It is little known that Sikh Canadians served with the Canadian Army in the First World War. Ten such men have been found among the military records of the Great War, all volunteers to fight for a country that denied them the rights of citizenship. Among them, eight served in Europe, two of whom were killed in action. Another, who was wounded and died after returning to Canada, was Buckam Singh, whose story has been discovered more fully than the others.
Private Buckam Singh
Buckam (Bukkan on his headstone) Singh was born at Mahilpur, Punjab, India, in December 1893. He came to Canada in 1907, at the age of 14, and became a miner in British Columbia before moving to Toronto in 1912 or 1913. Although he was very young when he immigrated to Canada, he was already married, but because of harsh immigration laws he could not bring his bride with him. In 1915, Singh enrolled in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was working as a farm hand in Rosebank, Ontario, when he was called for active service and joined the 20th Battalion. His last service was with the 28th Battalion, according to his headstone.
Meet Private Buckam Singh, of one of the first Sikh Canadian soldiers. During WWI he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. In 1916 he served with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion in the battlefields of Flanders. His resting place in Kitchener, Ont., is now the only known WWI Sikh Canadian Soldier's military grave in Canada.
Note: The Secret Life of Canada is hosted and written by Falen Johnson and Leah Simone Bowen and is a CBC original podcast independent of The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Singh was wounded twice, in separate battles, and is said to have been treated by Dr. John McCrae, who wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields.” Singh was sent to a hospital in England to be repatriated to Canada. While in England, he contracted tuberculosis. He died in a Kitchener, Ontario, hospital in August 1919. He was buried in K itchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery — the only known First World War Sikh Canadian soldier’s grave in the country.
Commemoration of Sikh Canadian Soldiers
There is little information published about the role of Sikhs in Canadian military service during the First World War. The discovery of Buckam Singh’s Victory Medal has led to his reclamation by his community, which commemorates him with an annual Remembrance Day service, and to interest in discovering the history of Sikh soldiers in Canada.
The largely undocumented story of Sikh Canadian soldiers was told by filmmaker David R. Gray. The documentary, Canadian Soldier Sikhs: A Little Story in a Big War, for OMNI Television, uncovered the stories of Buckam Singh and these other forgotten men.
Sikh Canadian Soldiers of the First World War
- John Baboo of Winnipeg, originally from Punjab, India. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge.
- Sunta Gougersingh, originally from Punjab, India, who enlisted in Montréal and served in the Québec Regiment. He was killed in action 19 October 1915.
- Hari Singh of Toronto, originally from Punjab, India, who served with the Reserve Battalion, Royal Canadian Dragoons.
- Harnom Singh, alias Harry Robson, of Chilliwack, BC, possibly born in Juarez, Mexico. His parents were possibly from Singapore and India. He served in the 143rd Railway Construction Battalion.
- John Singh of Winnipeg, born in India. He served in the 108th Overseas Battalion.
- Lashman Singh, born in India, and enlisted at Smiths Falls, Ontario. He served with the 75th Battalion and was killed in action on 24 October 1918.
- Ram Singh of Grand Forks, BC, born in Punjab, India. He enlisted in Vancouver.
- Sewa Singh of Vancouver, born in Dinjutah, India. He served with the 1st Canadian Reserves Battalion.
- Waryam Singh, born in Punjab, India, and enlisted at Smiths Falls, Ontario. He served with the 38th Battalion, Eastern Ontario Regiment.