Australia Honours First World War Sikh-Aussie HeroMANPREET KAUR SINGH
On June 16 this year, the Governor of South Australia will be hosting a historic reception, to mark the centenary of the death of a decorated Australian soldier Private Sarn Singh.
A member of the Australian Imperial Force, Pte Sarn Singh was killed in action in Belgium on June 10, 1917, while serving in the 43rd Infantry Battalion.
Pte Sarn Singh is one of 19 Sikhs who enlisted as Anzacs during World War I, but the only known casualty who died in the line of duty. All others returned home to Australia after the war ended, but very little is known about the descendants of most of these pioneering Sikh-Aussie soldiers.
As historian Prof Peter Stanley from the University of New South Wales says, “"Sarn Singh, and the Punjab-born Sikh Anzacs who served with him in the Australian Imperial Force, represented a remarkable phenomenon. They were remarkable because they were among the few non-white members of a force that was legally only supposed to include Europeans, an extraordinary exception to the prevailing racist policy of 'White Australia'."
Now the Australian Sikh Heritage Association (’ASHA’) is seeking to find any of Sarn Singh’s living descendants in Punjab who could possibly attend the landmark commemoration on June 16 in Adelaide, to mark the centenary of his ultimate sacrifice.
Harjit Singh from ASHA says, “Although all of Australia will be marking this day with great fervour, one family deserves to be there much more than any other – the family of Sarn Singh who never saw their great grandfather return home after fighting a war for Australia, in some far away land. If anyone knows of any descendant of Sarn Singh, please let us know immediately, because we’d like them to attend the commemoration in Adelaide. The family must know that all of Australia salutes Sarn Singh’s valour.”
A ceremony of this kind has never taken place in Australia ever before.
Pte Sarn Singh’s military records reveal quite a bit about his background. He belonged to village Chhokran in Punjab, and the postal address was “Post office Moron (possibly Moran), tehsil Phillaur, district Jullundur.”
His father’s name was Sardar Kishan Singh Zaildar (also named as Mayor Kishan Singh in some records), his brother’s name was Sardar Charan Singh (who lived in Jandiala) and his wife’s name was Sardarni Partap Kaur.
There are records of Partap Kaur’s thumb impression on a delivery slip dated June 12, 1922, where she acknowledged receiving the British War Medal and the Victory Medal that were awarded posthumously to her husband Sarn Singh. In fact, she was in touch with Australian authorities repeatedly, desperately seeking a pension after the death of her husband, to alleviate “the pitiable condition” she was living in India.
She states, “My father-in-law and the brother of my husband are no more ready to support me for my lifetime and it would have been much better if I might have died before my husband.”
Although the communication to and from Partap Kaur is recorded for posterity, it is unclear if she actually went on to receive any pension from the AIF.
In his will, Sarn Singh had appointed Amon Bux (of Waikerie, South Australia) as the executor, who was asked to remit any savings to his brother Charan Singh (in Jandiala, Punjab), in case he died in war.
After being informed of his son’s death in the line of duty, father Kishan Singh wrote a letter in September 1917 asking, “I beg you to be good enough and inform me the details, whether he died of wounds in any hospital, or was killed in the front and whether or not his body was found,” going on to query about any monies that maybe owing to the family.
AIF records reveal that Sarn Singh’s body was buried by G Huthnance on August 13, 1917, two months after he was killed.
Military records indicate that Sarn Singh was a man of slight build – he was 5 ft 3 inches tall, weighed 136 lbs and his chest measured up to 34.36 inches. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on May 15, 1916 at Waikerie (SA), declaring he was 33 years old at the time, was a farmer by profession and was born in Jullundur, Punjab.
He sailed from Adelaide on August 12, 1916, on board the ship Ballarat, landing in Devonport (England) a month and a half later. He served in France for a few months and was then deployed to Belgium, where he was killed on the battlefield in Messines, after completing one year of active service for the Australian Imperial Force.
His name is included in the list of fallen soldiers, inscribed on a special collective cross at the Messines Ridge British cemetery in Belgium. As Prof Peter Stanley says, “"Sarn Singh is now commemorated equally in death alongside his overwhelmingly white comrades on memorials in Belgium, in South Australia and in Canberra."
[Courtesy: Special Broadcasting Service. Edited for sikhchic.com]
April 17, 2017
Conversation about this article
1: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), April 17, 2017, 6:14 AM.
The story of Pte. Sarn Singh has so many parallels with the story of Canadian WWI hero, Pvt. Buckam Singh that I uncovered nearly a decade ago. Both sons of Punjab died far from their families and the discovery of their stories nearly 100 years later shows just how much Sikh pioneers contributed and sacrificed for the countries they would eventually call home. To learn more about the life of Pvt. Buckam Singh of Canada, see http://www.sikhmuseum.com/buckam/
2: Nirmal Singh Ghumman (Flinders, Australia), April 19, 2017, 10:33 AM.
What a touching article - poignant and tragic. Manpreet, you always amaze us!