Saluting Sikh Soldiers of
World War I and II
A Review by Kartar Singh
Compiled & Editor : Surjan Singh, PBM, PBS, FRGS, BA (London)
Surprisingly, the British Raj when recruiting Sikh soldiers laid down strictly that those who join the British Army had to be the traditional Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh, and they were also required to strictly follow the Sikh code of conduct. How I wish that the Indian Amy had continued this fine tradition for its own recruitment!
Sardar Surjan Singh had done an excellent research regarding the contribution of Sikh troops to the British Army in the World Wars I and II. In fact, historians have recorded that before World War I began on 1914, a third of the Commonwealth forces were from Punjab, of whom more than 50% were Sikhs. It is also recorded that in 1989 the number of officers and men from undivided India stood at 1, 80,000. Interestingly, this figure had risen to over two million by 1945. The Sikh Light infantry was raised during this period. Lieutenant General Sir Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, is known to have taken great interest in Sikh troops between the two wars.
In the World War I, Sikh soldiers fought bravely in Iraq and Palestine. The gallantry of the 47th and 36th Sikhs in Iraq against the Turks was highly commended. In France, the gallantry shown by the 47th Sikhs at La Bassee on 28th Oct, 1914, and the Capture of Neuve Chapelle was greatly inspired by the bravery of Sikh soldiers. In fact many Sikh soldiers laid down their lives fighting to save France against the German Army. It is sad to note that today the French Government fails to recognize that it was the Sikh turban that saved their country. S Surjan Singh records, “French history would have been different, had it not been for the turbaned Sikh soldiers.”
The author has recorded the numerous awards won by Sikh soldiers in both the Wars. He writes, “It is not possible to write of the bravery and gallantry shown by all the soldiers who fought in the World Wars – each soldier showed bravery at varying degrees – Hence some were awarded recognition, while others were not”. He then records the names of those Sikh soldiers who were awarded the top honours of the Indian Order of Merit (IOM). Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM) and of course the ultimate and glorious award – the Victoria Cross. This is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy, that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. The Sikh soldiers who won the VC are legendary and their names are written in golden words in the history of the Indian Army. They are Ishar Singh, Karmjeet Singh Judge, Gian Singh, Nand Singh, Parkash Singh, Karam Singh and Preminder Singh Bhagat. All of them and other Indians rose to high ranks after independence.
The author has traced the history of the Sikh Regiment and Sikh Light Infantry with live pictures taken during the wars. The part relating to 45th Rahray’s Sikhs and 3rd Battalion Sikh Regiment makes interesting reading. Mazhabi and Ramdasia Sikhs were enlisted as a Regiment in 1941 by the British. They had, however, long formed a part of the Khalsa Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The designation was changed to Sikh Light Infantry in 1944.
The author has to be congratulated for his formidable stamina in collecting the data with names of all Sikh soldiers who died in both the World Wars. He appears to have visited various countries all over the world to gather detailed data with respect to each Indian soldier who laid down his life. Hence the size of the book. It is, therefore, essential for all libraries in India to have access to this book. The Indian Armed Forces need to be most grateful to him for carrying out this research on their behalf.
The author has dedicated a pictorial page to the Sikh soldiers of World War I and II whose records were destroyed or went missing due to the ravages of the Wars, and hence their names remain incognito. The Sikh Community salutes them and remembers them. Kudos to the author Sardar Surjan Singh for compiling painstakingly the history of the two World Wars with particular reference to the great contribution of Sikh soldiers in the British Army.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies,
2009, All rights reserved.