Canada Remembers First World War Sikh-Canadian Heroby MELISSA TAIT
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
In 1919, Pte. Buckam Singh lay dying in a Kitchener hospital from tuberculosis contracted at the European front during the First World War.
On Sunday, November 7, 2010, Canadians from all over southern Ontario attended a Remembrance Day ceremony centred around his military grave at the Kitchener Mount Hope Cemetery.
The annual ceremony was inspired by Sandeep Singh Brar's discovery of Pte. Buckam Singh's grave in 2008 - nearly 90 years after his death.
During the ceremony, some speakers wondered if Buckam Singh could have imagined more than 100 people circling his gravestone to commemorate him as a war hero in 2010.
Sandeep believes Buckam Singh's grave is the only known military grave of a Sikh-Canadian soldier from the two world wars.
He said Sikhs have a long military history as part of the British and Allied armies during both the World Wars, "but we never knew that we also had a part in Canada's military heritage."
"This grave, and the story that it reveals of the nine Sikh soldiers that served in World War One is really a remarkable story."
Sandeep said the ceremony at Buckam Singh's grave honoured all Sikh soldiers, as well as Canadian soldiers of all faiths.
The ceremony brought dignitaries and Canadian Forces members from Toronto, Brampton and Hamilton.
Navdeep Singh Bains, the member of Parliament for Mississauga Brampton South, attended with his daughter and father.
"My daughter, who is three years old, can dream because of the sacrifices of Pte. Buckam Singh and so many Canadian soldiers," Navdeep Singh said.
"We are extremely fortunate and we must not take our history for granted."
Corp. Jasroop Singh Bains said he didn't expect such a large turnout. He said he was motivated as a member of the Canadian Forces.
"I hope when people see the Canadian flag, they see all the people of Canada," Jasroop said.
While Peter Braid, member of Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo, said the Canadian Forces represent our multicultural society, Sgt. Gurpreet Singh Dipak pointed out the shortcomings that the Canadian Forces have only recently begun to overcome.
Speaking at the ceremony, Gurpreet reached beneath his uniform and pulled out his military identification that was hanging around his neck.
"As Sikhs we are still fighting for recognition," he said.
Until recently, the identification tags stated Dipak's religion as "OD" or other denomination. Today his tags read "Sikh."
"I hope the youth in the audience will think of serving our country in the future, and know that they will be recognized by Canada," he said.
Sandeep said the annual ceremony has been growing steadily, and he is happy to see Buckam Singh's story reach so many people.
"(Sikhs) have a share of Canadian history, we have a share of that poppy that we wear, and we need to feel proud of that," Sandeep said. "We're Canadian and our story is Canada's story."
[Courtesy: The Record]
November 8, 2010
Conversation about this article
1: P.S.Grewal (Canada), November 08, 2010, 9:18 PM.
Another local story, Neil ... Papa
2: Mahinder Kaur Doman (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), November 11, 2010, 4:56 PM.
FYI: There was a Sikh man in Vancouver, B.C., who was in the war as well. His widow and family reside in Richmond, B.C. I believe he was a gunner. I learned of this while doing research for my book ZHINDAGEE(c).