far from home to fight the Ottoman Turks in Palestine. They must have expected, or at least hoped, to make it back to their families. They were instead felled by bullets, shrapnel or disease and remained in 7 cemeteries in Israel, from Jerusalem to Ramleh to Haifa.
According to Commonwealth War Graves Commission, a large number of Indian soldiers, nearly 900 (816 WW1, 66 WW2) are cremated or buried in cemeteries across Israel demonstrating the major sacrifice that was made, and act as an immortal testimonial for their heroism.
On 23rd September 1918, the 15th Imperial Service Brigade comprising of the Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers undertook one of the most famous cavalry actions in the Great War and recaptured the city of Haifa in Palestine. This day is commemorated by the Indian Army each year as ‘Haifa day’ to honour this famous charge.
General Allenby’s vast encircling operation in Palestine, which commenced in September, 1918, was undoubtedly one of the most effective of the whole war, and helped considerably towards the final collapse of the Central Powers. It resulted in the smashing up of the Turkish resistance, and as far as the Palestine campaign was concerned was a complete victory in every sense of the term.
General Sir Edmund Allenby wrote that, one feature of this battle has been the magnificent dash of the Indian troops. The veteran soldiers of India were expected to do well, and have lived up to their high reputation.
“Whilst the Mysore Lancers were clearing the rocky slopes of Mount Carmel, the Jodhpur Lancers charged through the defile, and riding over the enemy’s machine guns, galloped into the town, where a number of Turks were speared in the streets. Maj. Thakur Dalpat Singh, M.C., fell gallantly leading the charge.”
“No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign. Machine gun bullets over and over again failed to stop the galloping horses even though many of them succumbed afterwards to their injuries…” This remains the only known incident in military history when a fortified town was captured by cavalry on the gallop.
In the big battle which has ended so gloriously, the soldierly qualities of courage, endurance, and discipline are most essential, it is the very link of the fighting chain. The divisional commanders tell me that they were delighted with the Indians valour under all conditions. Forty seven hours continuous fighting and marching tested them to the utmost. They behaved superbly. Their only fault was a too great eagerness, to push on’.
Lieutenant General Sir Henry (Harry) Chauvel (Australian Imperial Force) wrote in his Despatches;
“The Lancers dashed over the narrow defile in extended order and galloped over this plain of Armageddon, and crashed into the infantry and machine gunners with the lance, killing ninety and wounding as many more. They took 410 prisoners. The charge was most brilliantly executed. The cavalry had to gallop over exposed ground against heavy rifle and machine gun fire, but it never faltered. Each wave of horsemen rode through the enemy, and those who were not killed threw up their hands”. 1,350 enemy prisoners were taken, including 2 German and 35 Ottoman officers. The Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers combined lost 1 officer, 7 soldiers and 60 horses. 6 officers and 28 soldiers were wounded, as were 83 horses.
The Indian Troops played a prominent part in achieving this success and General Chauvel’s short history of the operations holds a special interest for all who take a pride in these men who suffered the discomforts and hardship of a desert campaign, and performed almost impossible deeds of valour.
These Indians took the place of some of the Londoners who were sent to France. They were tremendously keen to preserve the record of the division of Indians with the Londoners, who were first into Jerusalem and first over the Jordan. They wanted to be first through the coastal defences. They succeeded. They went on and secured the crossing of the Wadi Falik for the cavalry. They then advanced north-east wards to Tulkarm, covering the astonishing distance of 22 miles in thirteen and the half hours, including trench fighting and actions in the open. This wonderful performance is an example of what the young Indian battalions are capable of. All are practically of the same quality. These young Indian battalions came through the ordeal magnificently. They fought like seasoned warriors. They cheerfully answered any call.
“For skill in hill fighting it would be hard to find a parallel for this incident”.
There was a stern struggle for the Bietlid hill, 5 000 yards from Nablus, on Friday. When it was captured it was decided to take a station which was commanded on the south by a high steep hill. A Sikh battalion crept up the irregular slopes in the moonlight, caught the garrison entirely unprepared, rushed and surprised the German machine gunners, and captured over 200 prisoners, besides killing and wounding others. There was not one single casualty among the Sikhs.
Deeds of Heroism
The exceptional bravery and supreme sacrifice of Major Thakur Dalpat Singh and his men, will be remembered forever and continue to inspire generations to come. Major Dalpat Singh was conferred upon Military Cross and the entire saga of bravery is described in history textbooks of Israel. He was anointed as the “Hero of Haifa”
Captain Aman Singh Bahadur and Dafadar Jor Singh were awarded the Indian Order of Merit and Captain Anop Singh and 2nd Lt. Sagat Singh were awarded the Military Cross in recognition of their bravery in this battle.
Wonderful stories of their gallantry, dash, and initiative in the war are told in a special supplement of the ‘London Gazette,’ recording the conferment of a large number of decorations for bravery in this battle.
Thakur Dalpat Singh, Jodhpur Lancers.
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. This officer, accompanied only by his trumpeter, charged an entrenched machine gun, killing and scattering the crew and capturing the gun. At the same time he captured the commandant of a regiment and another officer’.
Captain Thakur Anop Singh, Bahadur, I.O.M. Jodhpur Imp. Serv. Lancers.
‘On the 23rd September, 1918, during the attack on Haifa, he led his squadron with the greatest dash and ability, when he successfully charged the enemy’s position, capturing three guns, four machine guns, and many of the enemy. He then led his squadron through the north portion of the town, capturing many more prisoners, and rejoined the regiment at the final objective. He showed throughout the utmost contempt for danger’.
2nd Lieut. Kunwar Sagat Singh, Jodhpur I.S. Lancers.
‘For gallantry and devotion to duty. On the 23rd September, 1918, during the advance on Haifa, he twice went back under heavy fire to give orders to squadrons in the rear, afterwards rejoining the head of the regiment. Throughout the action he gave an example of complete disregard of danger and showed great coolness’.
Article by: Harchand Singh Bedi
The much needed boost to the Australian soldiers’ spirits that Indian soldiers’ help gave.
The Digger sniffed the savoury Sikh curry, and longed to taste it, but it was no go. One night a few of the boys got into the Sikh lines, and in some way or other the fingers of one of them were found in the pot. That settled it. Johnny Sikh gave the whole pot full to the Anzacs, who didn’t forget the good taste for a long time.
Sing me to sleep, the bullets fall
Let me forget the war & all
Damp is my dugout, cold is my feet
Nothing but biscuits & bully to eat.
Popular soldier’s song, circa 1918, recorded in the diary of Archie A. Barwick.
The entire Chapatti Movement left the British shaken to the core at one time ago. The mysterious Chapatti deliveries of 1857 turned out to be an effective weapon of psychological warfare against colonial rule. Perhaps it was the only time when a stack of freshly made chapattis became the messenger of the freedom struggle.
When we look at experiences of wartime through the prism of food we are constantly reminded of its power to divide us, but also to bring people together. So famously a “weapon” of WWI, food can also occupy a central role in the bridging of national, ethnic and religious divides.
In wartime, when cultural differences are amplified, food can be a potent reminder of shared humanity and reinforce a sense of belonging. Feeding is also a powerful act of love.
One hundred years after the first landing of troops at Gallipoli, Australians and New Zealanders hear very little about the Indian soldiers who played an important part in the fighting at Gallipoli. Yet there are many references to the Indians at Gallipoli in the letters and diaries of the Anzacs [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps]. “The true friendship between Indians and ANZAC’s can be traced back to the fields of Gallipoli — A friendship that must be commemorated on every ANZAC Day”.
Every year, as ANZAC Day approaches, people become curious about ANZAC biscuits. Maybe it’s because the thought of them is a delectable relief to the sombreness of that day and all that it represents. The ANZAC biscuit epitomises the link between food and WWI in national remembrance.
The importance of feeding an army properly has long been recognised as critical to its functioning. As Napoleon Bonaparte acknowledged: “An army really does march on its stomach”. Yet it is well known that military personnel have often suffered from nutritional deficiencies.
During the war giving or exchanging food often across cultural divides was a potent act of caring, and relationships between soldiers were cemented over food. You would find ANZAC’s coming and sharing the Indian soldiers’ rations because their roti and daal (lentils) was far more palatable than the salted bully beef and biscuits.
The Australians were often hungry and thoroughly sick of the hard biscuits and bully beef that they had to eat too often. Some were developing a taste for Indian food.
Andrew Robertshaw, in his book ‘Feeding Tommy’ Soldiers wrote home complaining about the food and it was alleged that more fodder for horses was sent than food for men. Soldiers did complain, but Robertshaw suggests that this was more about the boredom of the food.
Leonard Bartlett (Signaller, 4th Battalion) writes of having “a pleasant little feed” with his friend Monty, and of a visit from a fellow soldier called Merrivale, who shared cake with him. Bartlett was involved in a lively network of exchange and barters among soldiers, and regularly visited the “Indian Camp” for “Chapattis” or Curry. A couple of days earlier he conducted a culinary experiment, ‘Went over to Indian Camp in evening & got some Chapaties which went down well with marmalade’.
A great friendship was established between the Allied soldiers, with one story telling of the Australians eagerly accepting the offer of sharing rations with the Indian units – “Chupatties made by our Indian drivers were always more acceptable than those less dexterously made by ourselves, and proved a welcome change from biscuits”.
Stories tells us that even the most famous Australian Anzac John Simpson Kirkpatrick, used to stay with the Indian mule drivers in the battlefields of Gallipoli, because he preferred the fresh food cooked by the Indian troops much more than the bully beef that was supplied in the Australian rations. There are mentions of Simpson enjoying “chapattis” and freshly cooked curries.
The Anzacs called every Indian ‘Johnny’ and treated them like a brother, with the consequences that the Indians liked them even more. They served alongside each other from the very first to the very last day of the campaign.
Letters sent by Anzacs show that they had the highest regard for the courage and professionalism shown by the Indian troops. One Anzac even sent a photo that they posed with a Sikh soldier in the battlefields of Gallipoli, and sent it back home to introduce him to their families as a “Mate”.
“Today is Sunday and I am sitting in my dugout this afternoon writing this. My dugout was on this side of the hill, over facing the sea and is in the midst of the Indian Camp (most likely Sikh). The Indians presented me with this dugout and every day they bring me something or other. Fred would have also eaten his meals with the Sikhs and wrote of them singing while they were cooking dhal and curry” .- Sergeant Charles Frederick Reeve A.I.F. Service Number 57
“The Indians are a fine lot of soldiers, cheerful, merry, and contented. They are very clean and good hearted. Will give our boys anything they have, and even sit down and make pan cakes for our boys, and are quite pleased if you take one and eat it. Any day, and all hours of the day and night, too, you will see Indians and Australians in the sea bathing, or washing their clothes”. – Private G. Sherringham
“The Indian soldiers are fine men and we used to get a feed every night at Gallipoli from the battery Indians. Chappaties, a native very like pancake and sometimes curried vegetable ” Lance Corporal M. W. Cowell writes from a hospital in Heliopolis.
“There is a small Indian camp here, part mountain battery and the remainder are in charge of the mule train that takes supplies to the different units. They are a fine lot of fellows and very enthusiastic in their work. We wanted some curry powder so my dug out mate asked them for some and offered him an exchange. He gave us some, but would not take anything. He said “No. Australian very good”.- Private A. E. Weymouth.
Harold Arthur Browett 3rd Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, describes the much needed boost to the Australian soldiers’ spirits that Indian soldiers’ help gave. Through a simple act of sharing tea and cake, connections were made between men who may never have met were it not for the war. Browett speaks of the ‘binding friendship’ that he felt existed between the two nationalities because of their shared experiences.
And so, whilst the fates of these men at that particular moment in time may have been intertwined by a shared sense of duty, in sacrificing side by side and in forming unprejudiced bonds of mate ship, they helped the Nation to understand a simple truth if people of myriad ethnicities could serve as equals abroad, then surely they could live as equals at home.
What thoughts are running through the minds of the Indians of various creeds and clans who are fighting for their King Emperor in the many theatres of war? The best answer that can be given is to reproduce a few extracts from a series of letters written by a valiant Sikh officer Subedar Balwant Singh, who recently lost his life while on active duty. They were not meant for publication, but were addressed to his family and relatives in India. But for the death of the brave officer they would not have been available to the public.
At the time of his death he was holding the rank of Risaldar Major, the senior Indian officer in an Indian regiment, the highest rank open to an Indian. Before proceeding to the front with his regiment last year, he had seen action in Chitral (1895), Waziristan (1901) , Tibet (1903), and the North-west Frontier (1908), in each campaign winning a medal and clasp. He had been admitted into the second class of the Order of British India, and was entitled to add at the end of his name the title of “Bahadur,” meaning brave or courageous. He had also been admitted into the Victorian Order.
In a letter he wrote to a relative, Subedar Balwant Singh urged the latter to advise Singh (Balwant Singh’s son), who had just joined an Indian cavalry regiment, proceeding to a theatre of war:-
If you see. him, please tell him without fail. that he should remember that he has got an opportunity of fulfilling his duty of serving his Government, nation, and country, and so he should show courage, valour, and bravery. Death is inevitable and its hour is unknown. Hence to feel anxiety on this account is cowardly. ‘The brave never die.” On the contrary, they live to eternity. He should not blemish the name of his father and family. I shall, with great pride, hear him die as a brave man, but would not tolerate even for a moment any act of cowardice on his part.
Subedar Balwant Singh of the 3rd Skinner’s Horse was sent to the Western Front, France, with the 7th (Meerut) Cavalry Brigade in late 1914.The Indian Cavalry Corps was held as mobile reserve and later the Corps took over a sector in Thiepval, which was one of the a fortress villages in Somme held by the Germans opposite the “Leipzig Redoubt”. Skinner’s Horse saw extensive action in many parts of France and was awarded the battle honour ‘France and Flanders’ for its fine performance in this theatre of operations.
For his service in command of the Regiment in France, Subedar Major Balwant Singh Sardar Bahadur received the order of British Indian, 2nd class for distinguished service in the field and was promoted three years later to the 1st class.
In a letter addressed to his brother, the Subedar Major thus Dedicated himself to duty:-
I am born a soldier, have been a soldier, and will remain a soldier. Death is no fear nor a change even to me. I am bound to duty, and duty I only care for. In performance of duty life is not a two pence value. Duty will be performed, my dear, by your brother at any risk. Death will be faced with credit and pride, for honor and glory, for the country and Empire. I do not at all worry of anybody now. I trust the Almighty and the persons concerned, for their looking after l have been doing my best to fulfill my duty towards them. Feeling for worldly connections are natural and noble cause, but now I am meant for duty, the most paramount and sacred above all.
Subedar Balwant Singh died in the performance of his duty. He was mortally wounded while serving his King Emperor.
A fascinating unit history which will interest all Great War history specialists, as well as cavalry and Indian enthusiasts. This till today remains one of the legendary exploits of the regiment and is celebrated as an act of great courage against heavy odds. Two Indian regiments – the 20th Deccan Horse and the 34th Poona Horse, which supported the British Seventh Dragoon Guards took part in the first and only cavalry charge of the battle between the High Wood and Delville Wood area of France. That was on July 14, 1916, the day the French celebrate the fall of the Bastille.
On July 1, 1916 the Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade moved into a reserve position on the Somme , ready to exploit any breakthrough. The same Brigade was sent up again on July 14, to Montauban to support the attack on the Bazentin – Longueval ridge. At 17.30 the leading two regiments were ordered to advance between High Wood and Delville Wood. The British 7th Dragoon Guards and the Indian 20th Deccan Horse galloped forward to a position between the woods.
The charge of the British 7th Dragoon Guards and Royal Deccan Horse at High Wood on July 14th 1916, two weeks into the battle of the Somme, is one of the legendary exploits of the Great War – celebrated for the courage of those who galloped up through the cornfields, and for the sheer anachronism of attempting a cavalry charge on the western front. The charge was the first made since trench warfare began, and it was the last. At 03.30 on July 15 , they returned to Montauban, having suffered casualties of 74 men and 110 horses.
Although they were forced to retreat under heavy fire, their participation made history. It was clear to the strategists when they were ordered to provide back up support to an infantry advance beyond High Wood, near the Carnoy Valley area of the Somme battleground, that the cavalry’s day was over.
A British officers account~
Night after night our cavalry have gone out on patrol, the leader ahead and alone, two men following, behind them a small body keeping in touch. They ride silently, like shadows, with no clatter of stirrup or chink of bit. They find the gaps in the enemy’s wire, creep close to his infantry outposts, ride very deftly into the charred ruins of abandoned villages, and come back with their news of the enemy’s whereabouts.
They have liked their hunting. “They came before one could wink and flew at each other”. It was absolutely a cavalry charge. I have seen the Indian Cavalry riding across the fields with their lances high, and it was a great sight and as strange as an ‘Arabian Nights’ tale in this land if France to see those streams, of brown, bearded men, as handsome as fairy book princes, with the wind blowing their khaki turbans.
They were the men whom I had seen on my way up to the battlefield, a small detachment of the Deccan Horse. They worked forward with our infantry on a stretch of country between Bazentin Wood and Delville Wood, rising up to High Wood, and then rode out alone in reconnaissance, in true cavalry formation, with the commander in the rear. “Lord! Not one in a thousand would have believed it possible to see this again. When they passed the infantry went a little wide and cheered wildly and joyously, as though these men were riding on a road of triumph”
The good Australian and New Zealand bloodshed at Gallipoli sealed and glorified forever the patriotism of the Commonwealth and the Dominion forces, but No one cared even to suggest that the dogged bravery of the immortal 14th Ferozepore Sikhs and the undaunted devotion of the indomitable Indian and Gurkha Corps might have been in vain. But their sacrifices were never made in vain. Their devotion to duty and their splendid loyalty to their orders and to their leaders make a record their nation should look upon with pride for many generations.
“The immortal charge of the Sikh Battalion was of a piece with Gallipoli, but it was merely a battle fragment and its glorious record was written in blood within the scope of a comparatively few inspired minutes. In the mine-strewn Dardanelles and upon the sun-baked, blood-drenched rocky slopes of Gallipoli, death always partnered every sailor and soldier but the army and the navy as one man fought to the bitter end to make the best of a bad bargain, to tear triumph out of impossibilities. The dogged determination against overwhelming natural and artificial odds as even the pages of supreme British bravery cannot parallel”.
The words quoted are from the account given by Subedar (Indian Major) Sardar Narain Singh of the 14th Sikhs, who received six bullet wounds while engaged in action in Gallipoli, from which he has recovered. He says that the vision of Guru Gobind Singh appeared before the Sikh soldiers just as the bugle sounded “March” and they brandished their bayonets. He declares that he cannot explain in words ‘”The spirit this hold sight infused in us. It emboldened us to march on, piercing through the abdomens of the enemy, unmindful of the havoc being wrought by the horrid machine gun. We shouted ‘Sat Sri Akal’ (“God is timeless ‘the battle cry of the Sikhs), and chanted the Shabads (hymns) of Halla (attack) as if ours was a nuptial procession. Those among who fell wounded or dead we minded never, as the only thought before us was devotion to the Guru, who was so omnipresent in the march, and adherence to Government.”
General Sir Beauchamp Duff, Commander-in-Chief,. India, has received from Sir Ian Hamilton a stirring description of the valour of the 14th Ferozepore) Sikh Infantry in the attack on the Turkish positions in Gallipoli on June 4 and 5. “In the highest sense of the word,” Sir Ian wrote,
“extreme gallantry has been shown by this fine battalion.” It went into action with a strength of 15 British officers, 14 Indian officers, and 514 rank and file.
The remnant of unwounded next morning was three British and three Indian officers and 134 rank and-file. In spite of these tremendous losses there had not been a sign of wavering. “Not an inch of ground was given up and. not a straggler came back.” When the main attack on the enemy’s trenches failed two companies would not retire but held on to the edge of a ravine, losing all their British officers and 45 per cent, of their number. Sir Ian Hamilton says: “The defence of the point gained in the ravine, with an enemy entrenched on both sides above it, speaks for itself, and is a very fine example of the way the Sikh bears himself as the stubborn fighting man.” The Lancashire Fusiliers and the Worcesters, the General says, were full of admiration of the gallantry of their Indian comrades, and speaking for himself he says in conclusion :- “The history of the Sikhs affords many instances of their value as soldiers, but it may safely be asserted that nothing finer than the grim valour and steady discipline displayed by them on June 4 has ever been done by soldiers of the Khalsa.”
Throughout all the subsequent tragic episodes of the Gallipoli campaign, the glowing triumph of the Battle of the Krithia still shone with a light which was never dimmed. The memory of its glory remained a powerful influence when, months afterwards, men began to ask whether the attack upon the Krithia could ever be carried to a successful conclusion.
Article by: Harchand Singh Bedi
The British dispatched Sikh regiments to China leading up towards the Opium War, which ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and the opening up of Chinese ports to the British. After China’s defeat at the hands of the British in the First Opium War (1839-42), the Treaty of Nanking, signed on 29th August 1842, formed the basis for the country’s relations with the West for almost a century. As imperial powers carved out the history of Shanghai after the Opium Wars of China in the 1850s, a sizeable part of that history was played out by the Sikh community here.
By 1851, another rebellion called the ‘Taiping Rebellion’ stated against the British and other Europeans and to quell this, the British brought in The Sikh Regiment. The Taiping rebellion was the world’s bloodiest civil war. Lasting for 13 years from 1851 to 1864, it nearly toppled the Qing Dynasty and resulted in the death of 20 million people more than the entire population of England at that time. It was also viewed by many historians as a precursor to the Long March and the Cultural Revolution.
The Boxer Rebellion, also called the Boxer Uprising was a proto-nationalist movement by the “Righteous Harmony Society. The Boxer Rebellion was a rebellion in China of foreign influence in religion, politics and commerce. In June 1900 in Beijing, Boxer fighters threatened foreigners and forced them to seek refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager, urged by the conservatives of the Imperial Court, supported the Boxers and declared war on foreign powers. For 55 days, the Boxers laid siege to the heart of Beijing. On August 4, 1900 the soldiers of the Eight Nation Alliance left the city of Tianjin to march to Beijing to relieve the Siege of the Legations. Upon arriving at Yang Tsun, they were attacked by the rebellion. In the Battle of Yang Tsun, the post of honor in the fighting was taken by a British regiment of Sikhs ( 24th Punjab Regiment) and a regiment of Americans, who raced each other over a plateau of 5000 yards, exposed to a fierce hail of shell and rifle fire, to occupy a formidable entrenched position. Eventually the Sikhs and the Americans reached a position within 300 yards of the enemy. Then the order was given to fix bayonets, and a simultaneous charge was made, immense slaughter being inflicted upon the Chinese. The battle culminated in a brilliant charge of the Sikhs and American forces. Simultaneously the British Sikhs and the 14th American Regiment occupied Yang Tsun. Finally the relief force of more than 3000 soldiers from Sikh Regiments advanced to the legations, lifting the siege, which eventually paved the way for the occupation of Beijing by foreign troops.
The Chinese government was forced to sign the “Boxer Protocol”, which provided for the implementation of the leaders of the rebellion, and the payment of compensation to the injured nations.
During World War 1, Sikhs were stationed as part of the Garrison of Tianjin in China and took part in the Siege of Tsingtao. In early August the Japanese entered the war and sent a division to capture the German port of Tsingtao. The Twenty-Fourth and half the 36th Sikhs were sent from Tientsin in September to represent the Allies and take part in the capture of the place. After much hard digging in heavy rain and in great discomfort Tsingtao fell on 7th November.
For much of the first half of the 20th century, the Ch’ing Pang held Shanghai in their grip, only occasionally bothered by local police. The Ch’ing Pang (Green Gang) secret society was a huge criminal organization comparable in many respects to the Sicilian mafia. It was the true power in Shanghai, its various factions controlling practically all aspects of criminal life, including the vast profits of the illegal opium trade, the gambling rackets, prostitution, weapon smuggling, extortion, kidnapping, murder, etc. Many Chinese police officers in all three parts of the city were members, and the French Concession actually had a secret deal with the gangs, which offered protection against the warlords outside of Shanghai in exchange for non-prosecution. In short, corruption among the police corps was widespread and rampant.
The British deployed Sikh policeman as law enforcement officers. These handsome, stalwart, men may be seen all over the Oriental possessions.
The Sikh appearance and presence was effective, in the opinion of the British, in intimidating the Chinese secret Societies and deterring criminal activities. The Sikhs were recruited by the British for police services, traffic duties, the riot squad and the mounted section.
They were deployed in ports like Shanghai, where their trading companies had set up a large presence by the early twentieth century. The force was founded in 1854, and policed the International Settlement at Shanghai until 1943. Sikh policemen were a standard feature of street life in the International Settlement.
Between 1925 and 1930 Ward Road Gaol became a prison predominantly housing Chinese prisoners, controlled and run by a predominantly British and Sikh staff. The majority of warders were Sikhs . Conditions inside Ward Road Gaol were considered to be some of the harshest in the world. Silence was enforced at all times, overcrowding was rife, and in 1934 there were only 2925 cells between its 6000 inmates. It was the largest prison in the world and earned a reputation as the “Alcatraz of the Orient”.
The Sikhs were also employed as traffic policeman not only to keep automobile traffic untangled, but must contend, with horse-drawn carriages, man-drawn rickshaws, sedan chairs, and people carrying huge hardens. The streets are narrow, and everybody takes the centre of the road. ‘The Sikh likes police duty and his loyalty to the white man is unquestioned. Nothing suits him better than to swing an obstreperous Chinaman around by his pigtail’.
Article by: Harchand Singh Bedi firstname.lastname@example.org
Sikh heroism and bravery have been held in high esteem by many famous contributors, writers and distinguished statesman. Words are words, their attributes, bravery can be only described but the true essence of the contribution is exemplified by their gallant display and fortitude. Sikhs were respected by other races and they took them with them for protection and defense. It is their never-die spirit and sacrifice that impressed others and the Sikh Diaspora unfolded as another chapter in history; inherent are the virtues of humility and selfless service to others. They were adaptable, versatile and they integrated with others, but maintained their Sikh beliefs, faith and culture. Here are some gems of quotes on Sikh heroism worth cherishing and remembering.
Harchand Singh Bedi: “Nobody nowadays knows anything about those times… the younger generation think their secure lives have fallen in their laps. If you give all these details to the newspaper, the new generations will come to know.”
To this day, the sacrifices made by the Sikh soldiers are largely unknown to most people. Sikhs fought for the rights of others. Sikhs fought for others to live and Sikhs fought for their faith and beliefs. The Gurus sacrificed their lives for dharma but never flinched or renounced their unique belief in the Sikh faith. The Panth or path for Sikhs to become the bravest soldiers that the World has ever seen was laid by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the Founder of the Sikh faith. It was he who sowed the seeds of the bravery in the Sikhs and the whole world reaped their benefits. The succeeding Gurus tendered this, and the harvest lay in the destiny of Guru Gobind Singh. The steel for forging the sword was also provided by Guru Nanak.
Sikh soldiers have had a long and glorious tradition of military service. They have fought in many battles and have been known for their bravery, exploits, glorious and heroic deeds, stirring episodes of courage, devotion to duty and deep sense of loyalty. Their paramount attribute in the battle is to be their fearlessness. Sikh soldiers were known for their bravery and steadfastness. They volunteered to fight for the British Imperial Forces in many theatres. The contribution for world peace by Sikhs is indeed a very good and gallant one. The total Sikh population maybe small compared to other races and one is inspired, impressed and fascinated by the achievements made by Sikh soldiers world over.
Sikhs have fought the battles of the Empire and the Quadruple Entente on many awful but glorious fields in Belgium and France, to the Dardanelles, to Egypt, to the Persian Gulf, to East Africa, and to other places where the Union Jack is being gallantly upheld by them. Sikhs played a major part in Northern France and Flanders; of their work in Tsingtau; of their defence of the Suez Canal; of their service in arresting the advance of the Germans forces in East Africa; of their success in Chaldea; and last but no least, of their valour on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The list is endless! The Spirit which has manifested itself in the contribution by these Sikh soldiers to the Empire’s fighting strength is not merely unabated, but rising higher.
The bravery shown by Sikhs during the both World Wars had become a glorious chapter in the history of warfare. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice. Finally, let us spare these remarkable thoughts below.
Martial India, F.Yeats-Brown, 1945:
“A remarkable people, the Sikhs, with their Ten Gurus (dispeller of darkness), five distinguishing marks, and their initiation rites of water (amrit) stirred with steel; a people who have made history, and will make it again”
General Sir Frank Messervy KCSI, KBE, CB, DSO
“Finally, we, that live on, can never forget those comrades who in giving their lives gave so much that is good to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice, may they rest in peace.
In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world and during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.”
General Bardwood: “I will not be slightly worried or reluctant to leave my wife and young daughter under protection of any Sikh soldier.” (Cited in Gurmat Prakash Amritsar, Feb., 1997)
Maj. Gen. Fazal Muqeem Khan, author of book ‘Pakistan’s Crisis of Leadership’: “The major reasons for our defeat are Sikhs. We are simply unable to do anything before them despite our best efforts. They are very daring people and are fond of martyrdom. They fight courageously and are capable of defeating an army much bigger than them.”
On 3rd December 1971, we fiercely and vigorously attacked the Indian army with infantry brigade near Hussainiwala border. This brigade included Pakistan army’s Panjab regiment together with the Baloch regiment. Within minutes we pushed the Indian army quite far back. Their defense posts fell under our control. The Indian army was retreating back very fast and the Pakistani army was going forward with great speed.
Our army reached near Kausre-Hind post (Kasure). There was small segment of Indian army appointed to defend that post and their soldiers belonged to the Sikh Regiment. A few number of the Sikh Regiment stopped our way forward like an iron wall. They greeted us with the ovation (Slogan) of ‘Bolé-so-Nihal’ and attacked us like bloodthirsty, hungry lions and hawks. All these soldiers were Sikhs. There was even a dreadful hand-to-hand battle. The sky filled with roars of ‘Yaa Ali and Sat Sri Akal’. Even in this hand-to-hand fighting the Sikhs fought so bravely that all our desires, aspirations and dreams were shattered.
In this war Lt. Col. Gulab Hussain was killed. With him Major Mohammed Zaeef and Capt. Arif Alim also died. It was difficult to count the number of soldiers who got killed. We were astonished to see the courage of those, handful of Sikh soldiers. When we seized the possession of the three-story defense post of concrete, the Sikh soldiers went onto the roof and kept on persistently opposing us. The whole night they kept on showering fires on us and continued shouting the loud ovation of ‘Sat Sri Akal’. These Sikh soldiers kept on the encounter till next day. Next day the Pakistani tanks surrounded this post and bombed it with guns. Those, handful of Sikhs got martyred in this encounter while resisting us, but other Sikh soldiers then destroyed our tanks with the help of their artillery. Fighting with great bravery they kept on marching forward and thus our army lost its foothold.
Alas! A handful of Sikhs converted our great victory into big defeat and shattered our confidence and courage. The same thing happened with us in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the battle of Jassur, the Singhs opposed the Pakistan army so fiercely that our backbone and our foothold were lost. This became the main important reason of our defeat; and Sikhs’ strength, safety and honour of the country, became the sole cause of their victory.
Lord Mountbatten (India’s Last British Viceroy):
Guru Nanak Dev Ji was a great poet, philosopher and saint. His teachings are of universal application and his message of love, service and sacrifice will continue to inspire coming generations. (Excerpt from speech in London on Guru Nanak’s Quincentenary)
Rabindranath Tagore: Banda was a hero – a ‘lion in shackles’ The Sikh community may have taken years to offer its collective homage to the ascetic-turned-warrior, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, but his universal appeal was recognized by poets and intellectuals even before India became independent. Banda was immortalized in literature by one of the greatest poets of the times, Rabindranath Tagore. It was in 1899 that the Nobel Laureate – whose 150th birth anniversary was celebrated on May 9, ahead of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s tercentenary of Sirhind Fateh on May 14, 2010 -wrote his famous poem ‘Bandi Bir’ (Captive Hero) based on the Sikh warrior and his brave Sikh fighters who took on the tyrannical Mughal army despite being outnumbered and ill-equipped in terms of weapons. He sang paens to the great warrior, using terms like “singher moto shrinkhalgato” (lion in shackles) to describe his arrest by the Mughals. The poem, which is part of the academic syllabus in every English and vernacular medium school of West Bengal, is also one of those powerful creations of Tagore which mothers love to teach their children, in every Bengali household. It was also universally recognised as a source of inspiration to several other Bengali writers as well as the militant youths of those times who were fighting for India’s Independence.
“This poem can be found in the book of poems by Tagore – ‘Katha-O-Kahini’ and is an extremely popular, inspirational poem,” says Rajat Kanta Ray, vice-chancellor of the Visva Bharati University. (Katha-O-Kahini) is a collection of Tagore’s poems where the poet featured great inspirational figures, not just from Sikh community but also Rajput and Maratha war heroes, who set high standards of bravery and valour.
Tagore did not base his poem on Banda Bahadur’s tales of ferocious battles with the Mughal Empire. He, instead, chose the fag end of the warrior’s life when Banda was fettered and locked up in a cage by the Mughals after his arrest, and was about to be executed. Banda’s fortitude and his brave demeanour even in the face of such adversity became the inspiration for Tagore, who wanted to exhort youths to lead a life of bravery and self-respect, says the scholar.
The most famous lines from the poem talks of how Sikhs, despite shackled, held prisoners and facing torture of their tormentors, remained unmoved, without even uttering a cry and it was only the Guru’s name which moved them at that time.
Extract from Rabindra Nath Tagore’s poem (Bandi Bir) written in praise of the great Sikh warrior:
Little did people dream that these men would ultimately become the bravest of mankind that world has ever seen and, be fighting side by side with the very men whom they were then preparing to resist. These men were a fine body of men, full of enthusiasm, energy and that never-to-die spirit which is a prerogative of a Sikh, and in respect to physique left nothing to be desired.
Sikhs have not one but thousands of martyrs. A martyr or shahid is one who by courting martyrdom bears witness to the truth of his faith and to his own unswerving commitment and allegiance to it.
The death of heroic men is holy, should they lay down their lives for a righteous cause, says Guru Nanak Dev Ji. At another place in the scripture, Kabir reiterates the same idea in a little different way as the Bhagat says:
gagan damama bajio pario nisane ghao. khet jo mandio surama ab jujhan ko dau;
sura so pahichaniai jo lare din ke het, purja purja kati marai kabahu na chhade khetu.
(The hero, entering the field, fights on without quailing. Know that man to be a true hero
Who fights in defence of the defenceless; Hacked limb by limb, he still flees not the field. (SGGS, Kabir, 1005)
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, in one of the concluding verses of his Chandi Charitra Ukti Bilas, seeks the divine boon to ever do noble deeds and be able to lay down his life for the sake of righteousness:
deh siva baru mohi ihai subh karman te kabahun na taron,
na daro ari so jab jai laron nischai kari apuni jit karon
ar sikhaho apane hi mana ko ih lalach hau gun tau ucharo,
jab av ki audh nidan banai ati hi ran mai tab jujh maron.
(Lord, Grant me this boon:
Never may I turn back from righteousness;
May I never turn back in fear when facing the foe;
May I ever instruct my mind to chant Thy praises;
And when the end arrives,
May I fall fighting on the field of battle.)
To stand up to a righteous cause, to stand up in defence of the hapless and defenceless, to be willing to make even the supreme sacrifice for the sake of a cause held dear by a fellow citizen – all this requires a lot of courage and fearlessness. The scripture repeatedly exhorts man to be fearless and give up cowardice.
“Thus, in Sikh faith, one is required to give up all cowardice, be brave and courageous enough to stand up against all kinds of injustice, oppression and highhandedness. Guru Nanak and his successors prepared their disciples for this with a view to erecting a social setup where values of equality and love, justice and tolerance, compassion and self-respect prevail. Clearly, this was the time for Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563-1606) to bear witness to the truth of his faith and to his own unswerving commitment and allegiance to it. Guru Arjan Dev Ji stood for the religious freedom of man and refused to renounce his faith when so desired by the ruler of the day. He willingly offered himself to suffer any privation and even meet death for upholding his principles. Thus, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, became the first martyr of the Sikh faith. When Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-1675), the ninth Guru of the Sikh faith, assumed the spiritual leadership of the Sikh faith in 1664, he rather stood by the faith and would not waver; he was martyred by the Mughal Emperor.
The sacrifices made by Guru Gobind Singh Ji and especially the martyrdom courted by his young sons are exemplary. Guru Gobind Singh Ji sacrificed his entire family (including father, mother and sons), his own life and in fact everything that belonged to him. All the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh Ji courted martyrdom even before they were majors: the elder two, Sahibzada Ajit Singh and Sahibzada Jujhar Singh, laid down their lives at Chamkaur fighting against the Mughal forces supported by the hill chiefs who had pursued the Guru violating the vows they had taken to the contrary. These young boys were internalized during their formative days to stand against injustice and oppression and even be ready to sacrifice their lives whenever need be. The younger sons of the Guru, Sahibzadas Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, were bricked alive under orders of the Nawab of Sirhind: the young boys, were handed over to the Mughal satrap of Sirhind by an old servant of theirs who escorted them this way as they got separated from their father and other members of the family after vacating Anandpur. These young boys remained unflinched in their faith and without any wavering of mind preferred death to giving up their faith when forced to make the choice – a lesson they had learnt from their parents, their heritage.” Banda Singh Bahadur, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Bhagat Singh, Randhir Singh and many more, made great impact in Sikh history of heroism and they fought tooth and nail to preserve humanity from tyranny and oppression.
“The reputation of the Sikh soldier as one of the world’s finest has its origins in the creation of the Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The Khalsa, meaning, literally “purified ones, the Guru’s own”, are the Sikh men and women who choose to publicly affirm their commitment to their faith by taking Amrit or Khande di Pahul, the initiation by double-edged sword. Three hundred years ago at Anandpur Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s dramatic creation of the Khalsa was attended by tens of thousands of Punjabi farmers, traders, artisans, untouchables, and trained warriors who became the brothers and sisters of an unprecedented people’s army of India.
The original Khalsa initiates were never “belly-soldiers”, or mercenaries; soldiering was part of their spiritual make-up as defenders of religious freedom for all faiths at a time when the Mughal rulers of India were engaging in forcible and brutal conversions to Islam. ‘To uphold right in every place and destroy sin and evil; that right may triumph, that good may live and tyranny be uprooted from the land’ Guru Gobind Singh Ji said. With this, he set out to ‘teach the sparrow how to hunt the hawk and one man to have the courage to fight a legion’. What the Guru succeeded in doing was to convert the Sikhs from humble peasantry of the Punjab into some of the greatest and most noble warriors in world history.”
“This Warrior Saint book contains collection of rare and unpublished images in its endeavours to celebrate the heroic Sikh tradition and its history over the last three centuries. Within this work, there are examples of individual bravery, of undying loyalty, of courage and dedication to duty, which have elicited praise even from enemies. Included in this collection are rare images of Akali Sikhs (the descendants of the original Sikh army), images depicting the centuries-old partnership between the British and the Sikhs, and photographs documenting the relatively unsung role of Sikh soldiers during the two World Wars.
The images and quotes in Warrior Saint, have been selected to show the generations of Sikhs who have sacrificed so much, including their lives, in virtually every field of battle, not just in their ancestral home of Punjab, but in Europe and the Pacific Rim. The images have been chosen to demonstrate the honest innocence and anonymity of these generations of Sikhs who have fought and died in a declaration of their faith.”
Recent political events may not seem to represent the worth of the Sikh military tradition that this work celebrates. However, it would have been incomplete had we not included some mention of the significant happenings in Punjab since the 1980s. This courage and positive values have been instilled within Sikhs and it is no surprise, statistically speaking, although Sikhs made up less than 2% of the population of India, they contributed to increase the number of volunteers in the Indian Army from 189,000 to over 2.5 million for the British Imperial Forces by the end of the World War 1 and 2. More than 83,000 turban wearing Sikh Soldiers were killed and another 109,000 were wounded in their fight for freedom; not for their own freedom but of the world. Nearly one third of the total awards for deeds of valor and daring sacrifices on the battlefields were won by Sikh Soldiers.
The Sikh Soldiers did not just fight for their freedom in India, but they also volunteered to fight for the freedom of others who lived in foreign lands. These heroes of ours died for the world. They died that freedom might live. They died to help free the world from violence, hatred and tyranny and surely they have a right to expect that the present, as well as future, shall be worth their glad Sacrifice. These men had fought and died for the institutions which were cherished as vital to the interests of the people. They had died for the protection of our homes. Any man who held a title deed for that strip of land that he called his home owed a debt of gratitude, and had an obligation to fullfil to the men who fought on the battlefield. The soldiers were willing to sacrifice their all for the flag that floated in the breeze that day. It would not have been the time-honoured Union Jack, but the flag of the invader that would have floated in the breeze had these men not fought.
Sikhs are known by their deeds and actions. Their bravery and contribution to the allied victory is often overlooked, yet these courageous soldiers served in nearly every theater of British operations. Sikhs fought with great courage and bravery in all the major battles fought in Malaya, Java, Hong Kong, Burma. In Europe and the Middle East they were engaged on the front lines in Eritrea, Karen, Italy, Cyprus and Persia. In Africa, many sacrificed their lives at Sidi Barrani, El Alamein, Tunis, Abyssinia and Somaliland. With the tradition of unsurpassed valor, Sikhs won immortal glory on Gallipoli and in Palestine. Their bravery and heroism won them so many Victoria Crosses. It is amazing!
We must never forget the sacrifices made by the Spirit Born People of yesterday who fought and died to preserve the freedom we all cherish today.
Article by: Harchand Singh Bedi
India made its contribution to the Second World War by providing almost two million volunteers in a couple of years. At the outbreak of the Second World War, in September1939, the Indian Troops, totaled 2,005,038. By 1941, India had recruited 9,000,000 soldiers. By August 1945 two million volunteer soldiers were fighting in Africa, Sidi Barrani, Alam El Halfa and El Alamein. In Italy, Indian Forces were deployed in Cassino, Sangro and on the Gothic Line.
In Italy, more than half of the country saw the Sikhs fighting against the Germans right from the first assault on the Gothic Line in August 1944, to the last assault on the Senio River in April 1945. During these months the Eighth British Army included the Fourth and Tenth Indian Divisions. These Indian Divisions had the famous Gurkha and Sikh Regiments who had been serving the British Empire for a Century.
Almost 50,000 troops, mostly between the ages of 19 and 22, fought for the sake of freedom in Italy. Close to 50 per cent of them were injured in the process. Of these, a total of 5782 Indian soldiers died in Italy. It is to their credit that out of twenty Victoria Cross decorations given for bravery during the war in Italy, the Indian soldiers received as many as six.
It is unfortunate that the major contribution of the three Indian Army Infantry Divisions, 4, 8 and 10 and the 43 Gurkha Infantry Brigade has been given such short shrift in the annals of war, this despite the fact that the war correspondent of the Illustrated London News has categorically stated that at the end of the Italian Campaign on VE Day 1945, 8th Indian Division was perhaps the best fighting formation in Italy. The story of their bravery and their sacrifice is still talked about in Italian cities and villages that they helped to liberate. However, the full account of their bravery is not available to the wider public.
Some Interesting Anecdotes.
The landing of Allies in Sicily on 09 July 1943 marked the commencement of the Italian Campaign. The landings signified the decline of Fascism and Italy joining the war on the side of Allies. The liberation of Ferrara was officially announced by the Anglo-American troops at 0730 hours on 24 April 1945. According to the testimonies of that time, Indian troops were among the first to reach Ferrara. They were part of the 5th Corps of the 8th British Army and were composed mainly by Sikh soldiers. After the liberation of Ferrara, these troops were deployed in Porotto, on the way leading to the Po River which ran along the Gothic Line.
Not many historic or photographic records exist regarding the contribution of Indian troops in the capture of Ferrara. The most evident sign of Indian presence in Ferrara is represented by the War Cemetery of Ravenna, Argenta and especially by the one in Forli. The cemetery in Forli also has a Cremation Memorial commemorating the Hindu and Sikh soldiers and officers who died in Italy during this period, from 16 April 1944 till the end of the war.
The Fourth Indian Division was the first one to advance against the Gothic Line at 6 AM on 25 August, 1944 on Acqualagna – Fermignano – Urbino axis. It was the internal axis and it was also far from the sea, on the extreme left of the allied deployment. Thus, it was the hardest axis to advance on and to get to Romagna. The Gurkhas captured Auditore on 3rd September, 1944. The day after, in Poggio San Giovanni, Havildar (Sergeant) Sham Singh of the 2nd Battalion, 11 Sikh Regiment successfully captured a German machine gun position and four of its crew on his own.
While the 4th Indian Division was fighting on the mountains close to Rimini, the 10th Division went up Tuscany and Catenaia Alps, towards Meldola and Forli to penetrate the defences of Romagna. On 5 October, 1944, Lance Naik (Corporal) Bhuri Singh of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Punjab Regiment assaulted a German trench which was protected by antitank weapons. On 10th October, 1944, another unit of the the 10th Division, the 18th Royal Garhwal Rifles, was very close to Cesena. A platoon was ordered to clear the enemy from the village of Ardiano. Havildar Murti Singh Rawat led his platoon successfully and cleared the village taking 11 German soldiers as prisoners.
On 14 December, 25th Indian Brigade of the 10th Division deployed in South of Faenza, came under counter attack from 90th German Panzer grenadier. During the Counter attack, Lance Naik Ratan Singh Rana, 18th Royal Garwhal Rifles, rescued a wounded officer, under heavy enemy bombardment. The 4th Indian Division distinguished itself again in Ravenna in April 1944 while crossing the Senio River. On 9 April, Naik Samer Singh of the 15 Punjab, crossed the river under enemy fire after three officers had been killed.
On night 10-11 April, 1944, during the assault on Scolo Tratturo, Naik Mohd Sadiq of 8th Punjab, charged a machine gun position and captured it.
On 3 April, the Eighth Division launched the final offensive. Two platoons of the 4th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifle Regiment, attacked Poggiolo, in Imola area at 22 00 hours. The German infantry was well entrenched and protected by mines and barbed wire. The 6th Platoon launched a frontal attack. The Jemadar (lieutenant) Milkhi Ram cut the barbed wire off so that his platoon could assault despite the direct fire of German mortars and small arms. The last effort. Entire Romagna felt grateful.
“The Fourth, Eighth and Tenth Indian Divisions will forever be associated with the fighting for Cassino, the capture of Rome, the Arno Valley, the liberation of Florence and the breaking of the Gothic Line.
The Spoon River, where the Sikhs fought on the Emilia Romagna territory, has an exotic sound which still evokes the memories of the eastern hemisphere.
The Indian forces though limited to the strength of 4, 8 and 10 Indian Division, distinguished themselves for courage and tenacity in the battles of the Sangro, Cassino, the Liri Valley, the Gothic line, the Senio and several other engagements. The Indian soldiers fought in a terrain that was ideally suited for defence and the offensive proceeded against the grain of the country. Yet they fought with unparalleled courage and relentless tenacity. Within the cemetery will be found the SANGRO RIVER CREMATION MEMORIAL, one of three memorials erected in Italy to officers and men of the Indian forces whose remains were cremated in accordance with their faith – the other two cremation memorials are in Forli Indian Army War Cemetery and Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery.
The memorial at Sangro River commemorates 517 Indian servicemen who fell in 1943-44.Out of it, 237 Volunteers carried the surname “SINGH” The memorial at Cassino commemorates 1,438 Indian servicemen who fell in which, 377 Volunteers carried the surname “SINGH”. The cremation memorial at Forli commemorates 769 Indian servicemen in which 370 Volunteers carried the surname “SINGH”.
Article by: Harchand Singh Bedi
Saloks’ were chanted from the ‘‘Granth Sahib’’ by the Granthi of the 36th Sikhs in a sonorous voice that penetrated to and excited all the Sikhs listeners and in the end Bhai Takht Singh Ji offered up the following prayer in the vernacular :-‘ May all the Sikhs ever flourish under benign rule of the British Government. May we all remain ever true to the salt we eat. May we find our greatest pride in emulating the heroism of the men of Saragarhi and should our own time come may we all be equally ready to lay down our lives.
“When the hour of mortality of this body arrives, I should die fighting on the battle field with unbounded courage”~ (Swaiyya) Guru Gobind Singh Ji’’.
‘Their bodies were lying about, and there was a most unpleasant smell. The fort is all in ruins, and the rocks which surround it are covered with bullets. Some of their khaki coats were lying about, charred and covered with blood. It was there that the whole garrison of twenty one Sikhs were cut up, and some of them burnt half alive. ‘No other relics were found and even the iron bracelets invariably worn by the Sikhs were missing’ from which it is evident that the bodies must have been completely stripped before the walls were pulled down upon them by the enemy’! No one will know how an entrance was forced, but saw a large breach in one corner, and presumed that the Afridis crept up that, under which they would have been covered from fire, and picked out the masonry. The bodies were brought back to the camp and cremated in accordance with the rites of Sikh religion. We each brought back bullet as a memento, though I think shall never forget what we saw’. ~ Commander: 2nd Division, Kohat Field Force, Major General Arthur Godolphin Yeatman Biggs.
NATIVE OFFICERS OF THE 36TH SIKHS. TIRAH, 1897.
The magnificent stand of the handful of the 36th Sikhs, who perished in Saragarhi, will rank with the noblest deeds of arms, thus proving their loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign the Queen Empress of India, and gloriously maintaining the reputation of the Sikhs for unflinching courage on the field of battle.
The gallant 21 Sikhs stood their ground in obeisance to Guru Gobind Singh’s hymn (Swaiyya) that “When the hour of mortality of this body arrives, I should die fighting on the battle field with unbounded courage”
The ruins of Saragarhi Post
The shattered doorways, the dismantled parapets and the broken walls, all formed a silent monument.
The ridge of Samana overlooks the Orakzai territory. On its summit lie two forts Gulistan and Lockhart, a third smaller post, called Saragarhi, being situated between these two. The function of the latter is chiefly to maintain signalling communication between the two larger forts.
On September 10th information was received that a large force of Afridis and Orakzais was on the move and intended cutting into British territory between Hangu and Kohat. Major General Yeatman Biggs at once moved out to the Samana ridge and succeeded in driving back the enemy returning on the 11th to Hangu. The enemy foiled in their attempt to raid British territory now turned their attention to the forts on the ridge and at about 10 A.M. on the morning of September 12th, 1897 bore down in overwhelming strength on the small post of Saragarhi.
The little garrison of the 21 Sikhs had to choose between surrender and death. With true Sikh gallantry they unhesitatingly choose the latter, even after they saw that the defective construction of the work they occupied rendered defence impossible.
The post was not capable for a prolonged defence owing to weakness in construction, situation and strength, and the enemy was looking for an easy victory. But it was not to be so. The defenders repulsed repeated attacks, with victory nowhere in sight for the attackers who suffered heavy casualties. The tribal chief, Gul Badshah tried to allure the defenders to surrender but Havildar Ishar Singh replied that Sikhs never surrender, and the biggest sin would be to surrender and not to fight to their death, thus upholding the religious beliefs, tradition and greatest honour of Sikh religion and after failing, put in another attack.
Two furious assaults were beaten off by the gallant defenders but during the third, two of the enemy found themselves under the walls of the fort in a dead angle completely screened from the defenders fire. They quickly succeeded in making a breech, and another attack was at once forced home, the enemy rushing in by hundreds. The gallant twenty one were obliged to leave their posts on the wall to meet the rush of the enemy at the breech whereupon the attackers scaled the walls and were soon inside the post. Beaten back by the enemy now swarming on every side, the small garrison yielded only inch by inch, fighting gallantly. It was a grim scene in a grim theater. The end must come sooner or later, but until such time the Martinis of the Sikhs cracked out defiance and death to the enemy.
“The enemies are in. Shall I go on signalling or shall I take the rifle?” He dismounted his heliograph equipment, carefully packed it in a leather bag , fixed bayonet on his rifle and joined the fight, after all had gone never to return.~ Gurmukh Singh
Now the fate of the gallant Sikhs at Saragarhi was certain. It was only a matter of time. The door was attacked, and the garrison slowly but surely was reduced by the enemy’s marksmen. For six and half hours these heroes fought their great fight, and held their own until it become impossible with the few unwounded men left to arm both the walls and guard the entrance door.
And so, man by man, fighting grimly and silently to the last fell every one of the twenty one heroes who defended Fort Saragarhi against the Queen’s enemies. The signaller, faithful to the last, remained coolly sending messages to Fort Lockhart till he was cut down by the enemy when the fort fell at 4.30pm. Precisely, what happened will never be known, for not a man escaped to tell the tale. The very meagre account of the defence and fall of Saragarhi is supplied by the signaller at Saragarhi who kept in communications to the last, and by the on lookers at Fort Lockhart and Gulistan who, powerless to render assistance, witnessed the grim tragedy to its sad finale.
Tales also came from the enemy corroborating the battle in the guardroom. And how one wounded Sikh who lay on his charpoy when the Afridis surged in to the serai shot down four men before his death blow came. According to the other reports given by the attackers, one Sikh retired into the inner quarters, and, not withstanding repeated summonses to surrender, he plied his rifle with such effect that twenty of his attackers fell before he finally succumbed to the flames in which the post was enveloped. Such valorous deeds need no eulogy.
‘‘21 men of mine fought like demons. One brave fellow held out in the guard room, and killed 20 of the enemy. He could not be conquered, and at last was burned at his post. These men died the death of heroes, and though the annals of the native army of India are full of brave deeds. These men gave up their lives in devotion to their duty.”– Major Des Voeux 36th Sikh Regiment.
The following is an extract from a letter received by Lieutenant Colonel Webb from Lieut. Davidson. Dated Malakand, the 21st October 1897: —
“At Saragarhi, which is between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan, a few weeks ago the garrison of 21 men of the 36th Sikhs were all killed, but only after a splendid defence. As the men were killed the survivors broke the rifles of those that fell, and thus only eight or nine rifles fell into the enemy’s hands. For devotion to the salt this is hard to beat.”
‘‘In all the annals of European warfare we do not believe a more heroic act that performed by the Sikh sepoy in the guardroom at Saragarhi has ever been chronicled’’~ General Sir Bindon Blood
At 12 noon on the 14th the Saragarhi heights had been taken by General Yeatman Biggs and by 1 pm a great retreat of the enemy began. When General Yeatman Biggs relief force reached the dismantled Saragarhi post, it was a piteous sight. The little post was levelled almost to the ground and amid the ruins of the fort they had so gallantly defended lay the stripped and horribly mutilated bodies of the little garrison. It is impossible to describe the nature of the mutilation which these wild Pathans inflict on their helpless enemies – It is revolting in the extreme. As corpse after corpse, maimed and disfigured, was drawn forth the comrades of the dead men looked on in terrible silence.
The enemy who attacked Saragarhi were the Mamuzais, Ali Khels and Ali Sherzais, together with the Afridi lashkar.
Negotiations for peace were then begun with the Afridis in November at Bagh, to comply with the terms offered to them who under the threat of another expedition into Tirah in the spring at length, agreed to pay the fines and to surrender the rifles demanded. General Lockhart informed them of the terms which would be granted. The Ali Khel Orakzais was paying the fine imposed upon them.
Among the rifles which they brought in were six Martinis captured from the 36th Sikhs at Saragarhi. The fore ends of these weapons were shattered by bullets, showing how serve was the action fought there.
According to General Kempster’s detached brigade camp at Ziya-ud-din Zakka Khel territory, it is interesting to note that during the advance to Saran sar, a Sikh quoit was found in a mosque. It had been broken into four, and was smeared with blood. Another tragic memento of Saragarhi!
What can be finer than the story of Saragarhi, where twenty one Sikhs preferred death to dishonour?
Below are the details of the famous twenty one Sikhs of the 36th Bengal Infantry, who held the post of Saragarhi on 12th September 1897.The twenty one were thus distributed ; fourteen of D company, six of H Company, one of A Company.
The first table of details is provided by Brigadier General Kanwaljit Singh Ji (Retd.) of 4th Sikh based on his research and the second table is from the source of the Indian Heroes Fund England, Tirah Campaign dated 5th May 1898.
In memory of Saragarhi.
Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara has been erected in the cantonment at Ferozepur to commemorate the gallant defence of fort Saragarhi by the party of the 36th Sikh regiment who fell in the heroic defence of Fort Saragarhi on September 12, 1897. The Gurdwara was inaugurated by the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Sir Charles Montgomery Rivaz in 1904.
In the course of his speech, The Lieutenant Governor said: –
‘The heroic defence of Saragarhi is a notable proof of the still living vigour of Sikhism and of the undaunted courage of the Sikh Soldier. Happy is the country that can breed such men as those who fought and died on the memorable day, and happy too, yes thrice happy, is the nation which can command the willing and loyal services of such men, faithful even unto death’.
The Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Sir Charles Montgomery Rivaz then pulled the cord of the curtain covering the main door of the memorial, and in a loud voice declared the building open. A curious thrill in the Sikh crowd at this juncture drew attention suddenly away from the platform to the triumphal arch through which was now seen to appear a solemn procession of Gurus carrying and escorting the ‘‘Granth Sahib,’’ or sacred scripture of the Sikhs, to its shrine or altar in the temple. Already the procession had encompassed the native city, and its march is now ended the holy book was borne into the temple, placed on its proper repository, opened with due form and read. ‘Saloks’ were chanted from the ‘‘Granth Sahib (Sikh Holy Scripture)’’ by the Granthi (Priest) of the 36th Sikhs in a sonorous voice that penetrated to and excited all the Sikhs listeners and in the end Bhai Takht Singh offered up the following prayer in the vernacular :-
‘May all the Sikhs ever flourish under benign rule of the British Government. May we all remain ever true to the salt we eat. May we find our greatest pride in emulating the heroism of the men of Saragarhi; and should our own time come may we all be equally ready to lay down our lives in loyal service for the great Sirkar under whose protection we live in happiness.
Major General Arthur Godolphin Yeatman Biggs, C.B., the son of Mr. Harry Farr Yeatman, of Stock House, Dorset and Emma Biggs, the only daughter of Mr. Harry Biggs, of Stockton House, Wiltshire. He was born in 2nd March 1843, and after choosing the Bar as his profession, finally decided to enter the Royal Artillery, which he did at the age of seventeen, and was for the moment, the youngest officer in the Army. The record of General Yeatman Biggs’ services covers a period of thirty seven years, during which he was employed in the following campaigns and military expeditions – The operations against the Taping rebels in China, 1862. After a little service in China, where he was slightly wounded at the taking of the Taku forts he rose to be Captain in 1874, Major in 1881, and Colonel in 1886, and was made C.B. in 1891. On the staffs of Lord Roberts and Lord Wolseley, he served with distinction in South Africa in 1870, in Egypt in 1882, India in 1894, as assistant Adjutant General, and then in command of the capture of Dargai .In 1897, commanding the 2nd Division of the Tirah (Kurram Kohat) Expeditionary Force. Major General Arthur Godolphin Yeatman Biggs, C.B. – died on 4th January 1898. He died of exhaustion (dysentery) at the age of 54. He is buried at Tehkal Cemetery, Peshawar. Major General was lamented as an accomplished gentleman, a gallant soldier, and a good friend, by everyone who knew him.