Willetton: Sikh involvement in WWI to be highlighted in new booklet

Tarun Preet Singh, Daljit Sing Dhillon, Raghbir Singh and  Priest Jasvinder Singh. Picture: Matt Jelonek d469002
Tarun Preet Singh, Daljit Sing Dhillon, Raghbir Singh and Priest Jasvinder Singh. Picture: Matt Jelonek d469002

A CHAPTER of Australia’s little known military history will be revealed in a booklet to be published by the Australian Sikh Heritage Association later this year.

The Association received a $61,027 Federal Government grant last month to publish a booklet about the Sikhs who served in the Australian Imperial Forces from 1914 to 1918.

Association representative Tarun Singh of Willetton said he hoped the booklet would provide a fresh perspective on Australia’s military history.

“This chapter of Australian defence history has not been well read and we wish to spread the awareness nationally,” he said.

Mr Singh said notable historian Peter Stanley would lead the project while Australian War Memorial researcher Edwin Ride would compile the booklet.

The booklet will be distributed to 12,000 schools, up to 500 public libraries, 45 universities, about 1200 RSL clubs and 100 Indian organisations across Australia.

“This will help the Sikhs in Australia in securing their sense of identity with Australia which is an important part of the development of community cohesion,” he said.

“Sikhs have been in Australia for more than 150 years. All Sikhs have a common last name, Singh, which means ‘lion’. They have a long military history in Australia.”

Mr Singh said many Sikhs had originally come to Australia as cameleers and history had incorrectly depicted them as Afghans.

He said research for the surname Singh in records had identified 16 Sikhs who had served in Australia’s forces in World War I.

– At least 19 Sikhs enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in WWI.
– Approximately 1.2 million Indians volunteered to fight for the British Indian Army in WWI, making them the largest volunteer army in the Great War.
– While Sikhs only make up two per cent of India’s population, 22 per cent of the British Indian Army were Sikhs.
– In WWI and WWII 83,005 Sikhs were killed and 109,045 were wounded fighting for the allied forces.
Source: Australian Sikh Heritage Association

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