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Photo: Pte Desanda Singh, 3rd Light Horse, Australian Imperial Force 1917-18 (Courtesy: Crystal Jordan- Ceduna RSL).


Sikh-Aussie Discovers Anzac Ancestor Who Served In World War I:
Private Desanda Singh





This year during the Gallipoli centenary celebrations, Melbourne resident Nehchal Singh "accidentally discovered" that he's the great grandson of Private Desanda Singh, one of the Sikh Anzacs who participated in World War 1 as part of the Australian Imperial Force (“AIF“).

Documents from the National Archives of Australia ("NAA") reveal that Pte Desanda Singh joined AIF in 1917, was assigned to the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, was deployed in Egypt during 1917-18, and returned to Australia on a ship named "Wiltshire".  

Nehchal Singh shared his grandmother's anecdotes about her father - that Desanda Singh owned land and horses in Australia, and was a farmer.

National Archive records show that Desanda Singh left the Australian Imperial Force and returned to Punjab for "family reasons". Nehchal corroborates this, revealing that the reason was the sudden death of Desanda's only brother, which was the reason why Desanda has to return to Punjab -- to look after the family.

But his fame travelled well beyond his village in Punjab, because people from neighbouring villages especially came to meet Desanda back in the 1920's, as the "Sahib who had just returned from Australia"! Nehchal shares many more personal anecdotes in this fascinating interview.

Even though most of Desanda's personal records (and perhaps his 3 medals) are misplaced or lost, but fortunately all his service records are intact and preserved in the National Archives.

While the search continues to find out more about where Desanda lived in South Australia and whehter any of his personal belongings still remain, Nehchal says that this personal connection makes him "feel like he truly belongs to Australia - that his own forefather had a hand in shaping the identity of Australia as we know it today".

He promises to march in all of the forthcoming Anzac Day marches from here on.

In the meantime, a photograph of Pte Desanda Singh proudly hangs at his ancestral home in Punjab, and another adorns the Returned and Services League of Australia (“RSL”) in Ceduna, South Australia.

[Courtesy: Special Broadcasting Service. Edited for]
August 21, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Arjan Singh (USA), August 22, 2015, 6:28 AM.

I met an American veteran yesterday by chance in the parking lot of my apartment complex. He and his wife were in Virginia to help their son move to Virginia for his new job. He saw my steel bracelet and walked up to me and introduced himself. In front of his son and his wife he told them that about the Sikh community and their proud history of fighting for the just cause and serving in WW I and WW II. I in response thanked him twice for serving and for knowing history so well. I also reminded him that it is a colossal American policy failure to not let Sikh men and women serve in US Defense forces with their turbans on. He agreed and hoped that it would change. After reading this story I firmly believe that historians very cleverly and not by mistake wiped out all records of Sikh soldiers serving in the wars around the world. It is the responsibility of the Sikh community to not let this history be hidden anymore.

2: RP Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), August 25, 2015, 8:34 PM.

What honor is there in serving the American military? How many lives in Iraq and Afghanistan have been obliterated in a false and illegal war? As Sikhs, we should remember it is 'sarbat da bhalla', not America da bhalla or Sikhan da bhalla.

3: Inderjeet Kaur (Patiala, Punjab), August 26, 2015, 4:00 AM.

RP Singh ji: Serving in Australia or the US, to take but two examples from the diaspora, is certainly far more honourable than being in the Indian Armed Forces and helping secure an uncivilized majority.

4: Arjan Singh (USA), August 26, 2015, 6:06 AM.

In response to comment #2, I would agree as well that it is better to serve in the defense forces of US/Australia/Canada than in the Indian ones. If you look back at the contributions of the Sikh community both in India's civil and defense life, it has all been a waste mostly. I was born in India and almost joined the Indian defense forces after school; I am glad I chose otherwise. As Inderjeet ji put it mildly, what honor is there in securing an uncivilized people?

5: Prabhdeep Singh (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), January 07, 2016, 8:59 PM.

He is my great grandfather and I am really proud of his record. He was such a great man. My grandfather told me in my childhood about his father's life in Australia.

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Private Desanda Singh"

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