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Letters Of Indian Soldiers Of World War 1

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I picked up a very interesting book called 'Indian voices of the great war: Soldiers' letters, 1814-18' by David Omissi, who works at the University of Hull (Dept. of History and Centre for Indian Studies).

It contains the contents of letters sent by (and to) soldiers from the then undivided Indian subcontinent during the first world war. These have been translated in English from the original languages/scripts in which they were transcribed (mainly Gurmukhi, Urdu, Hindi with some other occasional variations like Bengali). These letters are extant because the texts passed through British censorship, which was concerned with (and keeping an eye open for) potential disaffection amongst the Indian soldiery at the time. The book is useful as a tool to help us understand the motivations and concerns of the soldiers involved. The letters are presented chronologically by date and there are 657 in total, being of varying lengths and from soldiers of diverse backgrounds.

It is not uncommon to hear lamentation that whilst we have plenty of white soldiers accounts relating to this conflict, we don't have corresponding texts written from the perspectives of the brown men that were present. The book helps fill this gap to an extent. The following is based on its introductory essay which (amongst other things), describes the nature of recruitment at the time. This may at help partially explain the aforementioned scarcity of narratives from the brown side:

"How were the letters written? It is clear some men wrote or addressed their own letters, but the vast majority of letters were probably written by scribes on behalf of their senders, since most Indian Army soldiers were illiterate. In the Punjab at this time no more than 5 percent of the population could read; among rural military communities, however literacy was would have been very much less, since the British deliberately recruited from the least educated segments of the rural population, who were thus least effected by 'dangerous' Western political ideas. Indeed, some of the letters contain explicit references to the 'writer's' own illiteracy, while others refer to scribes."

Whilst it must be borne in mind that certain restraining factors would have influenced what was being divulged in these communications (awareness of censorship being an obvious factor), they still provide valuable insights into the thoughts and situations of the soldiers even with these limitations. Some of the letters that were sent by soldiers were indeed 'suppressed' by the censors and the criteria for the said suppression included:

"incitements to crime, and even murder; accounts of sex with white women, which were seen as damaging to white prestige; particularly distressing letters from men who had been badly disabled by wounds; letters which were flagrantly dishonest, mentioned drugs or included slighting references to whites; and accounts from prisoners of war of receiving good treatment from Germans, which might have encouraged desertion. In each case, either the offending passage was deleted or the offending passage was deleted or the entire letter was destroyed."

The picture emerging from the self referencing included in texts reveals communities conspicuously stratified along both religious and caste lines. When we consider the impact of the by then firmly entrenched 'martial races theory' used by the British to categorise and organise the soldiers of the 'jewel of the crown', it's difficult to tell just how far these identity constructs were truly reflective of pre-colonial self-identifications (that had carried over from that time) or whether the policies introduced by the imperial administration played a large part in moulding the self perceptions? The opportunity is open for future research to delve into this matter through comparison with pre annexation texts, which could prove useful in trying to establish earlier Khalsa attitudes towards this now thorny issue and how exogenous British ideas may have altered the previously prevailing perceptions. In theory, this could help shed some light onto the argument that British policies influenced the nature of the caste system as existent amongst Panjabi Sikhs today.

A general pattern emerges from the letters with the exhilaration exhibited prior to battles and immediately after early conflicts giving way to 'sighs of resignation' and 'despair' as time progressed. Interestingly the narrator of the book mentions that only the Mahsuds (a Pathan people of NWFP) seem to have been unaffected in this way. Some letters later give warnings to relatives and friends to stay away from the war and avoid enlisting. Not surprisingly the cold European weather seemed to have a particular effect in lowering morale. It is suggested that this was the cause for eventually removing infantry soldiers from this front and redeploying them to the more familiar climes of the Middle East. Those that did remain in Europe where attached to the cavalry it seems and saw significantly less intense action than their infantry compatriots had previously. This coupled with the fact that instructions were explicitly given by commanders to discourage writing what could be deemed as despondent, means that the accounts in later letters do not contain as many despair tinged references as before. This was, of course, the dawn of modern mechanised warfare as we know it today, characterised by remote mass destruction; something that would have come as a shock to even previously battle hardened foot soldiers.

Whilst Muslims equated the battles to Karbala, Hindus used the analogy of Mahabharat to describe the mass carnage they were witnessing. Interestingly Sikhs had no such previous conflict which they used in similar comparative terms. Some letters acknowledge the receipt of religious material such as Korans and the Guru Granth Sahib. As could be expected, faith played a big part in the lives of those facing death on a constant basis. It would however be a mistake to think of these soldiers in strictly puritan terms and mention is made of a certain erosion of 'religious orthodoxies'. Some letters make brief references to sexual relationships between the soldiers and the indigenous females of Europe for instance. As could be expected after the earlier experience of the mutiny, the imperial hierarchy were keen to avoid a repetition of such a scenario and strove to meet the religious dietary requirements of the soldiers. A photo of Sikhs dispatching some goats' jhatka style is provided (see attachment to post). Interestingly, Sikhs and Hindus shared a common space for slaughtering animals, whilst Muslims had their own separate location.

The matter of later recruitment in Panjab is touched upon and it appears as if there was some difficulty in this area. The book describes the scenario (somewhat shockingly) as follows:

"From the autumn of 1916, various forms of coercion were also used to secure recruits. The Government of India discussed conscription, but preferred to employ informal methods of compulsion, especially in Punjab. For example, Indian officials were told to produce a given quota of men on pain of losing their posts if they failed. Some men were simply kidnapped, or their womenfolk held hostage until the men enlisted. After the war, the authoritarian Governor of the Punjab, Michael O'Dwyer, was even accused of using 'terrorist methods' to find recruits. He fought and won a libel case over the phrase, but there remained no doubt that forcible recruitment was widely resented. "


Michael O'Dwyer

(Note that the aforementioned General O'Dwyer was later assassinated by Udham Singh in London in 1940 in retaliation for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre).

Overall the book is invaluable for those interested in Indian involvement in the first world war and helps shed light onto many aspects of the conflict in relation to the people who traveled to a far off continent to fight in a foreign war. It provides a thought provoking window into the relationship between the colonised and the colonisers.

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  • 4 months later...

Here are some interesting extracts from the above book. I post them for those interested in itihaas. What I find striking from the letters in the book is that the Sikh soldiers are human. They exhibit all the strengths and weaknesses of the human condition. I remember a few months ago people alluded to the 'higher standard' of colonial Sikh soldiers behaviour in comparison to today in a thread. Reading this book has challenged this notion for me. Some of the contents are of a mature nature, so be forewarned. Hopefully we can get a more accurate understanding of our recent ancestors through studying such material and move away from nonfactual, idolised representations:


Sepoy Gurdit Singh to his father in Amritsar – 6th April 1915 from Brighton hospital

Here it is being said men are being forced to enlist by order in India, and they also say plague is rife. Write me some news of our country... So long as the war goes on, no sound man can return to India – only those who have lost a limb can return. In my heart I feel that I shall have to go back to war.


A Sikh sepoy in France to Gurun Ditta Mal of 47th Sikhs in UP (India) - 12th May 1915

You will be hearing about this country (France) from the wounded who have gone back from England. Some of them will tell fine tales about the number of water-drawing machines

. I long to see England. When the war is over perhaps the regiment will go there. There are crowds of ‘machines’ here also, and the sight of them delights us, but we are ashamed to touch them lest we lose caste. The men and women of this place treat us lovingly. [/i]  

The coy, reserved sentiments of the brother above weren’t shared by all Sikhs as demonstrated in the intercepted coded Gurmukhi letter below:


Balwant Singh (France) to Chet Ram (Amritsar) – 24th October 1915

[i]The ladies are very nice and bestow their favours upon us freely. But contrary to the custom in our country they do not put their legs over the shoulders when they go with a man.[/i]

(The above letter was intercepted and deleted by the censors presumably because of the references to 'relations' with white women).

A Panjabi Musalmaan wrote:

Maula Dad Khan (Sialkot Cavalary brigade) to his father (India) – 24th October 1915

[i]M. Khan’s letter dated the 27th Sept. Reached me on the 22nd Oct. When I read it every hair on my body stood on end. Before that i was happy but after I read it I was very vexed. It is true that I wrote to Allah Lok Khan for a pair of [women’s] shoes. The fact is, father, that a young Frenchman acquaintance of mine asked me to send for something from india. He asked me to get him some shoes which would fit his wife. I wrote that. Of what do you suspect me? My father I swear in the name of God and His prophet and declare that there is no [ground for suspicion].[/i]

This letter seems to refer to an incident of rape by some Sikh soldiers.


Ressaidar Kabul Singh (Sikh, 41) to Risaldar Bahadhur Mohinddin Sahib, ADC to HE the viceroy (Remount Base Depot, Marseilles) – 29th Oct 1915

[i]Asil Singh Jat and harbans have done a vile thing. They forcibly violated a French girl, 19 years of age. It is a matter of great humiliation and regret that the good name of the 31st lancers should be sullied in this way.[/i]


Havildar Abdul Rahman (Panjabi Musalmaan) from France to Naik Rajwali Khan in Baluchistan – 20th May

For God’s sake don’t come, don’t come, don’t come to this war in Europe. Write and tell me if your regiment or any part of it comes and whether you are coming with it or not. I am in a state of great anxiety; and tell my brother Mohammad Yakub Khan for God’s sake not to enlist. If you have any relatives my advice is don’t let them enlist. It is unnecessary to write any more. I write so much to you as I am Pay Havildaar and read the letters to the double company commander*. Otherwise there is a strict order against writing on the subject. Cannons, machine guns, rifles and bombs are going day and night, just like the rains in the month of Sawan (July – August). Those who have escaped so far are like the few grains left uncooked in a pot. That is the case with us. In my company there are only 10 men [left]. In the regiment there are 200. In every regiment there are only 200 or 280 [the average number of soldiers in a full regiment was approx. 760].

*Here the writer refers to the censorship process and his part in it, explaining how he has bypassed it.

This brother waxed lyrically in Gurmukhi poetry to his wife. The letter was withheld by the censors, presumably for its despondent character?


Sant Singh to his wife (from France?) – 18th Sept. 1915

We perish in the desert: you wash yourself and lay in bed. We are trapped in a net of woe, while you go free. Our life is a living death. For what great sin are being punished? Kill us, Oh God, but free us from our pain! We move in agony but never rest. We are slaves of masters who can show no mercy. The bullets fall on us like rain, but dry are our bodies. So we have spent a full year. We cannot write a word. Lice feed upon our flesh: we cannot wait to pick them out. For days we have not washed our faces. We do not change our clothes. Many son’s of mothers lie dead. No one takes any heed. It is God’s will that this is so, and what is written is true. God The Omnipotent plays a game, and men die. Death here is dreadful, but of life there is not the briefest hope.


Storekeeper D. N. Sircar (Maratha Brahmin) to Telegraphist S. K. Bapat (Indore, Central India) writing from Kitchener’s Indian Hospital in Brighton, England. 12th Nov. 1915.

[i]This place is very picturesque and the Indians are very much liked here. The girls of this place are notorious and very fond of accosting Indians and fooling with them. They are ever ready for any purpose, and in truth are no better that the girls of Adda Bazar of Indore. (This letter was deleted by the censors).[/i]

In the next letter we can see how religious sentiments were used by the Brits to goad soldiers into action:


A sepoy of the 47th Sikhs (Sikh) writing from Brighton hospital to his friend in India – 14th December 1915

[i]Chur Singh has suffered martyrdom in the war. The 47th Sikhs were charging. [The] sahib said ‘Chur Singh, you are not a Sikh of Guru Govind Singh, [you who in fear remain in the trench!’ Chur Singh was very angry. Chur Singh gave the order for his company to charge. He drew out his sword and went forward. A bullet came from the enemy and hit him in the mouth. So did our brother Chur Singh become a martyr. No other man was like Jemadar Chur Singh.[/i]

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  • 5 weeks later...

Right. These are the last extracts I’m going to post from the book. As you can tell, it goes a long way in helping us understand what was going on around the soldiers at ground level. Well worth a read.

Itirza in Hoshiarpur District to Havidar Thuia (Rajput, 38th Dogras) in France – July 1915

In every village the war is the leading topic and chief affair, and you will not meet many men. Wherever you go there are two, three men engaged in recruiting duty. The rains have began and the crops have been sown.

Some marital problems are also evidenced as in these two examples:

Qasim Khan (Punjabi Musalmaan of 36th Jacob’s Horse) from France to his father in Shahpur District – 7th Dec. 1915

....I am very grateful to you. God prolong your life. But I do not at all like what you say. Now I will tell you – never mind her. Do not think of her anymore. Let people say what they like, but give up thinking about her. If she gives you any further trouble about money, tell her to ask for money from her [new] master. I have nothing to do with it. When anyone asks me, I shall count out payment to them in such sort, that they will remember it all their lives... I shall make a report that he [Nur Khan] has dishonoured me, in that while I was away from here at war, he enticed away my wife and took her to his own house. His motive for doing so was this – that he might at his ease eat the money which is paid for by the government to the wives [of the men on service].

Some wives were unhappy with the absence of their men:


To Dafadat Nasab Ali Khan (Pathan 9th Hodson’s Horse, France) from his wife in Hazara (NWFP)

If you want to keep your izzat then come back here at once; but what you are after is wealth. Have you got anyone except God who can run your house? Then why do you not return? Your mother has gone out of her mind and does not sleep at home, so I am alone all night. The winter and dark nights are ahead now and how can I, a lone women, stay by myself? If you agree, I will go to Darwaja. If you do not answer at once I will go to [illegible] and report the affair to the Officer commanding at the Depot, and you will be sent back with a flea in your ear. I go around begging the neighbours for water and wood, yet you never think if all this. You write that you have been made a lance dafadar. I don’t care a rap if you have been made a dafadar. If you were a man you would understand, but you are no man.

A few letters mention the kindness and stoicism of the French. The emotional reserve demonstrated by French women on the news of the deaths of loved ones must have been striking to the Punjabi men who would have been accustomed to witnessing wild shrieking by womenfolk in reaction to similar news.

Sher Khan (Punjabi Musalmaan) to Raja Gil Nawaz, BA,LLB (Jhelum) – 9th Jan 1916

I have seen strange things in France. The French are a sympathetic and gracious people. Some time ago we were established for about three months in a village. The house in which I was billeted was the house of a well to do man, but the only occupant was the lady of the house, and she was advanced in years. Her three sons had gone to war. One had been killed, another had been wounded and was in hospital, and the third, at that time was in the trenches. There was no doubt that the lady was much attached to her sons. There are miles of differences between the women of this country and the women of India. During the whole three months, I never once saw this old lady sitting idle, although she belong to a high family. Indeed, during the whole 3 months she ministered to me to such an extent that I cannot adequately describe her [kindness]. Of her own free will she washed my clothes, arranged my bed and polished my boots – for 3 months. She used to wash my bedroom daily with warm water. Every morning she used to prepare and give me a tray with bread, butter milk and coffee......When we had to leave that village the old lady wept on my shoulder. Strange that I had never seen her weeping for her dead son and yet she should weep for me. Moreover, at [our] parting she pressed on me a 5 franc note to meet my expenses en route.


Sher Bahadur (Punjabi Musalmaan) to Raja Khan Alim Khan (Shahdara, Delhi) – 17th Jan. 1917 (Urdu)

I have seen such examples of fortitude and bravery amongst the French that I can hardly express myself. I saw one day a peasant ploughing, and a bicycle orderly came up to him and gave him a telegraph and went off. I asked the orderly what he had given him and he said it was a telegram telling him his son had been killed. The old man read the telegram and waited 2 or 3 minutes and then went on ploughing. I have seen many cases in which the old people have lost 3 or 4 sons and yet have remained unshaken by the blow. There is no wild lamentation as with us in the Punjab, nor do they get into the same state as us due to our ignorance.

Major Jivan Singh to his wife in Gurdaspur 7th Feb. 1917 (Urdu)

It is very wrong of you to work yourself up into a state of illness through anxiety for me. Just look at the people here. The women have their husbands killed yet they go on working just as hard as ever. It does one’s heart good to see them . May God teach our women to behave like them! You must let these words sink into your heart, you must be as brave as a man.

This is very interesting Urdu letter sent by a Sikh police inspector in Panjab (Eshar Singh) to Jemandar (junior officer of infantry of cavalry) Jai Singh of the 6th Cavalry in France. It provides a clear insight into just how successfully colonial forces had entwined their own propaganda in relation to some men’s perceptions of the Sikh faith. Remember at this time, the Amrit ceremony used by the British for Sikh recruits interpolated vows of loyalty to the British monarchy. Despite the staggering simple mindedness on display here, it is worth remembering that other Sikh men, such as the Ghaddrites obviously didn’t swallow the imperialist version of Sikh identity.

222 – From Punjab to France -19th Jan. 1916

We are all thinking of you and this is our prayer in the presence of the Almighty – that the Guru may bring you back with victory. You must know that you are very fortunate in that you have got a chance to defend your country and to serve the British government. You will remember that the British rule was foretold by our true leader Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru. It was established in India only for the protection and help of us Sikhs. It was on the voice of the Guru that the Eternal sent the English here. The blessings which this rule has brought to India is not concealed from you. The rise of the Sikhs is due solely to this power. But for this, the poor Sikhs would have brought their unhappy existence to an end in some crows’ pond [sic]. I shall be very pleased to hear of your valorous deeds. You are a brave soldier. Now it is time to display your manhood. Now is the time for loyalty. You are a true Sikh. By the Guru’s order you must remember the promise of the Almighty, who said:

Recognise the hero in him who fights for his faith; Though cut to pieces he will not quit his ground.

This for Sikhs is a religious war, because the war is directed against the [british] rule which our Guru established.

Contraband drugs seem to have been sought by at least some personnel. A number of letters request narcotics, providing advice on how to successfully hide the substances in packages. Presumably the availability of such substances was not unknown to the soldiers on the receiving end:

Bir Singh (6th cav. Or 19th Lancers) to Jowala Singh (Ambala District, Panjab) – 28th Jan. 1916 (Urdu)

You say the parcel came back from Bombay. What sort of parcel was it? If you wrote ‘opium’ on it, do not do so again, but put ‘sweets’ or ‘dainties’ on it, and send off the opium. Have no fear; parcels are not opened on the way and cannot be lost. So keep sending the drugs. Let Indar Kaur be the sender. [Omissi makes the comment that this letter was passed which was unusual for requests for drugs, see below]


Kartan Singh (6th cav.) in France to Sirdar Ram Rakha Singh (Jullunder) – 6th Nov. 1916 (Urdu)

You say in your letter that the post master of Adampur had taken out some opium. What was the necessity of telling him? You should not have said a word on the subject to him, and should not have mentioned it in your letter. When you send opium you should not mention it, but should say you are sending a preparation for the beard and should send it off secretly. [The advice about the dispatch of opium was deleted from the letter by censors]


Naik Sarju (Brahmin) to Halvidar Suchut (Mhow, Indore, Central India); 20th hospital Merrut division. Oct 1915 (Hindi)

Please send me 1 seer of tobacco and in it enclose 5 tolas of charas and 2 tolas of opium. If you can do this, it will be a great favour. [Words deleted]

Open western style relationships witnessed by the soldiers, who were accustomed to the conservative, restricted nature of interactions between genders in Panjab are commented upon a few times. It appears as if some soldiers viewed the practice of choosing one’s own partner favourably as can be seen below.

Dafadar Chanda Singh (France) to his wife Pertab Kaur in Lahore – 15 Feb. 1916

This [France] is a very fine country. The father and mother invite a visitor to kiss them. If he declines they are offended. Then all the family, men and women, indulge in indecent talk and are very much amused. In the presence of the father, one will say to two others ‘go sleep together’, and they will all laugh. It is indeed a very free and easy country. Nothing is prohibited, whatever may be done. In the presence of a father and brothers one [a man] will catch another [a girl] by the arm and lead her outside. They [the father and brother] will say nothing. They are quite at ease*.

*The censor remarks that the letter portrays a ‘curious picture’ which one may hope is hardly typical. The passage was excised from the letter as being calculated to convey a wrong impression and discredit our allies.


Teja Singh (2nd lancers) to Ganga Singh in Sialkot - 6th March 1918

If God spares me to return I intend to start new customs. Look, in our country people ruin themselves over marriage and lawsuits. In this country rich and poor, high and low, go to church together and worship, and there is no distinction between them there. In this country, moreover, people never spend money unnecessarily. In our country, the fools of people spend money for show and they ruin themselves over marriages and law suits. This is all due to ignorance. The very best custom in this country is that a man chooses his own wife, and a women her own husband, and there are no disagreements and troubles after marriage. The same custom used to obtain in our country formerly; but later it was set aside by the intrigues of the Brahmins.


Dafadar Teja Singh (9th Hodson’s Horse) to Sirdar Sadu Singh (NWFP) - 26TH June 1916

...As regards marriage, there is affection first between the two parties, who are never less than 18 years of age. After marriage there in never any discord between husband and wife. No man here has the authority to beat his wife. Such injustices occurs in India only. Husband and wife dwell together here in unity.

Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s granddaughter, Sophia, makes contact with the Sikh soldiers:

Kartar Singh (Milford-on-sea) to Gurdit Singh (Raswind, Punjab) – 24th Feb. 1916

And my friend this is a photo of our King’s granddaughter - he who was king on the Sikhs, Ranjit Singh. She has distributed her photo amongst the Sikh brethren at the depoy [Milford] on the evening of the 23rd Feb. At five o’clock. [written on the back of a photo of a lady friend, signed Sophia A. Duleep Singh, 1916].

Comments about the education and treatment of daughters:


Dafadar Ranji Lal (Jat) to Prem in Rohtak District, Panjab – 26th Nov. 1916 (Urdu)

Grandfather dear, I understand these things perfectly well, though they are still hidden from my revered elders. I know well that a women in our country is of no more value than a pair of shoes and this is the reason why the people are low on the scale. You educated Ramjas, and got him a situation, but you never thought of educating any of the girls. You said to yourself: “Ramjas will be able to help me in my old age, but the girls will get married and leave the house and will not be able to do anything for me.” I should like to write to my wife but she would have to get the letters read by somebody else and all the home secrets would come out. When I look at Europe I bewail the lot of India. In Europe everyone man, women, boy and girl is educated. The men are at the war and the women are doing the work. They write to their husbands and get their answers. You ought to educate your girls as well as your boys and our prosperity will be the better for it.


Ressaidar Bishan Singh (Jat) to Choudari Dobi Dyal (Jullunder) 28th Aug. 1917

My prayer to you is that you will give up your foolish customs and extravagant expenses, and if you love your country will get others to follow you example. All our eyes have been opened since we came to this country. There are no beggars and no poor here. The country produces less than ours. Why then are they so much richer? Because they do not waste money on marriages, funerals and birth ceremonies, and do not put jewellery on their children. The children in India go about in ragged, torn clothes and eat bread made of gram, and yet when they are married we spend thousands of rupees on the ceremony. Then comes the money lender with his decree and attaches the property, and we go out and wander about in search of employment to keep us alive. What we have to do is educate our children, and if we do not we are fools, and our children will be fools also. Give up bad customs and value your girls as much as boys.


Ishar Singh to Jassu Singh in Ludhiana – 4th March 1918

Do not worry yourself thinking as to how you are to marry the girls. I ask you, why are girls brought into this world? Consider, both girls and boys are brought into the world, and if the girls are neglected or killed off, these families that have boys had better kill them off too! ....Both are of the same value in God’s eyes, and one should devote the same amount of care to their bringing up, and should treat them in precisely the same way.

The lack of literacy and reliance on outsiders to write is mentioned thus:


Jawand Singh to Sirdar Dur Singh (Amritsar) – 3rd Dec 1916

What you say about there being no letter writer handy is in no doubt correct. It is a well known saying that ‘the water carrier is always thirsty and the cobbler, ill shod’. The point is that the school is no more than ten paces from you, and yet you say you cannot find anyone to write a letter!

Some men contracted venereal diseases:


Clerk Bhagat Ram in Jullunder (Hindu Panjabi) to Khan Shirin Khan (Remount Depot, Rouen, France) – 19th April 1917

Do not set your heart on those scentless and artificially lovely flowers [women]and do not become infatuated with their seemingly innocent appearance. Where, in God’s name, can you get in any temperate climate that delightful, beautiful thing which grows in the tropics? There [France] the outward appearance is cold; but within rages a fiery furnace. If you should be scorched in that flame, it would be difficult for you to escape*. But if you should be unfortunate, do not be like that wretched sowar who used to sit near your tent and bewail his condition. Rather, stand in the open, sword in hand, and call everyone to witness what the enemy has done. Do this and then there will be no delay in your getting the Victoria Cross (a cure).

**The French women look attractive, but have venereal diseases. If you catch one it will be hard for you to find a cure.

Sympathy to the Ghaddarites can be detected in this Urdu letter sent by a 3rd year Sikh student in Agra Chank.


Kalwant Singh to Kot Dafadar Ghamand Singh (3rd Skinners Horse) - 2nd April 1916:

A terrible affair has taken place here. The Supplementary Lahore conspiracy case has been decided in a way that spells disaster to the Sikh people*. One hundred of our beloved Sikhs were sentenced to death, and our brother Nand Nir Singh got transportation for life. Now may the Guru help the Sikhs and rescue the drowning ones! It will be a long time before the Sikhs can raise their heads again! [Letter detained]

*The Lahore Conspiracy was an attempt by revolutionaries to subvert the discipline of the Indian army.

Men were under serious pressure to recruit back in Punjab:


Zaildar Jawala Singh (Lyallpur) to Dafadar Kartar Singh (France)

May God grant speedy victory to King George, that the anxiety of hearts may be removed! I am in great trouble. My child of 8 months is dead, and your sister in law is dead, and thirdly I am threatened with dismissal from my position of both zaildar and lumbardar. If my life would depart, that would be the best solution of the difficulty! On the 29th Nov. , the Deputy Commissioner sent for me and gave me a month to finish my recruiting., saying that if I did supply the men in that time I should be dismissed from both my zaildarship and lumderdarship.

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  • 7 years later...
On 10/7/2011 at 9:29 PM, dalsingh101 said:

Zaildar Jawala Singh (Lyallpur) to Dafadar Kartar Singh (France)

May God grant speedy victory to King George, that the anxiety of hearts may be removed! I am in great trouble. My child of 8 months is dead, and your sister in law is dead, and thirdly I am threatened with dismissal from my position of both zaildar and lumbardar. If my life would depart, that would be the best solution of the difficulty! On the 29th Nov. , the Deputy Commissioner sent for me and gave me a month to finish my recruiting., saying that if I did supply the men in that time I should be dismissed from both my zaildarship and lumderdarship.

They say you never stop learning.....

I first posted this over 7 years ago, and in all honesty (I can now say) I don't  think I really grasped certain implications of what I read back then. 

If you analyse the above extract it really paints a sad picture that  illustrates the dynamics and realities of imperialism outside of propaganda. Look at this 'Zaildar'. The poor guy had just lost his infant daughter. He appears to be suicidal: "If my life would depart, that would be the best solution of the difficulty!"

Despite this, his superiors are ruthlessly riding him in this obviously distressing time and demanding that he enlists even more men for the war effort despite his personal loss, threatening to remove his livelihood if he fails. 

Really heartless.

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20 minutes ago, dallysingh101 said:

They say you never stop learning.....

I first posted this over 7 years ago, and in all honesty (I can now say) I don't  think I really grasped certain implications of what I read back then. 

If you analyse the above extract it really paints a sad picture that  illustrates the dynamics and realities of imperialism outside of propaganda. Look at this 'Zaildar'. The poor guy had just lost his infant daughter. He appears to be suicidal: "If my life would depart, that would be the best solution of the difficulty!"

Despite this, his superiors are ruthlessly riding him in this obviously distressing time and demanding that he enlists even more men for the war effort despite his personal loss, threatening to remove his livelihood if he fails. 

Really heartless.

The naïve Sikhs were used as cannon fodder by their pommy masters and got nothing back in return.

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