ONTARIO: A huge gathering of military personnel, community members, historians, veterans and politicians gathered at Mount Hope Cemetery in Kitchener on Sunday at a site that become the gathering place to commemorate the annual Sikh Remembrance Day ceremony.
The site marks the final resting place of Private Buckam Singh, who died in 1919 and is the only military grave in Canada of a Sikh soldier from the First or the Second World War.
Buckam Singh arrived in British Columbia from Punjab in 1907 at the age of fouurteen and eventually moved to Toronto in 1912/1913. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the spring of 1915 and is one of the earliest known Sikhs living in Ontario at the time.
Private Buckam Singh served with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion in the battlefields of Flanders during 1916. Here he was wounded twice in two separate battles. One of the interesting discoveries included the fact that after being shot Private Buckam Singh received treatment at a hospital run by one of Canada’s most famous soldier poets the Doctor Lt. Colonel John McCrae.
While recovering from his wounds in England Private Buckam Singh contracted tuberculosis and spent his final days in a Kitchener Ontario military hospital, dying at age 25 in 1919. His grave in Kitchener Ontario is the only known WWI Sikh Canadian Soldier’s military grave in Canada. While he never got to see his family again and died forgotten almost 100 years ago, his heroic story is now being reclaimed and was unknown until a Brampton historian Sandeep Singh Brar found his medal in a pawnshop.
Lt.-Col. Graham Walsh, commander of the Toronto Scottish Regiment, spoke Sunday about other Sikh soldiers: Lashman (Laal) Singh, who was killed in October 1918 and buried near Vimy Ridge, and Hari Singh, who survived. Both had joined up with his regiment when it was known as the 75th Mississauga Battalion.
“I’m very honoured we are welcomed here,” Walsh said.
The ceremony was attended by dignitaries from a variety of disciplines, including Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky and Waterloo MP Bardish Chagger, who is Sikh. Both laid wreaths at the grave of Pvt. Buckam Singh. Chagger said she was very pleased to see so many people from various generations and ethnic backgrounds in the crowd, there to “recognise the importance of the ultimate sacrifice.”
A historical display about Pvt. Buckam Singh, including his typewritten application to the army, was laid out on a nearby table.