Aussie Anzac Day
Honours Sikh Heroes


by Manpreet Kaur Singh


Sikhs always had a disproportionately huge role to play in the Indian army, the British Indian army and in the Allied Forces during both the World Wars.  But who would have thought that there were Sikhs in the Australian army way back in the early 1900's and that some of them actually fought in the First World War as Australian soldiers!

According to the National War Memorial in Australia's capital, Canberra, seven Sikhs were part of the Australian armed forces during the First World War   Their names and the battalions they were part of, are as follows:

Davy Singh             33rd Battalion

Desanda Singh       3rd Light Horse

Ganessa Singh       10th Battalion

Gurbachan Singh    54th Battalion

Hazara Singh          13th Battalion

Sarn Singh              43rd Battalion

Sirdar Singh            3rd Light Horse

Six of these soldiers returned safely after the War ended in 1918, but one of them (Sarn Singh) died in action. 

But this is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. According to one estimate,

"In the last two world wars, 83,005 turban-wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith."

 [General Sir Frank Messervy, KCSI, KBE, CB, DSO: "The Sikh Regiment in the Second World War"]


According to another source,

"In 1914, there were 35,000 Sikhs fighting in the War.  By the end of the War, 100,000 volunteers had joined the various sections of the British Armed Forces.  It is 'estimated that the contribution of the Sikh Community in men and material was ten times that of any community of India.  Of the 22 Military Crosses awarded for conspicuous gallantry to Indians, the Sikhs won 14.' "

[Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh: "Warrior Saints - Three Centuries of the Sikh Military Tradition."]


So, it is really heartening to see Sikhs in Australia waking up to these facts and partaking in special services that honour war veterans. 

One such occasion is Anzac Day, celebrated throughout the country on April 25, marking the landing of Australia and New Zealand Armed Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli (Turkey) in 1915.  Every year, there are ceremonial marches and parades in most Australian cities to mark the sacrifice of those who lost their lives in the line of duty. 

The Sikh community of Western Australia has proudly joined in this tradition of paying homage to their forefathers too, because they fought alongside the Australians during both the World Wars. 

Since 2005, there has been a Sikh contingent in the Anzac Day march in Perth, comprised of direct descendants of those who fell in Gallipoli and other campaigns. 

Says Kuljit Kaur Jassal, an ex-Royal Australian Air Force officer, who is one of the organisers of the Sikh complement: " We also want the Australian public to know that our grandfathers fought alongside their grandfathers in Gallipoli. Not just that, more than 80,000 Sikhs died in the two World Wars as part of the Allied forces.  These brave young men fought for our freedom, and we must honour their memory."

In previous years, a Malaysian Pipe and Drum troupe called the "Dasmesh Band" led the Sikh contingent in the march. This year, however, for the first time, there was a Western Australian Sikh Band leading them. 

The Drum Band was comprised of ten members, seven of them aged between 10 and 15 years. The Drum Major in the WA Sikh Band was Dr Tejinderpal Singh whose great- grandfather, Nanak Singh, fought in Gallipoli.  Nanak Singh's son Shiv Singh also fought in World War II. 

Dr. Singh wore his great-grandfather's medals when he marched on Anzac Day 2007, as did many others in the contingent. 

Other band members included young Amarvir Singh (whose great-grandfather fought in Mesopotamia, and grandfather was in the Indian army), and the only female member of the band, Husveena Kaur, (whose maternal grandfather was in the Malaysian Army Reserves and paternal great-grandfather fought in Mesopotamia).  

The band members practiced diligently with trainers and stole the show at the Perth march, looking resplendent in their white kurtas and saffron dastaars, complete with kalgis.

In another first, there was a Sikh contingent in the Sydney Anzac Day parade this year as well.  Apart from that, there were special commemorations at some RSL (Returned Services League) Clubs in suburban Sydney too. 

19-year-old Jasmeen Kaur Malhotra gave a speech on behalf of the Sikh community in Revesby and outlined the proud history of Sikhs in the World Wars.  The most heartening thing about both the Perth and the Sydney services was the inclusion of youth and children  -  the youngsters led from the front, which is a promising thing for any community. 

Let's hope that that others around the world continue to find the time to participate in memorials and marches like these.  It has been eloquently said that those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.  So let's all make an extra effort in each of our respective communities to honour the memory of those on whose proverbial shoulders we stand today.

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