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World War 1 When Sikhs Fought Along Side Kiwis And Aussies

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When the Sikhs fought alongside Kiwis and Aussies

Few of us Kiwi Indians – especially of the younger generation – know that the spirit of Anzac Day, which has such solemn significance to New Zealanders and Australians, has a deep Indian connection.

Anzac Day, which was observed last Saturday, as we all know is observed to perpetuate the memory of over 8,000 Australians and nearly 3,000 New Zealanders who laid down their lives fighting for the British Empire on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the course of World War-I.

The Gallipoli campaign resonated profoundly among all nations involved. For New Zealand and Australia, the campaign was the first major battle undertaken by a joint military formation, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in both of these countries.

Observance of the day has never diminished in importance over the generations; in fact as its century approaches, the fervour is only increasing. While many of us Kiwi Indians participate in Anzac Day activities like the Dawn Service and parades all over the country, few of us are aware of the role Indian soldiers played in the Gallipoli campaign that ran from April 25, 1915 to January 9, 1916.

Being subjects of the Crown under British rule in India, Indians had no choice but to participate in World War-I – a war that was certainly not of their making and a war that they were sent to fight in simply because they were recruits of the British Indian Army.

Of the estimated 47,000 and odd Indian soldiers that were killed during the four-year war, which also saw over 65,000 Indians wounded, 1,358 died in the Gallipoli campaign and some 3,421 were injured. Fewer Indians than New Zealanders and Australians died at Gallipoli, but their number was significant.

Records tell us that 371 of the Indians who died fighting at Gallipoli were from the battalion of the 14th Sikh regiment on June 3 and 4 1915. General Sir Ian Hamilton was in charge of the troops against the Turks during that operation and he wrote glowingly of this regiment that fought valiantly.

In a letter to his Commander-in-Chief back in India, he wrote: “In spite of the tremendous losses there was not a sign of wavering all day. Not an inch of ground was given up and not a single straggler came back.

“The ends of the enemy’s trenches were found to be blocked with the bodies of Sikhs and of the enemy who died fighting at close quarters, and the glacis slope was thickly dotted with the bodies of these fine soldiers all lying on their faces as they fell in their steady advance on the enemy.

“The history of Sikhs affords many instances of their value as soldiers, but it may be safely asserted that nothing finer than the grim valour and steady discipline displayed by them on the 4th of June has ever been done by soldiers of the Khalsa.

“Their devotion to duty and their splendid loyalty to their orders and to their leaders make a record their nation should look upon with pride for many generations.”

This battle involving the 14th Sikh regiment has been honoured with a mention in monuments in the UK, though there aren’t many records of the thousands of others who died elsewhere fighting for the Crown in other war theatres during World War-I.

While honouring New Zealand soldiers here in our adopted country, we Kiwi Indians must also make special efforts to perpetuate the memory of all the valiant soldiers who laid down their lives including the Sikh regiment that fought alongside New Zealanders and Australians at Gallipoli – besides the unnamed thousands who died during the four year war.
 

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