Annual Sikh Remembrance Day ceremony honours Canadian soldiers

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
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KITCHENER, Ontario: The annual Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony was held on Sunday, November 5 at the military grave of Canadian World War I hero, Private Buckam Singh in Kitchener, Ontario. This year, chief guests included National Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and Major-General Simon Hetherington, Commander, Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre Headquarters.

Almost 300 people including Canadian Forces soldiers, cadets, police officers, Royal Canadian legionnaires, veterans and elected officials from all levels of government gathered for the ceremony, weathering the rain at the only military grave in Canada of a Sikh soldier from the world wars.

Sajjan observed that it was 1914 when the ship Komagata Maru and its 300 South Asian passengers were turned away from Canada by force, yet one year later, Buckam Singh enlisted in 1915. “It just goes to show the dedication he had for Canada, for doing the right thing and for a sense of service,” he pointed out.

“We owe our gratitude and our prosperity to the giants who give their lives for this country. Pvt. Buckam Singh is representative of all those who have served not only in the past but of those who are serving today. Pvt. Buckam Singh and all those who gave everything for us gave us a gift – a gift of freedom, a gift of prosperity,” said Sajjan.

“Buckam Singh’s journey is the journey of Canada as a nation. His story is but that of one Canadian soldier out of the 59,544 soldiers that never returned home to their families at the end of World War I. Today, we are here at this spot not just to remember Pvt. Buckam Singh but to make sure that we never ever forget the 700,000 Canadian soldiers that have died in the service of that maple leaf that you see carved on Buckam Singh’s grave,” said historian Sandeep Singh Brar, Curator of and the chief organizer of the Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony.

Sikhs have a long tradition of military service. Over 83,000 Sikhs of the British Indian Army gave their lives for the defense of freedom in the two World Wars, fighting alongside their Canadian, American and British allies.

The eldest veteran in attendance at the ceremony was 96 Subadar Bhag Singh Bhullar of the 14th Punjab Regiment, 5th Battalion of the British Indian Army, who fought four major battles against the Japanese in Malaysia and Singapore before being captured in 1942 and enduring nearly five years of brutal treatment and starvation in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

Now in its ninth year, the Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony has become one of the largest annual gatherings of Sikh soldiers and veterans in North America.

The ceremony allows all Canadians the opportunity to appreciate the inclusive nature of Canada and the sacrifices made by heroes from diverse backgrounds in making Canada strong and secure.

Wounded twice on the battlefields of France in WWI, Private Buckam Singh of the 20th Central Ontario Canadian Infantry Battalion was one of only nine Sikh soldiers allowed to serve in the Canadian military in WWI.

With the discovery of his war medal and military grave nearly 100 years later, the Sikh community has reclaimed a forgotten son and Canada has reclaimed a war hero.