Sikhs in World War 1
Who can forget the heroism of Sikhs in the battlefields of World War I and II. Historic battle of Ypres and bloody battle of Neuve Chapelle are just some examples.
"Finally, we that live on can never forget those comrades who in giving their lives gave so much that is good to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice, may they rest in peace.
In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world and during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith." (General Sir Frank Messervy KCSI, KBE, CB, DSO)
"Thousand and hundreds of thousands of soldiers have lost their lives. If you go on the field of battle you will see corpses piled upon corpses, so that their is no place to place or put hand or foot. Men have died from the stench. No one has any hope of survival, for back to Punjab will go only those who have lost a leg or an arm or an eye. The whole world has been brought to destruction." (letter home from a Sikh soldier)
Over 138,000 Indian troops fought in Belgium and France during World War I, many of them Sikhs. More than one quarter of these soldiers would became casualties.
In the first battle of Ypres at Flanders in 1914 a platoon of Dogra Sikhs died fighting to the last man, who shot himself with his last cartridge rather than surrender.
After the bloody battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915 the Sikh regements had lost 80% of their men, 3 regements stood at only 16% of their original compliment.
"It was the dark days of 1914 when our men had to face mortars, hand grenades, high explosive shells for which they themselves were not provided. They could reply only with their valour, their rifles and two machine guns per batallion. And yet they did it." (Lt. General Sir James Wilcox, Commander of the Indian Corps)
Lord Hardinge, the then Viceroy of India wrote in his memoirs :
"Within six months of the outbreak of war seven divisions of infantry and two divisions and two brigades of cavalry were sent from India overseas. But in addition to these organised forces no less than 20 batteries of artillery and 32 battalions of British infantry, 1,000 strong and more were sent to England. Altogether 80,000 British officers and troops and 210,000 Indian officers and men were sent from India overseas during the first six months of the war....It is a fact that for several weeks before the arrival of some untrained Territorial battalions from England the total British garrison in India, a country bigger than Europe... was reduced to less than 15,000 men. It was a big risk, but I took it, in spite of the repeated and vigorous protests of the Commander-in-Chief and some of the European community, as I trusted the people of India in the great emergency that had arisen, and I told them so and my confidence was not misplaced." (India and the War, 1914, by Lord Hardinge, My Indian)
Sikhs in Galipoli
April - December 1915
0n the 10th of April the 29th Brigade was ordered to prepare to move overseas and ten days later was concentrated in Port Said. The 14th Sikhs embarked in the transport Dunluce Castle on the 27th of April and the whole Brigade sailed in convoy the next day for Gallipoli. It was an inspiring sight approaching Cape Helles, where they arrived on the 30th of April. A large fleet of warships, transports and trawlers lay off the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the guns of the warships were continuously in action bombarding various Turkish forts on both sides of the straits or supporting the Allied troops on shore.
The Dunluce Castle anchored about half a mile from the beach and the 14th Sikhs disembarked on the 1 st of May. The Battalion was taken ashore in trawlers and landed at "V" Beach, near Cape Helles: The 29th Indian Brigade went into bivouac in reserve on the high ground near the beach and immediately found working parties to unload artillery and stores and construct roads at "V" and "W" Beaches.
At this time the Anglo-French forces were holding a line across the peninsula three miles from Cape Helles. The French were on the right and the British 29th Division on the left, with three battalions of the Royal Naval Division in reserve. These troops had suffered heavy casualties and were very exhausted.
The first night on the peninsula was a nerve-racking experience for the 14th Sikhs, for the Turks first broke through a part of the French line and then through a sector held by the 29th Division. On occasions the situation was critical and the 14th Sikhs were ordered to "stand to" and be prepared to move at a moment's notice. However, the situation was restored by local reserves and the services of the 29th Indian Brigade were not required.
The Allies made efforts to advance on the 2nd of May and the Indian Brigade was ordered to be ready to exploit success. However, they failed to achieve any success and the Indian Brigade did not go into action. The following night the Turks again attacked the French in force and seized several forward positions. The 14th Sikhs were ordered to "stand to," but once again the situation was restored by local reserves and the Sikhs did not go into action. General Sir Ian Hamilton considered it essential to gain ground before the enemy had time to strengthen his defences and bring up reinforcements. He therefore ordered a general advance on the 6th of May.
At the beginning of the "Second Battle of Krithia" the Indian Brigade was in reserve and was not seriously engaged. The Allies made great efforts to advance on the 6th, 7th and 8th May, but they met with little success and the battle ended with the Allied line advanced nowhere more than six hundred yards.
On the 9th of May the Indian Brigade moved up to relieve the 87th Brigade on the British left and held the front line for four days. Trench warfare had now begun and all efforts were directed to consolidating and strengthening the front and to raiding small sections of the enemy's line. Constant fighting on a small scale continued, since the Turks were allso by no means inactive.
On the night of the 12th of May the 11th / 6th Gurkhas by a skilful and dashing attack gained possession of Gurkha Bluff, near the sea on the extreme left of the British line. By this feat the Gurkhas advanced their left by about six hundred yards.
The next morning Nos. 1 and 2 Double Companies of the 14th Sikhs' moved up to support the 6th Gurkhas and arrived about 11 a.m. in a ravine behind the Gurkha position. At about 4.30 p.m. orders were received for the 14th Sikhs to take over from the 89th Punjabis and the right half of the 6th Gurkhas in the front line. Nos. 3 and 4 Double Companies immediately moved out to relieve the Punjabis, and Nos. 1 and 2 the Gurkhas.
During the day the 89th Punjabis had gained ground on the right of Gully Ravine. This forward position was then taken over and occupied by No. 4 Double Company and was entrenched as rapidly as possible directly it became dark. A weak Turkish counter-attack was easily repulsed, but unfortunately during most of the night the Sikhs suffered from the intermittent fire of a battalion in rear which was apparently unaware of their advanced position. Captain Channer was severely wounded in this action. Nos. 1 and 2 Double Companies had difficulty in taking over the right half of the Gurkha front. It was a lengthy operation occupying the shallow trenches and irregular line held by the Gurkhas and Major Swinley was mortally wounded. However, the Sikhs' machine guns and a company of the Royal Fusiliers arrived in support and the two double companies successfully consolidated the position.
Colonel Palin was a real autocrat and this is well illustrated by an incident at this time. Some British officers started to grow beards in order to disguise themselves a little in action. When Colonel Palin was visiting No. 4 Double Company, just before they moved forward to take part in a minor attack, he found Second-Lieutenant Savory with a beard. Although the attack was due to take place in less than an hour, the Colonel wanted to know why he had not shaved and ordered him on no account to go into action unshaved. Savory therefore had to go back to his dugout and shave with a very shaky hand.
All through the next day the Battalion dug hard to improve its defences. It was continually harassed by enemy artillery and snipers, and in the evening Lieutenant Spankie was killed by a Turkish sniper. A fortnight had now passed since the 14th Sikhs landed at Cape Helles. The Battalion had not yet been seriously engaged; indeed, it had been in the front line for only two days; nevertheless, it had suffered seventy-eight casualties in the Indian ranks and had lost three valuable British officers, two of whom were double-company commanders.
On the 15th of May the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers and the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were posted temporarily to the Indian Brigade in place of the 69th and 89th Punjabis, who left Gallipoli for France.
For the next few days the Sikhs worked steadily on the improvement of their trenches and the communications in rear. Major-General Hunter-Weston visited this part of the line on the 17th of May and congratulated Colonel Palin on the way in which his trenches were kept and on the general appearance of the 14th Sikhs.
Now began a period during which the front was advanced by digging a forward line by night, abandoning it by day, and eventually occupying it on the second or third night. At first the Turks did not realize what was happening. But on the night of the 22nd of May, when Captain Engledue, who was attached from the 89th Punjabis, moved out with "B" Company to occupy trenches constructed the previous night, he found that a section of trench on his, right which had been dug by the 2nd Royal Fusiliers was occupied by Turks. Captain Engledue attacked at once with the bayonet and drove the enemy out. It was then found that a gap existed between "B" Company's right and the left of the Fusiliers. Before this could be adjusted the Turks launched a vigorous attack against the Royal Fusiliers and pressed them hard. "A" Company was immediately ordered forward to fill the gap and take the enemy in flank. The operation was carried out with great dash and was entirely successful. For this prompt action the 14th Sikhs received the thanks of the commander of the Royal Fusiliers. A pleasant sequel followed six years later, when-both battalions being stationed in the Khyber Pass-the officers of the 2nd Royal Fusiliers presented the officers of the 14th Sikhs with a silver grenade inscribed:
"In Memory of Gallipoli, 1915, and the Khyber Pass, 192 L"
Up to the end of May the process of advancing by night and digging in was continued, until the British front line lay at an average distance of under two hundred yards from that of the Turks. Digging parties were disturbed only by intermittent and desultory fire. Lieutenant Meade, with the Battalion scouts, patrolled nightly up to the enemy's wire, but he never encountered a Turkish patrol. On the 29th of May Captain Strong, who was attached from the 89th Punjabis, was wounded, and unfortunately he eventually became completely blind.
By this date the Allied force at Helles was organized in two corps-the French Corps and the British VIII Corps under General Hunter-Weston. The British Corps consisted of the Royal Naval Division, 42nd Division and 29th Division. The Allied line had been reorganized in depth in four sectors, the French Corps holding the extreme right and the three British divisions the other three sectors. The 29th Division was on the left.
The Indian Brigade occupied a frontage of about eight hundred yards on the extreme left of the British line. The 14th Sikhs' trench line lay astride Gully Ravine, the right of the Battalion being in touch with the left of the 4th Worcestershires, of the 88th Brigade. The 1st Lancashire Fusiliers, in the centre of the Indian Brigade, held a line across Gully Spur, while the 6th Gurkhas were on the left holding the cliffs bordering the Aegean Sea. The 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers formed the Brigade reserve.
THIRD BATTLE OF KRITHIA, 4TH JUNE, 1915
Sir Ian Hamilton had decided to carry out a general attack on the 4th of June with the object of gaining ground along the whole length of the Allied front at Helles.
On the front of the Indian Brigade the open ground on Gully Spur sloped up north-eastwards towards two lines of Turkish trenches, known as J 10 and J 11. Gully Ravine was about seventy-five yards wide and forty to fifty feet deep, the lower portion being covered with low scrub. Gully Spur fell steeply into the ravine and was higher than the right edge, from which the ground sloped gradually upward and eastward to a crest 1iine about two hundred yards away. The enemy was known to have several small trenches in Gully Ravine, and there was also the possibility of machine guns being hidden in positions on the sides commanding the approaches up the gully. Further, fire from the trenches J10 and J 11 on Gully Spur could sweep not only the bottom of the ravine but also the flat eastern slope and the ground beyond as far as the crest line.
The Indian Brigade was to attack in two waves. The first wave was to capture the Turkish trench line J 11 and consolidate there, while the second wave, starting fifteen minutes later, was to capture J 13. The first wave consisted of half the 6th Gurkhas, the whole battalion of Lancashire Fusiliers and half the 14th Sikhs, while half each of the 6th Gurkhas, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and 14th Sikhs were in the second wave. Half the Inniskillings were to form Brigade reserve.
It was arranged that on the 4th of June an artillery bombardment would be carried out from 8 a.m. to 11.20 a.m. all along the Allied front. The guns would then cease firing for ten minutes, during which the forward troops would cheer and show fixed bayonets above their trenches to induce the enemy to man his parapets. From 11.30 to 12 noon the guns would bombard the enemy's front line heavily. At 12 o'clock the batteries would increase their range and the first infantry wave would rush out of their trenches to the assault, followed at 12.15 by the second wave.
Colonel Palin detailed Nos. 2 and 4 Double Companies for the first wave. No. 2, on the left, working up Gully Ravine, was first to assist the Lancashire Fusiliers by taking the trench J10 in flank and then go on with the Fusiliers to the assault of J 11. No. 4 Double Company, on the right, was to conform to the advance of the 88th Brigade and ensure that no gaps occurred between the brigades. Nos. 1 and 3 Double Companies were allotted to the second wave, No. I on the right and No. 3 in Gully Ravine. The Sikhs' two machine guns were not to move forward until the trench J I 1 was captured; their first task was to bring oblique fire to bear on the trenches J 10 and J 11 so as to assist the Lancashire Fusiliers.
Colonel Palin's written orders were :issued in the evening of the 3rd of June, but thorough preparations had by then been completed and everything was ready for the next day's battle. There was a general feeling of optimism and the morale of the Battalion was very high.
The Third Battle of Krithia was a complete failure. Although some initial success was won in the centre, particularly by the Manchester Brigade, there was a gain of only a few hundred yards at the end of the battle at the cost of very heavy casualties.
The 4th of June was a beautiful summer day. The artillery bombardment took place according to plan, but unfortunately produced little effect on the enemy in his strong trenches. The British were badly equipped with artillery and the Turkish forces entrenched on Gully Spur were quite unshaken at zero hour.
At 12 o'clock the first wave of the Indian Brigade dashed forward to the attack. The Lancashire Fusiliers were mown down by fire as they left their trenches; and throughout the day they were unable to make any progress. The 6th Gurkhas on the left gained some ground, but were forced eventually to withdraw to their original line.
On the right the 14th Sikhs captured some enemy trenches against very strong opposition, but owing to their enormous casualties they had to withdraw on the following day.
In Gully Ravine Lieutenant-Colonel Jacques led No. 2 Double Company forward with great gallantry in face of very heavy fire. They encountered numerous machine guns in hidden positions on both sides of the ravine and both officers were killed almost immediately. The double company pushed on but suffered very heavy casualties while trying to cut its way through the enemy wire. Nevertheless, the Sikhs, displaying great resolution, eventually forced their way across the wire and pushed on. At one place where they were held up along the wire Havildar Maghar Singh suddenly leapt over the obstacle, as if it was a hurdle, and, followed by his section, captured an enemy trench.
On the right of Gully Ravine No. 4 Double Company advanced on the left of the Worcestershire Regiment of the 88th Brigade. Although No. 4 Double Company did not encounter serious opposition, they sustained very severe casualties from machine guns located on Gully Spur. Lieutenant Fowle was killed and Second-Lieutenant Savory wounded in the first few minutes. The remnants continued on and eventually captured and held the enemy's front trench alongside the Worcesters.
At 12.15 p.m. the second wave of the attack dashed forward according to plan. No. 3 Double Company, accompanied by Colonel Palin and Battalion Headquarters, advanced up Gully Ravine and joined the remnants of No. 2 Double Company. Colonel Palin, seeing that further progress up Gully Ravine was impossible until the enemy trenches J10 and J 11 were captured, immediately seized a small spur just south of J 10. Here the Sikhs suffered further losses and Captain McRae, Lieutenant Cremen, the Adjutant, and Lieutenant Meade, the Quartermaster, were all killed. Nevertheless, the Sikhs held on and entrenched the position, while later in the afternoon the Battalion's two machine guns, as well as two machine guns from a Royal Navy unit, joined Colonel Palin and helped to strengthen the position.
Meanwhile, over on the right Captain Engledue led No. 1 Double Company forward behind No. 4 Double Company and captured the second and third lines of enemy trenches. This double company also sustained heavy casualties in its determined advance on the enemy, and by the afternoon it consisted only of Captain Engledue, Jemadar Narain Singh and some thirty men. This small party held on to the captured trench in spite of continuous efforts by the enemy to bomb their way back from Gully Ravine.
During the afternoon efforts were made to continue the attack along the whole Brigade front by sending up reinforcements from the reserves, but all attempts failed.
Although the Turks made no counter-attack on No. 1 Double Company on the right during the night, Colonel Palin and his men were attacked time and time again from Gully Spur and subjected to almost continuous fire. This party suffered further casualties during these attacks and the two naval machine guns and one of the Sikhs' guns were knocked out by enemy bombs, but it held on stubbornly to its trenches. At daybreak on the 5th of June 'there were only Lieutenant Cursetjee and forty-seven men unwounded remaining with Colonel Palin, and since the Turks were working round to the rear of the position it was decided to withdraw.
In the meantime the Turks renewed their attacks on Captain Engledue, whose party by this time was reduced to twelve men. He was therefore ordered to withdraw.
By midday on the 5th of June the remnants of the 14th Sikhs collected in their original trenches and were then sent back into reserve to rest and reorganize. When Lieutenant Mathew, the Battalion Machine Gun Officer, who had been kept back when his guns went forward, heard that one gun had been left undamaged on the position, he insisted on leading out a party to recover it. Lieutenant Mathew and his men succeeded in reaching the gun, but they could not bring it in. As each man carrying the gun was hit, another took his place until finally Mathew alone was left unhurt and he too tried to bring the gun back, but he was almost immediately hit in seven places. He was eventually brought in, but he died of his wounds in hospital.
During one of these attacks on Colonel Palin's party on the evening of the 4th of June a man firing in the trench next to Lieutenant Cursetjee suddenly fell back and said he was hit in the head. There was no mark on his turban and no sign of any bleeding, so Lieutenant Cursetjee told him to go on firing and the man continued to do so. The next afternoon, when the Sikhs were all washing in the stream that flowed through the gully, the man ran up to Lieutenant Cursetjee, who was shaving near by, and said: "Look; you said I was not hit last evening," and he held up his "kangi" with a bullet embedded in it.
In this battle the 14th Sikhs lost three hundred and seventy-one officers and men killed or wounded. Out of fifteen British officers only Colonel Palin, Captain Engledue and Lieutenant Cursetjee were left unwounded. Never has any battalion displayed such courage and devotion to duty as were displayed by the 14th Sikhs in the Third Battle of Krithia.
Writing to the Commander-in-Chief in India a few weeks after the event, General Sir Ian Hamilton paid noble tribute to the heroism of all ranks. The following are some of the passages from his letter " In the highest sense of the word extreme gallantry has been shown by this fine Battalion. . . . In spite of these tremendous losses there was not a sign of wavering all day. Not an inch of ground gained was given up and not a single straggler came back. The ends of the enemy's trenches leading into the ravine were found to be blocked with the bodies of Sikhs and of the nemy who died fighting at close: quarters, and the glacis slope is thickly dotted with the bodies of these fine soldiers all lying on their faces as they fell in their steady advance on the: enemy. The history of the Sikhs affords many instances of their value as soldiers, but it may be safely asserted that nothing finer than the grim valour and steady discipline displayed by them on the 4th June has ever been done by soldiers of the Khalsa. Their devotion to duty and their splendid loyalty to their orders and to their leaders make a record their nation should look back upon with pride for many generations."
The gallantry of the Regiment was also referred to by the Secretary of State for India (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) in a moving speech in the House of Commons, and Mr. Chamberlain personally attended a memorial service held in a London church for the fallen officers of the 14th Sikhs.
For a short time after the 5th of June the remnants of the 14th Sikhs remained in reserve. Colonel Palin was transferred temporarily to command the 126th Brigade, and Captain Engledue took: over command of the Battalion. The 1st / 5th and 2nd / 10th Gurkhas, who had recently arrived in Gallipoli, now replaced the two British battalions in the Indian Brigade, which thus once more comprised solely Indian troops.
On the 14th of June the 14th Sikhs moved into the front-line trenches on the right of the Brigade line. This was a comparatively quiet period and only eight casualties were incurred.
On the 23rd the Battalion, reinforced by a welcome draft of one hundred men from India, went back into reserve. The next day Colonel Palin rejoined. It was now very hot at Helles. There was very little shade, the water supply was limited and there were nearly always clouds of dust blowing across the peninsula. There were a plague of flies and an epidemic of diarrhoea.
Since the attack on the 4th of June no general offensive took place and all attempts to gain ground were confined to attacks on narrow fronts supported by all available artillery.
Towards the end of the month it was decided to carry out an attack on a narrow front on Gully Spur. The 29th Division and a brigade of the 52nd Division advanced on the 28th of June and captured five lines of enemy trenches. The 14th Sikhs, who were still very weak, were in reserve and did not take part in the attack. However, the Battalion suffered casualties from enemy artillery fire when constructing communication trenches to the newly won forward line and Captain Engledue, Lieutenant Cursetjee and Second-Lieutenant Savory, the last-named for the second time, were wounded.
The Sikhs remained in reserve behind the left of the line, near the sea coast, for the next few days. Colonel Palin was again taken away from the Battalion temporarily to command a brigade, and Second-Lieutenant Savory, who had not been wounded badly and was the only officer left in the Battalion, took over command. Although the Sikhs were not actively engaged, they suffered many casualties from enemy artillery fire.
During the fighting around Gurkha Bluff in the middle of the month, Second-Lieutenant Savory was sitting at Battalion Headquarters when he received a letter in his father's handwriting, with thick black around the edge of the envelope, addressed to the Officer Commanding 14th Sikhs. He opened it and found that his father had heard that he had been killed in action and was asking for details as to how he had met his untimely death, and also requesting the Officer Commanding to send him his sword and field-glasses. This was too good a chance to miss, so he went back to Brigade Headquarters and had an official letter typed to his father saying that he had been reliably informed that his son, Second-Lieutenant Savory, was still alive and was, in fact, in command of his regiment. He then signed the letter " I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient servant, R. A. Savory, 2nd Lt., O.C. 14th K.G.O. Sikhs."
In the recent advance the 29th Division had made a salient in the Turkish defences by capturing Fusilier Bluff. The Turks, however, were still holding the eastern end of J 13 and The Nullah, so the British front line ran, back along J11a.
At 4 o'clock in the evening the enemy commenced shelling this sector of the front and after two hours' bombardment launched a determined attack from the dead ground in The Nullah. The main weight of the attack was :launched against the front held by the 14th Sikhs and the 6th Gurkhas. The Turks charged forward with great determination, but they were repulsed with heavy losses all along the front. Shortly after 9 p.m. the enemy again launched an attack on the Sikhs and Gurkhas after an artillery concentration of fifteen minutes. As soon as the artillery fire ceased the supports of the Sikhs and Gurkhas dashed forward from a depression fifty yards behind the front line and the Turks were thrown back with further losses.
On the 3rd of July orders were received to capture the whole of trench J13 and at 7 p.m. a party of the 14th Sikhs with three bombers from the 5th and 6th Gurkhas assembled behind the British barricade under Major Wilmer, who had rejoined the Battalion from Brigade Headquarters. Five gallant attempts were made to rush the Turkish barricade across J13, but the resistance was too strong and the party was forced back with a number of casualties.
The 14th Sikhs spent a quiet day on the 4th of July, but at dawn on the next day the Turks launched a strong attack against the trenches held by the Gurkhas and Sikhs. The greatest pressure was against the right flank' of the Sikhs and wave after wave of Turks surged forward from the dead ground in The Nullah. The Turks were thrown back by rifle and machine-gun fire and in spite of many gallant attempts to get forward they could make no progress and suffered very heavy casualties. Major Wilmer was unfortunately killed in this action.
Later in the day the Indian Brigade was relieved in the front-line trenches and went into bivouac on the coast. All battalions in the Brigade had been suffering casualties and the battalions were all very weak. The 14th Sikhs during the recent fighting-officially known as the Action of Gully Ravine-had lost fifteen men killed and seventy-seven wounded. Second-Lieutenant Savory was again the only officer and he had with him only Subadar-Major Sham Singh and a hundred and seventeen men. However, the Turks had been heavily defeated in this sector and had suffered enormous losses. It was most unfortunate that there were no British reserves available to exploit the situation.
The Indian Brigade remained in bivouac on the coast until the 10th of July and then embarked for the island of Imbros, where they arrived after a few days' voyage.
At Imbros the Brigade camped in a field about half a mile from the seashore. The men benefited both mentally and physically from the rest and change to peaceful and uncramped conditions. It was the first time for ten weeks that they had lived safely above ground and walked about in the open. There was excellent bathing close by and' this was greatly enjoyed by both officers and men. A certain amount of field training was carried out, but the Sikhs chiefly concentrated on "smartening-up" parades. The officers enjoyed Imbros and were able to go into the interior of the island and visit Panaghyr, the pretty little capital. On the 12th of July the 14th Sikhs were reinforced by a double company of the Patiala Imperial Service Infantry, which was attached to the Regiment. On the 18th of July Colonel Palin returned to the island and was given a great reception.
Sir Ian Hamilton's great offensive on the Gallipoli Peninsula was now about to take place. The main attack was to be delivered at Anzac while attacks were also to be launched at Helles and Suvla simultaneously. The 14th Sikhs, although they did not know it at the ttime, were to take part in the main attack.
During the latter part of July training and parades were increased and the Indian Brigade was busy carrying out battalion and brigade night exercises and practising embarkation and disembarkation.
During the month reinforcements had been received and many wounded and sick rejoined from hospital, so the Sikhs were once again nearly up to strength and after three weeks' rest were again ready for action.
ANZAC-THE BATTLE OF SARI BAIR
The 14th Sikhs embarked in trawlers on the 5th of August and arrived off Anzac at about 9 o'clock in the evening. The Regiment commenced to disembark at daybreak, but when about half of it was ashore the enemy shelled the beaches heavily and disembarkation of the remainder was delayed until after dark.
General Birdwood was commanding at Anzac and he planned to capture Sari Bair Ridge in order to outflank the Turks opposing the bridgehead. The Indian Brigade was placed under General Godley, commanding the New Zealand and Australian Division, for the attack. The plan was to hold the enemy in front of the beaches and for two columns to move round his flanks-one round the left flank and capture Koja Chemen Tepe and Hill Q from the north, and the other round the right flank and capture Chunuk Bair from the south.
The 14th Sikhs were allotted to the northern column, which consisted of the 4th Australian Brigade and 29th Indian Brigade. The advance was to take place during the night of the 6th of August, and it was estimated that Sari Bair would be reached by 3 a.m. The column had to advance only three miles, but the country was very rugged and covered with thick scrub.
The 4th Australian Brigade, with a double company of the 14th Sikhs, escorting their mountain guns, set out at 9.45 p.m. on the 6th of August. They were able to make only exceptionally slow progress and there were numerous delays owing to the difficult country, the pitch-black night and enemy snipers, who harassed the column from both flanks. The Australians had only reached Damakjelik Bair by 4.30 a.m. In addition, they were utterly exhausted and could not go any farther. They were ordered to dig in where they were, and the Gurkha battalions of the Indian Brigade set off over very difficult country towards Hill Q. They found it very difficult to maintain direction in the mass of scrub-covered hills and got very scattered. The 6th Gurkhas reached a hill just west of Hill Q, which was then unoccupied by the enemy. The Battalion, however, was somewhat isolated and was therefore ordered to dig in and delay the attack until the next day. The 14th Sikhs were in reserve and were in rear of the 1 st / 5th Gurkhas on the left of the Indian Brigade. The 1 st / 5th Gurkhas were in touch with the enemy and had suffered a number of casualties, and Captain Daniell, with a party of Sikhs, was sent to reinforce one of their double companies which was isolated on the extreme left.
At 10.30 a.m. the 14th Sikhs were ordered to advance and capture Koja Chemen Tepe with the 39th Brigade, which was due to arrive shortly. However, the orders were cancelled and no further advance was made that day. The party under Captain Daniell suffered casualties throughout the day and was reinforced by the remainder of his double company in the afternoon. At 7 p.m. the Patiala double company was also sent forward and Captain McClean took over command of the left flank. On the southern flank the right column advancing on Sari Bair had also failed to reach their objective, so all surprise had been lost. However, hope of ultimate success was not abandoned and orders were issued to continue the general assault at dawn on the 8th of August. In this attack the 14th Sikhs and the 1st/5th Gurkhas were ordered to capture Hill Q. Although the attack was fixed to start at 4.15 a.m. orders did not reach Captain McClean on the left flank until 3.30 a.m. The 1st/5th Gurkhas were to advance straight to their front while Captain McClean's two double companies were to attempt to outflank the Turks from the north. The remainder of the 14th Sikhs was in reserve.
The Sikhs and Gurkhas set off according to plan at 4.15 a.m., but they were immediately opposed in strength and the Gurkhas were unable to gain any ground. On the left the Sikhs succeeded in getting forward some three hundred yards to the edge of a ravine where they were held up by machine guns in some precipitous country. Before long the Australians on the right had moved up on the left of the Sikhs, but were driven back in confusion by a strong Turkish counter-attack. Shortly afterwards the Sikhs were also forced back and sustained heavy casualties. Captain McClean, Second-Lieutenant Whitfield and fourteen other ranks were killed, and Captains Daniell and Saunders, Major Hardam Singh, of the Patialas, and one hundred and thirty-four men were wounded. Second-Lieutenant Savory was awarded the Military Cross for carrying ammunition up to the forward troops under heavy fire when all others were killed in the attempt, and the Commanding Officer's orderly, Lance-Naik Hazara Singh, was awarded the Indian Order of Merit for carrying messages under heavy fire with no regard for his own safety.
Operations on the 8th of August were therefore unsuccessful, but it was decided to have one more attempt to gain Sari Bair Ridge on the 9th of August. This attempt was also in vain, but the 14th Sikhs did not take part in the attack and were withdrawn into reserve. However, the next morning the Battalion was sent forward again to reinforce the 5th Gurkhas and it took up a position on their right. Although there was very heavy fighting farther south, the 14th Sikhs were not seriously engaged. After the 10th of August the Indian Brigade held the northern part of the Anzac position and dug a strong defence line on the Damakjelik Spur.
Here there was another episode which was an example of Colonel Palin's autocracy. The 14th Sikhs were worried by a block made of sandbags which had been put across a sunken road and occupied by enemy snipers. Colonel Palin ordered Second-Lieutenant Maer to take out a party of men and demolish the block. Second-Lieutenant Maer, who had just joined the Regiment from the Australian Imperial Forces, promptly took out two men in broad daylight down to the road block, pulled it down, emptied the sandbags and brought them back and then reported that he had done this to Colonel Palin, who was sitting in the mess dugout. It was one of the coolest pieces of cold-blooded gallantry known and it just happened that the Turks were not there at the time. Colonel Palin, however, regarded it as a gross breach of discipline, as he had imagined that he had ordered Maer to go out and do this at night as a tactical operation. All the thanks that Maer got was: "You bloody fool! I told you to go out and do this at night. What the devil do you mean by doing it by day?" Poor Maer was so flabbergasted that all he did was to salute, say "Sorry, sir," and walk out.
After the desperate attacks on Hill 60 at the end of August, in which the Indian Brigade did not take part, operations settled down to the regular routine of trench warfare and there were no further attacks on a large scale. After this battle the Indian Brigade moved forward and held a front on the extreme left of the Anzac defences, extending north from Hill 60 and joining up with the XI Corps at Suvla.
Throughout the fighting Sub-Assistant Surgeon Bhagwan Singh did excellent work looking after the wounded. After Lieutenant Cursetjee had been wounded he carried on single-handed and was awarded the Indian Order of Merit for distinguished services during this campaign.
As a result of the Sari Bair battles the 14th Sikhs were reduced to six British officers, one Viceroy's commissioned officer and two hundred and twenty-three other ranks. However, during the next few weeks several large drafts arrivedone under Major Earle, one from the 87th Punjabis, one from the Burma Military Police, and a second double company of Patiala Imperial Service Infantry.
Colonel Palin was evacuated sick on the 29th of August and Major Earle took over command of the Regiment. On his return from sick leave the following month Colonel Palin took over command of the Indian Brigade.
On the 19th of September the transport Ramzan, carrying Indian drafts, was torpedoed by a submarine and sunk in the Mediterranean. Second-Lieutenant Unger and eighty men of the 14th Sikhs were drowned, but Second-Lieutenant Reeves and thirty-four men were rescued and taken by ship to Malta.
Throughout October and November the 14th Sikhs carried out routine defence duties at Anzac and the weather was delightful until the end of November, when a heavy blizzard burst over the Gallipoli Peninsula. On the 26th of November a bitter gale blew all day, and in the afternoon there were thunder and a violent rain-storm and in a few minutes the trenches were all flooded. At dusk the rain changed to sleet and the mud froze and many men were frostbitten. The gale increased during the night and at dawn it started to snow. The bitterly cold wind blew for three days and water did not fall until the 29th of November, when the weather once again became fine and warm. The men had to stand waist-deep in water and it was impossible to light fires or cook for four days and all rations were ruined. In the front-line trenches the frost caused many casualties and many men were drowned or frozen to death. Fortunately the 14th Sikhs were in the reserve trenches and did not suffer as badly as most units, but even so the men endured considerable hardship.
The orders for the evacuation of the Peninsula reached the 14th Sikhs on the 12th of December and two days later they were relieved in the front line by the 4th Gurkhas. The same evening the Regiment marched to the beaches and the men were taken out to two small steamers in lighters. The 14th Sikhs sailed for Mudros at midnight and arrived in the early morning. The Regiment was transhipped on to a transport and sailed for Alexandria four days later.
The Regiment left Gallipoli with a great reputation and their gallantry and devotion to duty had added further laurels to its good name. Thirty-five men were awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal for gallantry in operations in Gallipoli. These awards were all approved by His Majesty The King in the Gazette of India dated the 28th of July, 1916. The award of thirty-five decorations in one gazette is understood to be a unique record.
GALLIPOLI WAR MEMORIAL 1937
Brigadier H. M. Burrows, Commanding the Ferozepore Brigade Area, who was Staff Captain to Brigadier-General H. V. Cox in the 29th Indian Brigade in Gallipoli, organized a scheme for a Gallipoli War Memorial in Ferozepore. This had been General Cox's wish, but up to this time Brigadier Burrows had not had an opportunity to arrange a War Memorial for Gallipoli. He collected funds from the Maharajah of Patiala, other Sikh leaders and those connected with the Regiment. The Rajah of Faridkot gave a plot of land adjacent to the Ferozepore Cantonment Hospital and an extension to this hospital was built as a memorial to the Indian officers and Indian other ranks of the 14th Sikhs and Patiala State Infantry who were killed or died of wounds in Gallipoli in 1915.
The extension of the hospital was for wives of Indian soldiers and consisted of wards, an operating theatre and other offices, so that the Regiment had a useful and lasting memorial of which it can be justly proud.
The opening ceremony took place on the afternoon of the 26th of February, 1937, and was attended by the District Commander, Major-General Moberly, Brigadier Burrows, officers of the various units in Ferozepore and their wives, civil officials, and an assembly of some three hundred pensioned Indian officers and men, besides many others. The guard of honour was found by Sikhs from the 10th Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment, with the Regimental Colour and commanded by a Sikh subadar. The Gallipoli survivors of the 14th Sikhs who were still serving were drawn up in review order on either side of the tablet, and the one follower who was present sat down just below the tablet. The group consisted of Subadar-Major Jaswant Singh, Sardar Bahadur, O.B.I. Subadar Kartar Singh. Subadar Thakur Singh, Subadar Prem Singh. Havildar Dharm Singh. Sweeper Channi.
General Savory with all those who fought at Gallipoli at the reunion
The proceedings were opened by Brigadier Burrows, who gave a summary of the events leading up to the erection of the memorial and thanked all those who had helped. He was followed by a member of the Cantonment Board, Captain Narain Singh and Captain Hira Singh. The latter brought with him a poet who recited a poem extolling the bravery of the 14th Sikhs in particular and the Sikhs in general. The officers and Colour of the guard of honour then took post, and the guard sloped arms. Lieutenant-Colonel Savory then made a short speech, after which the guard presented arms and the massed buglers sounded the "Last Post." Lieutenant-Colonel Savory then unveiled the memorial tablet and the bugles sounded "Reveille." The formal proceedings then terminated, and the spectators, led by General Moberly, inspected the hospital buildings. After this was over the whole assembly were entertained to tea in the club by Syed Wazir Ali, a leading merchant of the cantonment. The pensioned Indian officers did full justice to the fare and seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. The place was crammed, and after one or two other speeches, including a song by the assembled pensioners, the meeting broke up.
Source:The Sikh Regiment - Lieutenant-Colonel P.G. Bamford, D.S.O
PRINCE CHARLES OPENS A MUSEUM EXHIBITION ON SIKH SOLDIERS
Jawans, Generals and a Prince 1 May 2002
Prince Charles launched the "From Jawans to Generals: Loyal Allies, Proud Britons" exhibition today at Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner, London. He praised the Sikh contribution to the two world wars and remembered the 83,000 Sikhs that gave their lives for the defense of freedom. The also quoted from the writings of Guru Gobind Singh about upholding justice.
Harbinder Singh Rana, Projects Director, of the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust thanked the Prince and highlighted the fact that the current British Army has 109,000 soldiers, while 107,000 Sikhs were injured in the two World Wars. He also went on to say that the Trust is working with the Army to increase Sikh participation in the UK's armed forces and to rekindle the spirit of the Sikh soldiers of the past. Finally he reflected upon the recent electoral success of the far right in France and suggested that M. Le Penn visit one of the battlefields in France where he can reflect while reading the names on a memorial of thousands of Sikhs who gave their lives to protect the freedom of France.
With special thanks to allaboutsikhs.com