In June 1917, Hindu ANZAC soldiers namely Private Nain Singh Sailani and Private Sarn Singh were the first two Indian soldiers to make the supreme sacrifice while serving as members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on the Western Front.
These brave soldiers were among the 12 Indian-Australian soldiers who enlisted in the AIF during the First World War.
43rd Battalion / Age: 33 years / Religion: Hindoo
Nain Singh Sailani
44th Battalion / Age: 43years / Religion: Hindoo
33rd Battalion / Age: 34 years / Religion: Hindoo
Age: 35 years / Religion: Hindoo
3rd Light Horse / Age: 38 years / Religion: Sikh
3rd Light Horse / Age: 41 years / Religion: Sikh
|Ganessa Singh |
10th Battalion / Age 37 years / Religion: Sikh
3rd Light Horse / Age: 39 years / Religion: Sikh
13th Battalion / Age: 33 years / Religion: Sikh
3rd & 56th Battalion / Age: 43 years / Religion: Church of England
George Sims aka Johar Singh
13/ 7th Battalion / Age: 28 years / Religion: Roman Catholic
44 Depot / Age: 45 years / Religion: Roman Catholic
Archival records show that five of the Indian-origin soldiers were recruited in South Australia, four in New South Wales, two in Western Australia and one in Victoria.
In this war, Indians along with Asian, Mediterranean, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were among more than 400,000 people who voluntarily enlisted in the AIF.
Historians note that up to 15,000 to 16,000 Indians – including Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians – served as part of the British force and fought with Allied troops at Gallipoli.
In 1915, Private Charlie Beherendt said:
“The Indians fight like tigers and are a great unit to the Empire.”
The Indian troops were involved in many of the key Allied actions of Gallipoli including the battles of Gully Ravine, Gully Spur, and Sari Bair.
Private Nain Singh Sailani was born in Shimla and migrated to Western Australia in 1895 when he was 22-year-old where he worked mostly as a general labourer.
Private Sailani enlisted in the AIF in February 1916. At the age of 43, he started from Fremantle on board the troopship Suevic and arrived in England at the end of July 1916 to join the 44th Battalion on the Western Front.
Private Sailani’s battalion moved to Belgium in late May 1917 and on 1 June this Battalion sustained 22 casualties on German battle lines. Among the dead was brave Indian-origin soldier Private Nain Singh Sailani who was buried at Strand Military Cemetery in Belgium with due honour.
Private Sarn Singh emigrated to Australia from Jullundur and settled near Loxton in South Australia to work as a farmer. He was 38 when he enlisted in the AIF and in August 1916 left on board the troopship Ballarat to arrive in England to join the 43rd Battalion.
On 10 June 1917, Private Singh was killed in action during his unit’s advance on German positions at Messines Ridge.
Private Desanda Singh from Kapurthala settled in South Australia and worked as a hawker or travelling salesman. It is said that he was easily recognisable with his gold and blue turban.
Private Singh was 38 when he enlisted and joined the 3rd Light Horse and arrived in Egypt. In May 1918, he worked in administrative duties at the company headquarters and was later discharged and sent back to Australia.
Private Singh returned to Australia where he continued to work as a hawker until 1946.
Australian historian Professor Peter Stanley has written about the courage of Indian troops observed in his book, Die in Battle, Do Not Despair – The Indians on Gallipoli, 1915.
Prof. Stanley said:
“Despite barriers of language, culture and religion, it is clear that Australian and Indian soldiers had a deep respect for each other and bonded in battle. I found in Australian diaries, letters and photographs evidence of how Indian soldiers experienced Gallipoli.”
Historians believe more than 1,400 Indians died at Gallipoli and 3,500 were wounded, but Indians are almost ignorant about their contribution to the ANZAC Gallipoli campaign in First World War.
In the last decade, the Indian-Australian community has been doing a number of initiatives to promote awareness about Indian ANZACS.
In 2018 the Australia India Cenotaph Committee, a project of the Hindu Council of Australia erected the ANZAC Jawan Cenotaph in Cherrybrook, New South Wales, to ‘commemorate the service and sacrifice made by Australian Soldiers and Military Personnel of Indian heritage who served in the Australian Imperial Force in World War 1’.
Anand Manickam is secretary to the Australia India Cenotaph Committee and Joint Secretary of, Hindu Council of Australia (NSW).
Mr Manickam told The Australia Today,
“The Anzacs and Indians have developed Strong friendships, the shared military history is beginning a positive relationship that continues to this day.”
The ANZAC Jawan Memorial is 1.5 metres tall and carries two brass emblems – the Australian Army Rising Sun Badge and Ashoka Chakra which is the centre symbol on the Indian flag.
Historian Crystal Jordan says:
“The contribution that soldiers of Indian descent made in the A.I.F. during the First World War is the same as that for other soldiers who enlisted and served overseas and remembering soldiers of Indian Descent that did not return to Australia is very important, especially for their families and the Indian community.”