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Italy Honours WWII Sikh Heroes With Grand Memorial




Forli, Italy

On Saturday 13 August, 2011, Sikhs from across the diaspora gathered at the Forli War Cemetery in Italy to inaugurate the first military monument dedicated to the the Sikh warriors who laid down their lives in World War II for the freedom of Europe.

The Sikhs who fought in Forli (1943-45 ) hailed from the 1st, 2nd, 8th, 11th, 15th and 16th Punjab Regiment, Nabha Akal Infantry, 1st Sikh Engineers, 11 Sikh Regiment, 12th and 13th Frontier Force Rifles, Indian Pioneer Corps and English Regiments including King George V's Own Bengal Sappers and Miners, 1st Duke of York Own Cavalry  Skinner's Horse ), 6th Duke of Cannaught's Own Lancers (Watson Horse ), Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry and Royal Indian Army Services Corps.352 Sikhs died here, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records. 

For the liberation of Italy, 5773 British-Indian Soldiers laid down their lives in Italy, of which the majority were Sikhs. Besides Forly, Sikhs also fought in Cassino, Florence, Ravana and Sangro River during World War II.

Both the Montecchio Precalcino Communal Cemetery and the Taranto Town Cemetery Extension also have Samaadhs of a Sikh soldier each on their hallowed grounds.

Dignitaries from Punjab, Europe and across the diaspora graced the occasion of the unveiling of the memorial.  The Sikh Sangat and Gurdwaras of Italy joined hands with the Town Hall of Forli to make it a resounding success. 

Paul Breyne, Governor of West Vlanderen, the province in which Sikhs fought and defended during World War I; Luc Dehaene, Mayor of Ieper, the city which was defended by the Sikhs and where Chlorine was used in chemical warfare against them, in April 1915; David Symons, Director of Communication & Information, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who mantain all the memorials and Cemeteries of World War I & II in 50 countries; joinded many of our own community leaders on the day.

Stefan Popdimitrov, the sculptor who created the magnificent monument, also attended the ceremony with his wife.

The whole event was transmitted live by the SikhTV and Sangat TV channels.

A Diwan was held in a nearby marquee on the Forli Cemetery grounds. Amongst those honoured included some Italian soldiers who fought alongside Sikh soldiers. Amongst them was a doctor who had tended to the wounded Sikh soldiers. The Mayor of Forly was honored for his tireless service in makingb the memorial possible. Guru ka langar was served..

Finally,  an open air Sikh martial-arts show was performed by the highly decorated team of Sikhs from Italy.

The following day, on Sunday, the Gurdwara Sangat Sabha in Terranuova, Arezzo, hosted the guests who had come from far and wide. One of us (Bhupinder Singh Holland) addressed the congregation and shared stories of the Sikh involvement in World War I and ll, reminding all that in the two wars, 83,005 turban-wearing Sikh soldiers made the supreme sacrifie, while a further 109,045 of them were wounded.

The plaque on the monument we left behind, placed by the Sikh Community of Italy, carries a quote from Sir Winston Churchill: "We are today able to live with honour, dignity and independence. In the war, they fought and died for us, wearing the turbans'.

In the words of General Sir Frank Messervy, K.C.S.I., K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., "Finally we that live on can never forget those comrades who, in giving their lives, gave so much that are great and good to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice. May they rest in peace."



August 23, 2011



Conversation about this article

1: Satinder Singh (New Jersey, U.S.A.), August 23, 2011, 10:35 AM.

Absolutely beautiful!

2: N. Singh (Canada), August 23, 2011, 11:41 AM.

I am so proud! To think I am descended from this great race. I only wish that in my life I am too able to do something worthwhile to bring glory to my people. May Waheguru bless them all, and we, the people of the free world, thank them ... "When you go back ... tell them ... for your tomorrow, we gave our today." RIP.

3: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), August 23, 2011, 11:52 AM.

I would like to congratulate Ranvir Singh Virdi and Bhupinder Singh Holland, specifically the latter who, I know, was instrumental in getting the memorial for these heroes. Sikh leadership in India should learn a lesson from this event.

4: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), August 23, 2011, 1:53 PM.

God Bless Italy and its people.

5: Harman Singh (California, U.S.A.), August 23, 2011, 4:45 PM.

Congratulations to the Italians - especially Sikh-Italians - for getting this right! We need these war memorials in every country that Sikh soldiers shed their blood to protect every individual's liberties and freedoms.

6: Gurmit Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 23, 2011, 5:14 PM.

a magnificent work of art ... a fitting "world class" memorial to the gallant Sikh soldiers of the Second World War. Finally, somebody got it right!

7: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A.), August 23, 2011, 5:35 PM.

Great feeling to note that hundreds of thousands of turban-wearing Sikhs participated in the World Wars - to defend humanity!

8: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), August 23, 2011, 6:03 PM.

It's about time. Great. The Italian record of dealing with turbaned Sikhs at their airports is not as bad as the French. Slowly but surely such steps would help.

9: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), August 23, 2011, 10:46 PM.

Our Sant-Sipahi heritage has played the a big part in the freedom of the modern world. The memorial was long overdue. We need more and more of these to remind us of the role played by Sikhs against tyranny and religious fanaticism.

10: Ranjeet (Southampton, United Kingdom), August 24, 2011, 8:50 AM.

Although the concept is brilliant, I'm not really a fan of the outcome. Steroid induced, bare chested soldiers seems a tad over the top ...

11: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), August 24, 2011, 12:35 PM.

Great news! It will be really nice if the Italian government now puts an end to the disrespect of the Sikh turban at its airports, something that has been going on for a while. More than two dozen cases of forceful turban removal at the Italian airports have come to light this year, including that of the Indian Overseas Congress (Italy Chapter) President, Karamjit Singh Dhillon. As recently as two days ago, Giani Gurbax Singh Gulshan made an internet plea for the Sikhs to raise their voice against Italian treatment of Sikhs at the airports as he himself was subject to it. He was stopped at the Verona Airport and asked to remove his turban or miss his flight (which he ended up doing). According to him, security at the Italian airports are not willing to use hand metal detectors to scan the turbans.

12: Sukhindarpal Singh (Penang, Malaysia), August 25, 2011, 11:30 AM.

Grazie, Italia!

13: Manjot Singh (Almere, The Netherlands), August 25, 2011, 11:48 AM.

I was at the unveiling with my father, Sardar Bhupinder Singh ji Holland. I will never forget the great Sikh sacrifices made for "sarbat da bhalla". It makes me proud in being a Sikh.

14: Gurbux Singh (Chatsworth, Los Angeles, U.S.A.), August 25, 2011, 12:18 PM.

Sikhs are saint-soldiers, and have never shirked from duty. Just outside of Rangoon, there is a beautiful War Cemetery in Htaukyant; it is maintained by the British. There are literally hundreds of graves and tombstones, as well as marble walls, honouring and recording for eternity the names of Sikhs who made the ultimate sacrifice. The numbers are staggering. As kids, we used to go there and played a game of trying to find our own names on the hallowed walls and our parents would rebuke us that we should not be disrespectful. Sikhs did not need steroids to be strong. They had their faith in Waheguru. Let us remember them.

15: Jesvin (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), September 19, 2011, 2:39 AM.

Let our fallen heroes be remembered for ever.

16: R. Malik (Milton Keynes, England, UK), October 09, 2011, 8:17 PM.

Brilliant. A fitting tribute to the brave soldiers of Punjab. My grandad, many of his cousins, and his uncle all fought in 11th Sikh, but on the eastern front. One of his cousins however fought and died in Italy, and it is a personal ambition of mine to one day visit and pay my respects at his grave. Respect to all the Punjab de puttar who fought with izzat and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Gurbux Singh ji, I'm glad that they are remembered over in Rangoon.

17: Stefan Popdimitrov (Venezia, Italy), November 09, 2011, 3:51 AM.


18: Charanpal Singh Sekhon (Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A.), December 05, 2011, 12:34 AM.

Congratulations to the Italian people. Good to see that someone is recognizing these sacrifices which Indians have long forgotten.

19: Jagjit Singh Teji (Oak Brook, Illinois, USA), July 07, 2012, 9:08 PM.

Congratulations to the people of Italy for commemorating the Sikhs who fought for the free world which we enjoy today. Sikhs fought the enemy they they did not know, for the country they did not belong to - UK - in lands they did not belong to - all of Europe and the world, wherever they were needed for the righteous cause.

20: Kalvinder Singh Bhullar (Huddersfield, England), December 09, 2012, 7:55 AM.

The people who instigated and completed the task of getting this memorial finished should be given gold medals for fulfilling the project. You have made the Sikh community proud by letting the world know the sacrifices made by Sikhs for the freedom of others. This is in keeping with the teachings of the Gurus and dedicating our lives to always working for the greater good.

21: Prabhjeet Singh (India), August 08, 2013, 1:02 PM.

My great grand father, Sardar Mangal Singh, was also there as a soldier. He gave a speech in one of Italy's gurdwaras against the oppression by the Britsh in India back in those days. He was promptly shipped back to Punjab and was discharged, though he had served in the First World War for five years as a Lance Daffadaar. He was a true hero.

22: Jasjeet Mundi (India), December 01, 2013, 10:15 AM.

Proud that both my grandfathers fought in Italy and came back to tell the tale.

23: Malkiat Singh (India), March 04, 2014, 3:49 PM.

My father S. Babu Singh and his three brothers, S. Kirpal Singh, S. Ishar Singh and S. Gurdeep Singh, all soldiers of the Nabha Akal Infantry who fought in the battle in Forli, all came back to Nabha after the war was over. My relative, S. Budh Singh of the same Infantry, was killed in the battle at Forli. This article reminds me of the war stories told to me by my father.

24: Manjit Singh  (Martinez, California, USA), June 28, 2014, 12:24 PM.

In June 2003, I was visiting my village Kalra in Punjab with my daughter after 20 years. I was telling my uncle Sardar Massa Singh (taya ji) who was in his mid-eighties that I lived in Toronto for a while and he said oh, I was in Toronto, Italy during World War II. I thought he must have been confused because Toronto is in Canada, not in Italy. He insisted it was Italy. Since I did not know there was a city named Taranto, we left the conversation at that, till this story was published. So he was right, and he was there! Very interesting. Sadly, he passed away in 2004. May God bless these brave souls!

25: Kuldeep Singh  (Italia ), July 14, 2014, 2:28 AM.

Grazie Forli.

26: Rajinder Singh Saini (Sahibabad, India), September 25, 2015, 4:11 PM.

I recollect today that the uncle of my late father, Sardar Inder Singh, had once told me in 1956 that he had fought in the WWII in Italy as part of the British Army. It is great to know that a memorial has been made in memory of those who fought and laid down their lives on that foreign soil.

27: Karamjit Singh Sandhu (Australia ), April 25, 2016, 10:43 AM.

My grandfather fought in WWII. He left home when my father and uncles were just little kids and never came back. We didn't have any photos of him. We tried to get some info from the newly created Indian army after the Partition of Punjab but never got any response. He is always in our hearts. We just imagine how he would look like, as my grandma told us he was 6.2 ft high and a strong man because he was a kabbaddi and kushti player. Miss you, Bapu ji. Waheguru tohade te mehar kare! His name: Sardar Harnaam Singh Sandhu, son of Sardar Chehal Singh Sandhu, Village - Mari Kamboke, District - Amritsar Teh-patti, Punjab. If anyone can help me get some information on my grandfather, I will be extremely grateful.

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