The Great War produced a vast literature of novels, poems and myths, but the story of Sikh soldiers at this time is mostly forgotten. The book on which this talk is based seeks to address this by telling the story of the war through the eyes of the Sikh soldier and Sikh people, examining their war time experiences of the Western Front, England and an array of other lands.
The story is told in their own words by previously anonymous Sikhs such as Gajan Singh, a cavalryman, who tells of the horrors of the Somme, Mul Singh, who waxes lyrical about the grandeur of England and the poetry of Gurdit Singh, exhorting loyalty to a King-Emperor that he had no real knowledge of. How this was linked to their psyche, martial traditions, the prevailing situation in the Punjab and coercion is examined.
Sukwinder Singh Bassi was born in London to Sikh parents hailing from the Punjab, India. He has worked for the past twenty-five years in the field of Health Informatics, and currently works for England’s health and social care regulator. His main passion, however, is military and social history, particularly that of both world wars and Sikhs in particular.
His motivation for compiling his book was created on the back of a tour of the Great War battlefields of Northern France and Belgium in 2014. Accompanied by his eleven-year-old son, Sukwinder was transfixed by the rows and rows of Sikh names at the Indian Memorial in Neuve Chapelle and on the Menin Gate, in Ypres. He decided there and then that he would find out as much as possible about the people who had come thousands of miles to fight in Europe.
Sukwinder’s first book, 'Thousands of Heroes Have Arisen', is the result of more than five years of painstaking qualitative research and endeavour, bringing the reader the Sikh experience of the Great War years.