DATELINE DESI

VICTORY AND VALOUR: THE SIKHS IN WWI

 Photo credit: sikhsinthearmy.co.uk

Photo credit: sikhsinthearmy.co.uk

By PARDEEP SINGH NAGRA

This year marked the centennial of the conclusion of the First World War.

Sikhs in Canada felt it was important to make the commemorations more inclusive by highlighting the Sikh community’s role in these momentous events in world history.

From the blood-soaked trenches of Flanders, the Somme and Gallipoli, to the deserts and heat of Africa and the Middle East, thousands of Sikh troops fought and died alongside their European and colonial counterparts, including for Canada and Australia in the Great War of 1914-1918.

As the world turns its attention to the centenary of the world’s first truly global conflict, Victory and Valour: The Sikhs in WWI aims to commemorate the remarkable, but largely forgotten contribution and experiences of Sikh soldiers.

The contribution of Sikhs and that of their other Indian brothers in arms proved critical in the early months of the fighting on the Western Front, helping save the allies from an early and catastrophic defeat.

By the end of hostilities, Sikh combatants saw active service in Europe and beyond in many of the war’s forgotten fronts. 

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In Mesopotamia, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, German East Africa, Russia and China, Sikhs gained an international reputation as fearsome and fearless soldiers fighting for the common good.

At the dedication ceremony of the Memorial in Neuve Chapelle, France, Field Marshall of the Allied Forces, Ferdinand Foch said to the soldiers, “Return to your homes in the distant, sunbathed East and proclaim how your countrymen drenched with their blood the cold northern land of France and Flanders, how they delivered it by their ardent spirit from the firm grip of a determined enemy; tell all India that we shall watch over their graves with the devotion due to all our dead. We shall cherish above all the memory of their example.

“They showed us the way, they made the first steps towards the final victory.”

The Victory and Valour exhibit on November 11 at the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada also showcased the unique relationships and connections various street names and the airport in Malton have with Sikhs and the Great War.

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Pardeep Singh Nagra is the Executive Director of the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada  at 2980 Drew Road, unit 125, in  Mississauga, Ontario.

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