The First World War was a seminal event in modern history, touching every continent and involving millions of civilians and soldiers throughout the British Empire. The role of Sikhs in the Great War is a largely unknown but fascinating part of the story of the Allied War effort is the participation of the Sikh soldiers […]
The First World War was a seminal event in modern history, touching every continent and involving millions of civilians and soldiers throughout the British Empire. The role of Sikhs in the Great War is a largely unknown but fascinating part of the story of the Allied War effort is the participation of the Sikh soldiers in the Dominium forces of Australia.
It appears that the first Sikhs arrived in Australia, somewhere in the late 1830s. The Sikhs came from an agrarian background in India, and thus fulfilled their tasks as farm labourers on cane fields and shepherds on sheep stations. Sikhs were recorded as being present on the gold fields of Victoria during the time of the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s and ’60s. Seven Sikhs were part of the Australian Armed Forces during the First World War, which fought in Europe. Six of these soldiers returned safely after the War ended in 1918, but one of them (Sarn Singh) died in action in the bitter fighting in France and Flanders.
Private Ganessa Singh
Private Ganessa Singh was born in the Punjab, India, and enlisted in 10TH Battalion on 11TH September 1916. He was a 37 year old farmer. The 10TH Battalion was an Infantry Battalion of the Australian Army, which served as part of the Australian Imperial Force during World War I, together with 9TH, 11TH and 12TH Battalions; it formed part of 3RD Brigade, 1ST Division. It served at Gallipoli from April to December 1915, before being transferred to the Western Front in France in March 1916 where it took part in bitter trench Warfare until the Armistice in 1918. The last detachment of men from 10TH Battalion returned to Australia in September 1919.
Trooper Desanda Singh and Trooper Sirdar Singh
Trooper Desanda Singh was born in the Punjab, India; he was 38 years old and enlisted in 3RD Light Horse on 1ST November, 1917. Trooper Sirdar Singh was born in the Punjab, India; he was 39 years old and enlisted in 3RD Light Horse on 8TH, October, 1917. The Regiment had arrived in Egypt in the second week of December, 1914. The Regiment was deployed in Gallipoli and landed there on 12Th May 1915. It left Gallipoli on 14TH December 1915. Back in Egypt; the Regiment was deployed to protect the Nile valley from bands of pro-Turkish Senussi Arabs. In Egypt it joined the forces defending the Suez Canal, and played a significant role in turning back the Turkish advance on the canal at the battle of Romani on 4TH August. The 3RD Light Horse joined the Allied advance across the Sinai in November and was subsequently involved in the fighting to secure the Turkish outposts on the Palestine frontier – Magdhaba on 23RD December 1916 and Rafa on 9TH January 1917. The Regiment’s next major engagement was the abortive second battle of Gaza on 19TH April. Gaza finally fell on 7TH November. With the capture of Gaza, the Turkish position in Southern Palestine collapsed. The 3RD Light Horse Regiment participated in the advance to Jaffa that followed, and was then committed to operations to clear and occupy the West bank of the Jordan River. It was involved in the Amman (24TH-27TH February) and Es Salt (30TH April-4TH May) raids and the repulse of a major German and Turkish attack on 14TH July 1918.The final British offensive of the campaign was launched along the Mediterranean coast on 19TH September 1918, with the ANZAC Mounted Division taking part in a subsidiary effort East of the Jordan aimed at Amman. Turkey surrendered on 30TH October 1918. The 3RD Light Horse Regiment sailed for Australia on 16TH March 1919, where the troopers Desanda Singh and Sirdar Singh were demobilized.
Private Gurbachan Singh
Private Gurbachan Singh was born in the Punjab, India, and on immigrating to Australia he enlisted in 56TH Battalion on 5TH April, 1916. He was 43 years old. Arriving in France on 30TH June 1916, the Battalion entered the frontline trenches for the first time on 12TH July and fought its first major battle at Fromelles a week later. After a freezing winter manning trenches in the Somme Valley, in early 1917, 56TH Battalion participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. Later in the year, 56TH’s major battle here was at Polygon Wood on 26TH September. The 56TH fought its last major battle of the War, St Quentin Canal, between 29TH September and 2ND October 1918. It was resting out of the line when the Armistice was declared on 11TH November. Soon after, members of the Battalion began to be returned to Australia for discharge.
Private Davy Singh
Private Davy Singh was born in the Punjab, India, and on immigrating to Australia; he enlisted in 33RD Battalion on 12TH February 1916. He was 34 years old. The 33RD Battalion became part of 9TH Brigade of 3RD Australian Division. It left Sydney, bound for the United Kingdom in May 1916. Arriving there in early July, the Battalion spent the next four months training. It crossed to France in late November, and moved into the trenches of the Western Front for the first time on 27TH November, just in time for the onset of the terrible winter of 1916-17. The Battalion had to wait until the emphasis of British and Dominion operations switched to the Ypres Sector of Belgium in mid-1917 to take part in its first major battle; this was the battle of Messines, launched on 7TH June. The Battalion held the ground captured during the battle for several days afterwards and was subjected to intense Artillery bombardment. One soldier wrote that holding the line at Messines was far worse than taking it. The Battalion’s next major battle was around Passchendale on 12TH October. The battlefield, though, had been deluged with rain, and thick mud tugged at the advancing troops and fouled their weapons. The battle ended in a disastrous defeat. For the next five months the 33RD alternated between periods of rest, training, labouring, and service in the line. When the German Army launched its last great offensive in the spring of 1918, the Battalion was part of the force deployed to defend the approaches to Amiens around Villers-Bretonneux. It took part in a counter-attack at Hangard Wood on 30TH March, and helped to defeat a major drive on Villers-Bretonneux on 4TH April. Later in 1918, 33RD also played a role in the Allies’ own offensive. It fought at the battle of Amiens on 8TH August, during the rapid advance that followed, and in the operation that breached the Hindenburg Line at the end of September, thus sealing Germany’s defeat. The 33RD Battalion disbanded in May 1919.
Private Hazara Singh
Private Hazara Singh was born in the Punjab, India, and on immigrating to Australia he enlisted in 13TH Battalion on 28TH December 1915. He was 33 years old. He had previously served in 32ND Sikh Pioneers during the Northwest Frontier operations, before immigrating to Australia. The 13TH Battalion with 14TH, 15TH and 16TH Battalions formed 4TH Brigade. The Brigade proceeded to Egypt, arriving in early February 1915. The 4th Brigade landed at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli in the afternoon of 25TH April 1915. From May to August, the Battalion was heavily involved in establishing and defending the Anzac front line. In August, 4th Brigade attacked Hill 971. The hill was taken at great cost, although Turkish reinforcements forced the Australians to withdraw. The 13th also suffered casualties during the attack on Hill 60 on 27TH August. The Battalion served at Anzac until the evacuation in December. After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the Battalion returned to Egypt. While in Egypt the Australian Imperial Force was expanded and was reorganised. The 13TH Battalion was split and provided experienced soldiers for 45TH Battalion. The 4TH Brigade was combined with 12TH and 13TH Brigades to form 4TH Australian Division. In June 1916, 13TH sailed for France and the Western Front. From then until 1918, the Battalion took part in bloody trench Warfare. Its first major action in France was at Pozières in August. In February 1917, Captain W. H. Murray, who had transferred to 13TH from 16TH Battalion, earned the Victoria Cross for his actions during an attack near Gueudecourt. He became one of the most highly decorated Officers in the AIF. The 13TH Battalion, along with most of 4TH Brigade, suffered heavy losses at Bullecourt in April when the Brigade attacked strong German positions without the promised tank support. The Battalion spent much of the remainder of 1917 in Belgium advancing to the Hindenburg Line. In March and April 1918, the Battalion helped to stop the German spring offensive. It subsequently played a role in the great allied offensive of 1918, fighting near Amiens on 8TH August 1918. This advance by British and empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “.the black day of the German Army in this War…”.The 4TH Brigade continued operations until late September 1918. On 18TH September Maurice Buckley, serving as Sergeant Gerald Sexton, was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour near Le Verguier. At 11 am on 11TH November 1918, the guns fell silent. In November 1918 members of the AIF began to return to Australia for demobilisation and discharge.
Private Sarn Singh
Private Sarn Singh was born in the Punjab, India, and on immigrating to Australia; he enlisted in 43RD Battalion on 15TH May 1916. He was 33 years old. The Battalion embarked in June 1916 and, after landing briefly in Egypt, went on to Britain for further training. The Battalion arrived on the Western Front in late December. The 43RD Battalion spent 1917 bogged in bloody trench Warfare in Flanders. In June the Battalion took part in the battle of Messines in which Private Sarn Singh was killed. The Battalion spent much of 1918 fighting in the Somme valley. In April they helped stop the German Spring offensive at Villers-Bretonneux. In July the Battalion was part of General Monash’s attack at Hamel. In August and September the Battalion helped drive the Germans back to the Hindenburg Line. The 43RD joined the advance that followed 2ND Division’s victory at Mont St Quentin. At 11 am on 11TH November 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front. The November Armistice was followed by the Treaty of Versailles signed on 28TH June 1919. Through 1919 the men of the 43RD Battalion returned to Australia for demobilizations and discharge having 386 of their comrades killed in the blood drenched fields of Flanders.
~ By Narindar Singh Dhesi