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Sikh Soldiers In World Wars


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Sikhs primarily come from the Punjab, a province of Northern India. Sikhs are one of the most visible minorities. With his beard and turban, a Sikh can be identified in any crowd. Still they are perhaps the least understood as a people. Not many people know about the beliefs, practices and ethics of the Sikhs, and still fewer will understand their significance. Being a Sikh, it gives me a great pleasure to write about my people’s participation in the two World Wars. I have divided this paper into two parts, the first part contains a brief history of the Sikh people and the second contains their role in World Wars.

Right from the ancient period of the Indus Valley civilization (3000 BC), the Punjab has played a significant role in the history of India. Its geographic location makes it the gateway of India from the northwest. All through the ages, the fertility of its plains became the cause of its wealth as also the reason for many invasions. Hardened with the extremes of climate that exist in the region, it soon became the birthplace of a war-like people. The Sikh religion originated in India in the fifteenth century.

Guru Nanak, the founder of the religion, preached oneness of God and brotherhood of man. At that time Hinduism and Islam were the predominant religions in India; and relations between the two communities were not good. Guru Nanak preached dignity of man and tolerance for the viewpoint of others: "The World is burning, O Lord, Save it, O Save it, by whichever door it pleases thee."(Guru Granth: The holy book).

Guru Nanak was followed by nine successor gurus, when the Holy Book, popularly known as Guru Granth Sahib was ordained as the Guru of the Sikhs. The book Granth is not the guru. In Sikh thought, the Word is the Guru. During the eighteenth century, Sikhs suffered great persecution at the hands of the local rulers, but by the end of the eighteenth century they had established their rule in northwest India.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the kingdom collapsed, and it was incorporated into British India. After some time the relations between the Sikhs and the British improved, and they joined the army in great numbers. The valor of Sikh soldiers during the two world wars was internationally recognized. Most people associate the Sikhs with the army and sometimes with violence. This is a very inaccurate picture and misleading.

As the allied nations stepped closer to the second global conflict, this time with the Imperial Japanese and the Germans, Sikh soldiers once again stepped forward and became the back bone of the British Indian Army. Despite the rising voice of independence from the British, in India during WWII, Sikhs still made the majority of the forces that India gave to the war effort. India entered the war when the then viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, without consulting Indian leaders, declared war against Germany on behalf of India. There was widespread violence in many cities all across India as British quelled demonstrations that would finally lead to end the British rule in India.

However, states like the Punjab from where the concentration of recruits into the British army came, looked curiously at the events. With only voluntary recruitment into the army, young Sikh men helped to swell the Indian army from 189,000 at the start of the war to over 2.5 million at the end of the war. Those Indians, who secretly supported the Germans, were shocked on 7 December 1941 to know that the Imperial Japanese Air Force had launched an attack on the American Navy at Pearl Harbor.

As Japan entered the war, it started to drive the colonial armies of the Dutch, French, and the English out of Hong Kong, French Indo-China, Philippines, Thailand, and Burma down to Singapore. The 11th Sikh regiment played a major part in the war to route Japan from its hold in South East Asia. Ironically it was the British led Sikh soldiers who had fought in the Anglo-Burmese war of 1882 and 1886 and had helped to annex Burma for the British Empire.

By the eve of the Second World War, Sikhs had fought on the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Africa and the trenches of Flanders. By 1944, Sikh soldiers were well entrenched in the sweltering swamps of Burmese jungles. The Japanese, better suited and well motivated were strongly pushing westward to the plains of India. At the battle of Kohima, Burma, 15th Sikh regiment headed by Naik Gian Singh was facing defeat. As the merciless machine gun shots from the Japanese foxholes burst from the bush, Gian Singh pushed forward with his men behind him, he ordered his men to cover him as he single handedly cleared foxhole after foxhole. Despite being severely wounded, he continued to push through the intense fire and clearing a strategically vital road. The Japanese were forced to retreat.

Gian Singh received the Victoria Cross, the highest order of gallantry in the British Army, at the end of the war. Today in the Kohima cemetery, among the 1,378 grave markers, is the famous Kohima memorial with its historic inscription:

Sikh soldier of the 11th Sikh Regiment with a captured Nazi flag in Italy at the end of the Second World War.

Warrior Saints: Three Centuries of the Sikh Military Tradition

Over 138,000 Sikh soldiers fought in Belgium and France during World War I. More than a quarter of these soldiers became casualties. In the first battle of Ypres at Flanders in 1914 a platoon of Sikhs died fighting to the last man, who shot himself with his last cartridge rather that surrender.

After the bloody battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915 the Sikh regiments had lost 80% of their men. The following is a letter sent home by a Sikh soldier:

Thousand and hundreds of thousands of soldiers have lost their lives. If you go on the field of battle you will see corpses piled upon corpses, so that there is no place put hand or foot.

Men have died from the stench. No one has any hope of survival, for back to Punjab will go only those who have lost a leg or an arm or an eye. The whole world has been brought to destruction. (Warrior Saints, Page 21)

When the first World War broke out in 1914, there were six battalions of the Sikh Regiment forming part of the British Army. They were named as 14th Ferozepur Sikhs, 15th Ludhiana Sikhs, 35th Sikhs, 36th Sikhs, 45th Sikhs and 47th Sikhs. Since Sikh soldiers were known for their bravery, the British employed all their battalions, except the 35th Sikhs, for fighting at such far-away places like Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli and France.

In all the battles in which they fought, they had to suffer heavy causalities. However, there was no wavering among them and they always stood like rock. The battle of Gallipoli was fought to capture Constantinople so as to reach the Turkish land, who had entered the war scene on the side of Germany. The 2nd Royal Fusiliers were finding it difficult to fight the Turks so the regiment of Sikhs was sent for their help. Although the allies did not succeed, the bravery shown by the Sikhs during this operation became a glorious chapter in the history of warfare. The task given to the Sikhs was highly dangerous. They were to capture two Turkish Trench lines named as J-11 and J-13.

The brave soldiers of 14th regiment Sikhs were equally divided for the task on these two lines. The fierce battle took place on 3rd and 4th June, 1915, wherein the brave soldiers of 14th Sikhs lost 371 men . Gen. Sir Ian Hamilton was the General at that time. When Hamilton landed on April 25 at the Southern Tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, he found that their strength as compared to that of the Turks was highly inferior. He also realized that the terrain greatly favored the Turks, who were well dug-in. He had made the 14th Sikhs of the Indian Brigade a part of his expeditionary force. Sir Hamilton wrote to the Commander-in-Chief in India:

In spite of the tremendous losses there was not a sign of wavering all day. Not an inch of ground was given up and not a single straggler came back. The ends of the enemy’s trenches were found to be blocked with the bodies of Sikhs and of the enemy who died fighting at close quarters, and the glacis slope was thickly dotted with the bodies of these fine soldiers all lying on their faces as they fell in their steady advance on the enemy.

The history of Sikhs affords many instances of their value as soldiers, but it may be safely asserted that nothing finer than the grim valor and steady discipline displayed by them on the 4th June has ever been done by soldiers of the Khalsa. (Martial India F. Yeats-Brown, 1945.)

The brave Sikhs, who earned a very high degree of appreciation included Sardar Udai Singh, who had saved the life of 2nd Lt R.A. Savory. The handsome Sikh was over 6 ft tall and had a fair beard and light green eyes. He was a wrestler from his very childhood and when in 1907 he went to take part in a wrestling match in a nearby village, he was selected by the British to join the 14th Sikhs. He was with the unit when Hamilton’s forces landed at the Gallipoli Peninsula. It is interesting to note that when after the war, he was offered a gallantry award, he pleaded that he should be allowed to go back to his village so that he could pursue his wrestling which was dear to his heart.

Another prominent Sikh soldier associated with this battle was Bhola Singh. When Lt. Gen. Sir Reginald Savory came to India in 1968 to attend the presentation of colors ceremony, Bhola Singh was also present on that occasion. Remembering the past, the General spoke about the close relationship between officers and his men. In his own words:

Only this morning (8th February 1968) Lance Naik Bhola Singh of the 14th Sikhs, who had been wounded in Gallipoli in 1915, took the trouble to come all the way from his home to call upon me, and after 52 years we saw each other again. I was deeply touched, not only at having the pleasure of seeing him again, but also at the thought of all the trouble he had taken to come and see me.

When he was wounded, he and I were both young men. Now he is a ‘chitti dari wala’ (white bearded man) and I am old and bald, but although we have both grown much older, yet our affection for each other and our mutual pride in our old Regiment stays as young as ever. Long may this continue. Wahe Guruji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guruji Ki Fateh. (Martial India F. Yeats-Brown, 1945.)

Flt. Lt. M.S. Pujji and Hurricane IIB

"I was posted to No.253 Squadron RAF, flying Hurricane IIB fighters from RAF Kenley, which is a couple of miles south of Croydon.

We were a mixed bunch, with pilots also from Poland, America, Canada and Australia.

Equipped with twelve machine guns, our hurricanes were extensively flown day and night, to intercept German bombers and reconnaissance aircraft."

Nishaan

In August 1914, as the German Army advanced through France and Belgium, more Allied troops were desperately needed for the Western Front. The Indian Army, 161,000 strong, seemed one obvious source of trained men.

In October, shortly after they arrived, they were introduced into some of the fiercest fighting around Ypres. Losses were heavy. The average Sikh battalion had 764 men when it landed; by early November Sikhs had only 385 men fit for duty. The fighting came as a shock to soldiers who were more used to colonial warfare.

One man wrote home “this is not war; it is the ending of the world“. The troops were taken out of the line and rested in early 1915, but were soon back in the trenches, and involved in the heaviest fighting.

The Sikh Corps provided half the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. Morale seemed to pick up in the spring of 1915, only to decline towards the end of the summer, when it became clear that an end to the war was not in sight. The Sikhs again took heavy losses at the Battle of Loos in September. The two Indian infantry divisions were withdrawn from France in December 1915, and sent to Mesopotamia. They were moved because their morale was fragile, and it was thought unwise to expose them to another winter on the Western Front.

Europe as Viewed by Sikh Soldiers

When behind the lines, on leave, or recovering in hospital, the soldiers had plenty of opportunity to see France and England. Did they embrace European culture or were they alienated by it?

The wealth and beauty of European cities astonished the soldiers, and they admired Europeans for their honesty, generosity, and education. Some men wondered why India seemed so poor in comparison. The soldiers' attitudes to Europe were not, however, uniformly admiring. Several men commented that Europeans lacked spirituality, while one man suggested that India was more beautiful than Europe, because India's beauty was "clothed in modesty".

Several men praised the education of European women, and gave instructions for their own daughters to be taught to read. Others considered that European women were "shameless", because they mingled so freely with men. Some soldiers had love affairs with British and French women. In 1917, one Sikh trooper even married a French woman (the news dismayed his family, so he told them that he had married the woman only because the King had personally ordered him to do so).

The Sikh Army fought in every major operation during World War I. Letters home from soldiers on the Western Front offer extraordinary insight into their feelings about the conflict and impressions of European culture. In the last two world wars 83,005 Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world and during shell fire, with no other protection but his turban, a symbol of the Sikh faith.

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Kidha babeyo, you know what, i cant remember what site it was, but there were so many pics of Sikhs like in ww1 ww2, usa, can, uk, indo-pak war. i checked them all out, it was so cool. maybe you've seen it, i'll let ya know which one it was cuz it was good.

raab rakha

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Sikh Regiment Victoria Cross Winners

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for

gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Instituted in 1856 and given until March, 1943, the Victoria Cross was made from guns captured by the British at Sebastopol during the Crimean War. The right to receive the VC was extended to Indian soldiers only in 1911

Ishar Singh VC

Captain Ishar Singh was the first Sikh soldier to win a Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the British Empire. Instituted in 1856 and given until March, 1943, the Victoria Cross was made from guns captured by the British at Sebastopol during the Crimean War. The right to receive the VC was extended to Indian soldiers only in 1911.

On 10 April 1921 near Haidari Kach, North West Frontier, India, Sepoy Ishar Singh was No. 1 of a Lewis gun section. Early in the fighting he was severely wounded, all the officers and havildars of his company became casualties and his Lewis gun was seized. He recovered the gun and went into action again although his wound was bleeding profusely, but when ordered to have it dressed, he went instead to help the medical officer, carrying water to the wounded, taking a rifle and helping to keep down enemy fire and acting as a shield while the medical officer was dressing a wound. It was nearly three hours before he submitted to being evacuated. Later achieved rank of Captain.

London Gazette supplement

25 November 1921

Sepoy Ishar Singh gained his Victoria Cross "for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 10th April 1921, bear Haidar Kach (Waziristan). When the convoy protection troops were attacked, this Sepoy was No. 1 of a Lewis Gun Section. Early in the action he received a very severe gunshot wound in his chest and fell beside his Lewis gun. Hand-to-hand fighting commenced, the British officers, Indian officers, and all the Havildars of his company were either killed or wounded, and his Lewis gun was seized by the enemy.

"Calling up two other men, he got up, charged the enemy, recovered the Lewis gun, and, although bleeding profusely, again got the gun into action.

"When his Jemadar arrived, he took the gun from Sepoy Ishar Singh and ordered him to go back and have his wound dressed. Instead of doing this, the Sepoy went to the medical officer, and was of great assistance in pojnting out where the wounded were, and in carrying water to them. He made innumerable journeys to the river bank and back for this purpose. On one occasion, when the enemy fire was very heavy, he took the rifle of a wounded man and helped to keep down the fire. On another occasion he stood in front of the medical officer who was dressing a wounded man, thus shielding him with his own body. It was over three hours before he finally submitted to be evacuated, being then too weak from loss of blood to object.

"His gallantry and devotion to duty were beyond praise. His conduct inspired all who saw him." (London Gazette supplement, 25 November 1921)

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Guest kaur1699

Sikh Regiment Victoria Cross Winners

Nand Singh

Sikh Regiment, Indian Army Campaign

Second World War

Age 29

On 11/12 March 1944 on the Maungdaw-Buthidaung Road, Burma (now Myanmar), Naik Nand Singh, commanding a leading section of the attack, was ordered to recapture a position gained by the enemy. He led his section up a very steep knife-edged ridge under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and although wounded in the thigh, captured the first trench. He then crawled forward alone and, wounded again in the face and shoulder, nevertheless captured the second and third trenches.

Later achieved rank of Jemadar.

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Guest kaur1699

Sikh Regiment Victoria Cross Winners

Gian Singh

Victoria Cross Winner (2nd March 1945)

On 2 March 1945 on the road between Kamye and Myingyan, Burma (now Myanmar), where the Japanese were strongly positioned, Naik Gian Singh who was in charge of the leading section of his platoon, went on alone firing his tommy gun, and rushed the enemy foxholes. In spite of being wounded in the arm he went on, hurling grenades. He attacked and killed the crew of a cleverly concealed anti-tank gun, and then led his men down a lane clearing all enemy positions. He went on leading his section until the action had been satisfactorily completed

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Sikh Regiment Victoria Cross Winners

Parkash Singh

On 16/17 February 1945 at Kanlan Ywathit, Burma (now yanmar), Jemadar Prakash Singh was commanding a platoon which took the main weight of fierce enemy attacks. He was wounded in both ankles and relieved of his command, but when his second-in-command was also wounded, he crawled back and took command again, directing operations and encouraging his men. Being again wounded in both legs, he continued to direct the defence, dragging himself from place to place by his hands. When wounded a third time and dying, he lay shouting the Sikh battle-cry, so inspiring his company that the enemy were finally driven off. Killed In the above action.

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NOw that's what i call a cool thread.. :wink:

As of Victoria Cross Medal.. There were only 6 Sikhs who won em.. Photos of those sikhs can be seen at :

http://www.sikhpride.com/vcmedals/vcmedals.htm

The reason why only 6 sikhs won VC medal?? Cauz before World wars there was a ban on giving this highest british award to Non-White soldier, this ban was lifted later on.. If there was no restriction on it.. we probably have at least 20+ sikhs for this award.. cauz of Sikhs great Support to British during Mutinty of India around later 18th century and STrong brave supports of sikhs invading Afghanistan..

To see the pictures of Sikhs in World wars.. Visit : http://www.sikhpride.com/wars/wars.htm

Here's the article for my history class.. (My mates were shocked to hear about sikh participation in World Wars..).. posted above at this forum.. also can be viewed @ SikhSpectrum.. http://www.sikhspectrum.com/122002/soldiers_ww.htm

Here's one flash movie on Sikh soldiers.. Just lil work of my friend.. http://www.amozaghi.fsnet.co.uk/virsa1/virsa.htm# (Click on Flash movie in middle of that page..)

Im making one movie (Still images movie) about sikhs soldiers who served in world wars.. Gonna take lil time.. I will post it when i upload it on web..

*Pls*. it's no advertisement of any site.. just thought of posting the url of pictures, so u can have more info on brave sikh soldiers.. :)

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oops.. correction.. : It was " Britain India Mutiny 1857-1858"

What really happened at time?

Indians started killing british families (Including Children, old, women, young) British never had any army force in India during that time.. Only they had was East India Company but Rajputs, hindus, muslims went on a rampage of killing every White person in india.. In kanpur, 600 british young kids along with females were killed in cool blood way ( Local Meat Butchered were hired for this job), and then they throw their bodies in the well (khuu) 1000's were killed all over India..

Only Sikhs were loyal to british, even our sikh raj taken by them, but once Sikh took oath, they always remain on their word.. So there was no british troops in India (actually there were few british bodyguards, but they were outnumbered by indians).. Queen Victoria ordered 40,000 british troops to be sent to India to control the situation. BUT the problem was lack of time.. it gonna take them months to reach India by ships. So the British Sikh Regiment from punjab along with Scot Soldiers marched all the way down from Punjab to Gujrat and other effected areas to control the crowd. They traveled on horses under the sun for days (ON FAMOUS GT Road - Grand Trunk Road).. Only SIkhs were there to help british at that time.. They did controlled the situation tilll real british army arrived..

This is the whole story how violence erupted between Indians (Exclude Sikhs) and british.. You will never read this or hear this in Indian History books, because they knew it was them who started violence..

Gurfateh !!! stay in chardi kala...

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Thanks Kaur1699 :D All credits to my mate for that flash..

her'es one picture of European sikhs paying tribute to sikh soldiers who laid their life for world peace..

1999.jpg :wink:

I forgot the real caption, but i know this even tool place during vaisakhi of 1999 (300th khalsa anni..) Does any know about this picture location?..

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Thanks Kaur1699 :D All credits to my mate for that flash..

her'es one picture of European sikhs paying tribute to sikh soldiers who laid their life for world peace..

1999.jpg :wink:

I forgot the real caption, but i know this even tool place during vaisakhi of 1999 (300th khalsa anni..) Does any know about this picture location?..

WOW that pic is awesome - i have a pic of my grandad ready to go to war - i think it was WW2 - hes in his army clothes - seated on a horse... such a class picture - ill try to scan it if i can :D

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WOW that pic is awesome - i have a pic of my grandad ready to go to war - i think it was WW2 - hes in his army clothes - seated on a horse... such a class picture - ill try to scan it if i can :D

That would be really cool.. veerjee.. do u have any more information.. like where grandpa served and in which regiment stuff.. It would be great to get more info on it.. :D

Cheers..

Vick

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Nice pic kaur (Can i steak it? hehe :D )

I have some antique photos and postcards in my collection.. :D I LUV History of sikhs in world wars.. IT's so much history of our soldiers out there in open to learn about it..

Here's some of them..

This in hampton court.. IN UK..

4.jpg

This my fav pics.. IT's a sikh traffic cop in China.. U can see british soldiers army truck in background.. And also as of history.. during world war days.. ALL Muncipal jobs were taken by SIKHS.. cauz british only trusted Sikhs.. ;)

500.jpg

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