Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Private Saran Singh
Friday 16 June 2017 saw Australian Sikhs converge in Adelaide to remember Private Saran Singh, who lost his life in the Battle of Messines in Belgium on 10 June 1917. His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC, Governor of South Australia, hosted a reception at Government House to commemorate the 100th death anniversary of Sikh Anzac Private Saran Singh. The reception was attended by a wide group of people including members of South Australian Government, the academic and heritage community, Australian Defence Force and Australian Sikh community.
Private Saran Singh was one of the 16 Sikhs living in Australia who enlisted as Anzacs in World War One and one of five Sikhs living in South Australia to do so. Saran Singh lived in Maggea and was a farmer at the time the War broke out. He enlisted on 15 May 1916 and on 12 August 1916 he boarded the HMAT A70 ‘Ballarat’ for the UK. Saran Singh saw action in December 1916 and in May and June 1917 in France and Belgium.
Following the reception at Government House, the Australian Sikh Heritage Association along with Adelaide based Sikh associations organised a public wreath laying ceremony at the National War Memorial and a special presentation by, Emeritus Professor Margaret Allen at the State Library of South Australia. The Governor along with Ms Dana Wortley (representing the South Australian Government), Lieutenant Colonel Doug Langrehr (representing Brigadier Mick Burgess, Commander 9th Brigade) from the Australian Army laid a wreath to mark the occasion. Captain Sandeep Singh Bhagat, Charanpreet Singh Anand, Kuljit Kaur Jassal and Ajayvant Singh Sidhu laid a wreath on behalf Sikhs in the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Sikh community. Kuljit Kaur Jassal from the Australian Sikh Heritage Association said, “These Sikh men worked and lived in Australia, their adopted home. They were eager to join their Aussie mates and fight for what they believed in. Today we pause to reflect not only Private Saran Singh’s sacrifice, but all men and women who have served in Australia’s defence."
Video of Government House Speeches and Wreath Laying Ceremony
While it is more commonly known that approximately 1.2 million Indians volunteered to fight for the British Indian Army in WWI, making them the largest volunteer army in the World War One, Saran Singh, and the other Sikh Anzacs who served with him in the Australian Imperial Force, represented a stark contradiction to the commonly held myth of what an Anzac would have looked like. These men were among the few non-white members of a force that was legally only supposed to include Europeans, an exception to the prevailing racist policy of 'White Australia'.
Sikhs only made up 2% of India’s population. However, 22% of the British Indian Army (of 1.2 million) were Sikhs. In World War I and II, 83,005 Sikhs were killed and 109,045 were wounded fighting for the allied forces. Australian Sikhs continue to serve proudly in the Australian Defence Force today.