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Sikh War Heroes Remembered at Neuve Chapelle




On the 19th of July, 2010, I went to Neuve Chapelle in France.

I had to wake up at 4.45 in the morning, I was so tired. To get there, we had to take the Euro Star shuttle from London at 07.50 and the journey time was 30 minutes. We arrived at Calais at 09.20 and then drove to the small village of Neuve Chapelle.

We had lunch at a small French bistro.

At the war memorial for Sikh and other Indian soldiers killed during World War I and II, I had to recite a poem about a Sikh soldier called Harnam Singh.

The poem was written by General Sir James Wilcox, the Commander of the Indian Corps in France. I was very excited at the the ceremony and was getting a lot of attention from everyone.

Prince Charles laid down a wreath and then it was my turn to get up and recite the poem in front of everyone, including the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

It was also being filmed by the BBC.

After the recital, Prince Charles congratulated me on how well I recited the poem and the Duchess asked me if I did any poetry at school.

I was then interviewed by the press and everyone kept shaking my hand, I felt so pleased. I also met the British Ambassador in France. My dad who was with me told me how proud Harnam Singh and all the other Sikh soldiers who had laid down their lives would have been.

After a long and tiring day, we got back on the mini-bus to Calais. My dad bought me a gigantic Chuppa Chumps lollypop, which has 15 small lollipops inside!.

A Poem For Harnam Singh

by  General Sir James Wilcox, Commander of the Indian Corps in France

Beneath an ancient pipul-tree, fast by the
Jhelum's tide,
In silent thought sat Harnam Singh,
A Khalsa soldier of the King;
He mused on things now done and past,
For he had reached his home at last,
His empty sleeve his pride.

Five years before a village lout, beneath
the self same tree,
He met the Havildar, who'd come
With honeyed words and beat of drum,
Cajoling all who glory sought,
And telling how the regiment fought
The Zakha and the Mohmand clans
With shouts of victory.
WaheGuru Ji ! Rang in his ears, the famous
battle cry
And since those days Harnam had seen
On Flanders plains, from fierce Messines
To Festubert and Neuve Chapelle
‘Mid festering bogs and scenery of hell
How Khalsa soldiers die.'

July 24, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Rani (New York, U.S.A.), July 24, 2010, 9:44 AM.

Beautifully written piece, Rasnaam. Very moving! Hope to see your writings more often. As an aside, a comment addressed to the organizers of this event: Where are the Sikh women? Don't all these proud Sardars have equally proud Sardarnis at home - mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, girlfriends ...? Please take note: Even Prince Charles brought his wife along! When will you learn?

2: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 24, 2010, 3:00 PM.

Great, Rasnaam. The green blazer reminds me of my school color! As an aside, interesting to note that the General referred to Harnam Singh as a Khalsa soldier of the King. The Khalsa, as we know, is "Akal Purukh ki Fauj."

3: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), July 24, 2010, 7:09 PM.

It would be nice if some of the Sikh organizations in U.S.A. would have this news published in the mainstream media with photos showing Sikh War heroes, because no one in the world knows about these extraordinary sacrifices by Sikhs during the two World Wars.

4: Sarabjot Kaur (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), July 25, 2010, 12:35 PM.

This is an excellent accomplishment, Rasnaam Singh. A great opportunity that you have been given and it looks like you enjoyed it to the utmost level and grasped it with both hands. Your family must be ever so proud of you. You should feel truly honoured and the comments hereinabove, not surprisingly, all seem to agree with me! Well done!

5: Jagdeep Singh (Sunbury on Thames, United Kingdom), July 25, 2010, 1:39 PM.

Well done, Rasnaam. You are a beacon for all young Sikhs growing up in the U.K. who come up with excuses of being in an 'alien' land. God bless you and I hope your pride in Sikh camaraderie will stay with you for the rest of your life. I would also like to pay tribute to Rasnaam's parents who have taken the time and made the effort to instill the young boy with pride in his faith and fellow Sikhs. I hope the French will understand how deeply hurt we feel when Sikh children in France are not allowed to wear the patka or puggree in school, in a land where less than a century ago - and again, seven decades ago - turban-wearing Sikhs were defending them.

6: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 25, 2010, 8:05 PM.

What an impressive picture of Rasnaam and equally outstanding delivery that won you accolades all around. This portents a great future and remember it was the 'Saabat Soorat' that carried with it the blessings of the Guru. Many long years ago - I think it was in 1954/55 - when I was doing a stint in Jakarta; the Punjabi community then was minimal and got together mostly on Sundays. There was one particlar Punjabi Lalaji well known for his witticism. One day he remarked that how Sikhs with the ears securely covered by the thick turban manage to hear at all. An equally witty Sardar Uppal came back with a perfect retort: 'Ohe, don't you see the big radome antenna on the top of the turban (joora) for reception?" Rasnaam keep your Radome aAntenna intact and well tuned. With lots of love. You make us proud. We will await one day when you will go for your MBE and have the Queen touch your right and left shoulders with her sword and say "Arise, Sir Rasnaam Singh!"

7: Kulwant Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 26, 2010, 4:38 AM.

I was very moved by this piece. How wonderful that a young Sikh was placed centre stage at such an important event. However, it is also sad that these heroes, chosen to fight because they were Khalsas have been neglected by their own. For nearly 95 years, they have lain in France forgotten by the very community they hailed from. Sikh leaders, including senior SGPC members, travel across to the U.K. and just have "tea parties" or go to the houses of their cronies for 'functions'. How fitting that here a public figure such as Prince Charles would find time in his schedule to pay respect to them. I can't tell from the article which Sikh organisation was responsible for this achievement but they are to be applauded. [Editor: It is largely a result of the excellent work done by ASHT - Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail.]

8: Rashima Bhatia (London, United Kingdom), July 26, 2010, 5:14 AM.

Well done, Rasnaam! My heart swelled with pride when I saw such a beautiful piece written by you and how handsome you look! You have indeed made us all proud - keep it up and keep it coming. God bless.

9: Raminder Kaur Obhrai (London, United Kingdom), September 26, 2010, 9:21 AM.

After reading your poem, my heart has filled with pride that I know such a talented and cultured child. Your parents must also accept my congratulations as they also have a big hand in nurturing your raw talent. May Waheguru show you the path of Fateh for the rest of your blessed life. Bole so nihaal, Sat Sri Akal!

10: Nirpal (Leeds, United Kindom), October 31, 2010, 3:26 PM.

I'm looking for more war poetry about Sikhs, can anyone help me?

11: Jasneet Kaur (Bangalore, India), November 22, 2010, 7:40 AM.

We are proud of you. May Waheguru bless you with Naam Simran and panth seva.

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