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Heritage Armistice Day & The Sikhs


Jun 1, 2004
Armistice Day & The Sikhs

The Armistice Day (laying of arms on 11 November, 1918) came after the loss of millions of lives since the war began in early August 1914 between the Allied forces on one side and the German forces on the other.


Most of the First World War was a non-moving trench war, which seemed endless. However, in the spring of 1918, the German Army tried to overpower the Allied Forces on the Western Front, and indeed, for the first time in more than three years, the front-line moved significantly.

But soon the German soldiers were exhausted, and in the summer of 1918, the Allied troops launched a counter-attack in Belgium and France.

Everywhere, the Germans were driven back. The German army disintegrated and its soldiers were demoralized, notwithstanding the situation in Germany (food shortages, etc.) which was very bad.

Following a mutiny by its sailors (November 3, 1918) and soldiers, the German government of Max von Baden asked President Woodrow Wilson of U.S.A. to negotiate for a ceasefire. Wilson had some difficulties persuading the French and the British. However, after Wilson agreed to accept changes concerning reparations, the Armistice was signed at Compiegne in
France, on 11 November, 1918. (The actual Peace Treaty was signed much later, on June 28, 1919 in Versailles).

Meanwhile, the German government and Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9. Wilhelm fled to Holland, where he obtained asylum. On November 11, the Austrian Emperor Karl I also abdicated. In Germany, a republic was installed on November 9.

On November 11, the Belgium Army had come close to the city of Gent, and the British had captured the city of Mons. In France the front-line, everywhere, was close to the Belgium border and then went further south close to Metz. In any case, most of Belgium (including the cities of Antwerp, Brussels and Liege) were still occupied by the Germans on Armistice Day. The time and desperation for Armistice day had come.

In a forest near Compiègne (France), early in the morning of November 7, a train carrying Marshal Foch of France, his staff and British officers arrived; and another train arrived on a track close to it, with a delegation from the German government seeking an armistice.

For three days the two parties discussed the terms of an armistice until 05:05 hours on 11 November 1918. Matthias Erzberger, the leader of the German delegation, and one of the new German leaders, signed the Armistice document. Within six hours the war would be over.

The Armistice was to take effect at 11 o'clock in the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month.

The conditions of the armistice were put down in thirty-four articles. They were tough and uncompromising. The German army would give up all the territory it had occupied and this would include Alsace and Lorraine (which were part of France before 1870, but became a part of Germany after that). Furthermore the Allies would occupy the west of Germany up to the left bank of the Rhine. Other articles accounted for their submarine and High Seas fleets, and the provision of reparations for France and Belgium.

On 11 November 1918, most of Belgium was still occupied by (fleeing) German troops. That is, only some cities and villages (like Bruges, Mons, etc.) had really been liberated by Belgium or British troops. But of course, on November 11, people of Belgium celebrated the end of war, and that they were in fact free again. Even so, the military regime and the presence of soldiers did not really and suddenly end on November 11.

In Belgium, November 11 is called Wapenstilstandsdag (Armistice Day), and not something like 'Freedom Day' or 'Liberation Day'.

I don't know if the Armistice was celebrated already in 1919 in Belgium (it was in Britain and France); I suppose so, but I am not sure. Certainly, it was celebrated on November 11 from then on.

On 11 November 1921, a Belgium 'Unknown Soldier' (an unidentified body) was buried in Brussels, and it became the national monument of WW I.

On Armistice Day, there was a military parade in Brussels, and wreaths were laid on the grave of the Unknown Soldier. The parade was attended by the King and political and military leaders who paid their homage to the dead.

Between the two world wars, in every city and village of Belgium, there were remembrance ceremonies on November 11. Wreaths were laid at the local war memorial (which you can find in almost every Belgium city or village), and the names of the fallen were read aloud. Often a religious service accompanied this, and in the larger villages and cities there were other activities.

Even today, most cities have their own celebrations on Armistice Day, which is an official holiday in Belgium. The celebrations take place around local war memorials. Certainly the most important celebration (apart from Brussels) is in Ieper. After the Second World War, May 8 was chosen as the day to celebrate the liberation of Belgium, and it still exists as a special day of remembrance for veterans, but it is not an official remembrance day. Instead, the remembrance of the Second World War has been incorporated in the remembrances of the November 11.

More than 30 different nationalities were engaged in the Ypres Salient including the Sikhs. This is the reason why Armistice day is important to the Sikh Nation and Sikhs have been participating in the annual peace celebrations since November 11, 1998.

On August 6, 1914, the War Council asked the British Indian government to send two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade to
Egypt. The Lahore and the Meerut Divisions were chosen, later followed by the Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade, which together formed the Indian Army Corps. On 27th August the British Government decided to send the Indian divisions to France in order to reinforce the B.E.F. that had recently been forced to withdraw after Mons.

Meanwhile, the Lahore Division was already on its way to the front. Its new destination was M{censored}illes, where it arrived by the end of September. On its way to France, the Lahore Division left one of its brigades near the Suez Canal, and, as some units of the Jullundur Brigade only left India by the end of September, it was only the Ferozopore Brigade that was at its full strength.

From M{censored}illes the Indian troops went north, over Orleans. 47th Sikhs of Jullundur Brigade while moving up to the front reached near Saint-Omer on 20 October, 1914. On 22 October, 1914, the Ferozepore Brigade arrived in the "new-born" Ypres Salient. They were sent to the trenches between Hollebeke in the North and Messines in the South. The trenches were not an uninterrupted line then, but a series of loose trenches, without the complex system with saps, communication trenches etc. that we were to know later in the War.

The 1st Connaught Rangers - the British battalion that belonged to the Ferozepore Brigade - were the first to have their baptism of fire. The first Indian battalion that went into the firing line was the 57th Wilde's Rifles (57th Wilde's Rifles, Dera Ismail Khan): 2 Sikhs, 2 Dogras, 2 Punjabi Moslims, 2 Pathans, in the vicinity of Wijtschate - Oosttaverne.

Later, the entire Lahore Division was involved. In fact, the British Indian Army Corps was only deployed twice in the Salient,
but each time at very crucial moments, at the end of October 1914 during the 1st Battle of Ypres, and at the end of April 1915, during the 2nd Battle.

The 57th Wilde's Rifles and the 129th Baluchis suffered heavy losses during the last two days of October 1914 (during the 1st battle of Ieper). The Wilde's Rifles lost 300 men out of 750, the Baluchis had 240 men killed, wounded or taken as POWs.

During the 2nd Battle of Ieper, the 47 Sikh Regiment fought alone on 27 April 1915 and lost 348 men out of a total of 444.

Dr. Johan Meire of Katholieke Universiteit (Belgium) wrote in his book "Memories of first World War In and Around Ieper": "Between 24th April and 1st May 1915 in a week's time, the Lahore Division had lost 3,889 men, or 30 % of the troops it had employed."

" 'It is finished with (Lahore) division', writes wounded Ishar Singh on 1st May 1915 to a friend in India.' It appears on both sides there will be no survivals - then ( when there is no body ) peace will prevail" (p 352).

In about fourteen months the Indian Corps had lost 34,252 men (dead, wounded, ill, or prisoners of war) on the Western Front in France and Belgium. The Lahore Division consisted of:

Brigade: 1st Connaught Rangers

57th Wilde's Rifles

9th Bhopal Infantry

129th Duke of Connaught's Own Baluchis

(April 1915: + 4th London)

Jullundur Brigade: 1st Manchesters

15th Ludhiana Sikhs

47th Sikhs

59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force)

(April 1915: - 15th Ludhiana Sikhs, + 4th Suffolks, + 40th Pathans)

Sirhind Brigade 1/ Highland Light Infantry

1/1st Gurkhas

1/4th Gurkhas

125th Napiers Rifles

(April 1915: + 4/(King's) Liverpool Regt, + 15th Ludhiana Sikhs)



15th Lancers (Cureton's Multanis)

34th Sikh Pioneers

20th and 21st Companies Bombay Sappers and Miners

5th, 11th, 18th Brigades, RFA

109th Heavy Battery


7th & 8th Field Ambulance (British)

111th, 112th & 113th Field Ambulance (Indian)

November 11, 2010


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