Sikh soldiers using gas masks while defending Ieper in April, 1915. On 22nd April 1915 at 5 p.m. the 2nd Battle of Ypres began with the first successful gas attack in history. The Sikhs did not compromise their turban or sacred hair. Published: November 11, 2010 10:00 AM Updated: November 11, 2010 10:09 AM Contributed by Bal Sanghera Remembrance Day is a time to look back and pay respect to those that gave their lives for our freedom and way of life. Unfortunately, many people have the perception that it was a war in another time, in another country and there is no association with our culture, country or freedom. For the most part people only think about World Wars I and II as European wars when they think of Remembrance Day. The reality is that over 83,000 Sikh soldiers died and over 135,000 were wounded in battle in WWI and WWII. The contribution is unmeasureable particularly because the Sikh population was quite small. Being less than two per cent of the population, Sikhs made up 20 per cent of the British Army in the battlefield in WWI. They fought on all fronts from Turkey, Africa, Burma and all over Europe including the famous “Fields of Flanders”. They were well rewarded for their bravery. Fourteen Military Crosses were awarded for “conspicuous gallantry” to the Sikhs. Sikhs are buried in cemeteries all over Europe including Holland, Italy and France. Their names and 1 Onkar are chiseled into the gravestones. The Sikh Regiments marched behind the Guru Granth Sahib. Even in the battlefield they would set up a praying area which became a mini Gurdwara. After being relieved from the front line they would gather and perform kirtan. As was done during the Guru’s times the connection with God was always at the forefront even on battlefield. Over 138,000 Sikh soldiers fought in Belgium and France during World War I. More than a quarter of these soldiers became casualties. In the first battle of Ypres at Flanders in 1914 a platoon of Sikhs died fighting to the last man, who shot himself with his last cartridge rather that surrender. The Sikh soldiers incurred heavy losses. Many regiments were nearly wiped out. During the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915 the Sikh regiments stationed there lost 80 per cent of their men. A Sikh soldier wrote a letter back to Punjab describing the horrific situation: “Thousand and hundreds of thousands of soldiers have lost their lives. If you go on the field of battle you will see corpses piled upon corpses, so that there is no place to put hand or foot. Men have died from the stench. No one has any hope of survival, for back to Punjab will go only those who have lost a leg or an arm or an eye. The whole world has been brought to destruction.” General Sir Frank Messervy, K.C.S.L. of the British Army wrote, “Finally, we that live on can never forget those comrades who, in giving their lives gave so much that is great to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice. May they rest in peace. In the last two World Wars…they died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the World, enduring shell fire with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith”. Remembrance Day is a time for all to pay respect to their fallen heroes. For without them the world would be a different place today. Without their sacrifice we would not cherish the freedom and liberty that we so enjoy regardless of origin or country of residence. Bal Sanghera’s mother’s uncle served in the British Army and fought Japanese forces in Burma. After the war was over he immigrated to England, where he died five years ago.