KITCHENER, ON, Canada—Every year at this time Sikh veterans, many of them quite elderly gather at the military grave of Pvt. Buckam Singh a Sikh soldier that fought with Canadian troops nearly a century ago in France during World War I for the Annual Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony.
The ceremony is also attended by members of the Canadian Forces including young Sikh men and women in the military. For these young Sikh soldiers, the interaction with the elderly Sikh veterans has been inspirational as it has been for civilians like me to watch.
The veterans feel appreciated and respected, dressed in their finest and wearing their medals, telling the young soldiers of their military exploits. Meanwhile the young Sikh soldiers feel a sense of pride in this personal contact with their military heritage. Thus, both the veterans and the young soldiers share a very special connection with each other, even though they are soldiers from different eras.
At this year’s ceremony we had a very special veteran in attendance that inspired everyone.
I had never met him before, his grand daughter Gurinder Pal Kaur Deol who I had been corresponding with had emailed by an old photograph taken of her grandfather when he was on active duty in the 1950’s.
I wondered what he looked like now, 63 years later? There are not that many World War II veterans around any more; most of them are in their 90’s or older.
A car pulled up in the cemetery and from afar a majestic old warrior emerged from the car and started walking with his family towards the military grave of Pvt. Buckam Singh where the ceremony takes place.
A crowd instantly gathered around him and I knew that it was none other than Captain Daulat Singh Deol himself.
Wearing a smart suit and tie, his chest covered with medals, polished shoes like as if he had just left a military inspection and with his paratrooper badge in his turban and with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes Captain Daulat Singh was the epitome of a professional soldier.
Time had not diminished this old soldier’s commanding presence.
Everyone was amazed by Baba Ji and wanted to talk to him and pose for a picture with him. Captain Daulat Singh was clearly surprised by all the attention but talked to young and old alike and happily posed for photographs. He was the epitome of the Sikh concept of Chardi Kala.
Chardi Kala is variously translated as “positive attitude”, “ascending energy”, “high spirits”, “positive, buoyant and optimistic” attitude to life and to the future. It is the state of mind in which a person has no negative emotions like fear, jealousy or enmity. Instead, only positive feelings including joy, satisfaction and self-dignity.
The two words could not encapsule Captain Daulat Singh any better. Everyone around him at the ceremony could feel his positive energy and his love. He really lives ‘Chardi Kala’. This was certainly no ordinary soldier.
The annual Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony takes place outdoors in a quiet little cemetery in Kitchener Ontario at the only military grave in Canada of a Sikh soldier from the World Wars. Given the historic nature of Buckam Singh’s military grave that is why the Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony is held here every year rather than indoors or in a park or in Toronto where many Sikhs live.
Attending the ceremony is not an easy task. Not only was it very cold this year, but it was also windy, making it feel even chillier. To make matters worse, we had rain and then some hail and snow during the ceremony. Yet this year we also had the biggest attendance we have ever had. It was uplifting to see that kind of commitment people made to attend the ceremony.
Captain Daulat Singh certainly knows a thing or two about commitment. Not only did he attend the ceremony, take part in the wreath laying with the other Sikh veterans during the ceremony, but like a true solder he insisted on staying right to the very end and interacting with everyone inspite of the weather. He displayed the kind of perseverance and commitment that I can only imagine he must have displayed on the battlefield in years gone by.
Time had clearly not diminished this soldiers fighting spirit.
As a historian, I consider Captain Daulat Singh to be a living treasure. He is a repository of our military history of the 20th century.
Born in 1911 at Banwalipur in Kapurthala District in Punjab, the young Daulat Singh began his military career as soon as he turned 18 by joining the British Indian Army in 1929. Soon after he became an eyewitness to history as he was stationed in Lahore with his platoon in March 1931 when the great Sikh martyr for Indian independence Bhagat Singh and his companions were hanged nearby in the Lahore jail.
By the advent of World War II, Daulat Singh now with the military rank of Jamadhar Adjutant was already a seasoned veteran with over 10 years’ military experience. From 1940 to 1944 he put his military expertise to good use training new recruits for the war at Sialkot in Punjab.
In 1944 the decision was made to deploy Captain Daulat Singh and his platoon to Europe in the fight against Nazi Germany. He was deployed to Florence Italy in 1944 as part of the 8th Infantry Division of the British Indian Army which fought along with the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade the front at Florence pushing towards the River Arno. In this battle the Allies advanced beyond Rome, taking Florence and closing up on the Gothic Line, the last major defensive line of the Germans in Italy.
Captian Daulat Singh, being the commanding officer of his platoon was often the target of German snipers. It was during this combat operation that he was injured in battle and hospitalized in Rome for six weeks before being recovered enough to be returned to Indian in 1945, shortly before the war ended.
Following the Partition of Punjab in 1947 and the creation of the two new nations of India and Pakistan. Captain Daulat Singh and his platoon were deployed to Kashmir in 1948 during the first India-Pakistan border dispute.
In 1952 Captain Daulat Singh joined the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment (Punjab). From the time of joining the paratroopers to his retirement he made 56 parachute jumps on active duty including combat conditions. Imagine jumping out of an airplane into the dangerous mountainous terrain of the rocky Himalayas, no easy task!
In 1955 Daulat Singh was promoted to Subedhar Major and a year later in 1956 he was deployed to Gaza in the Middle East as part of the first ever United Nations Peacekeeping Mission. United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF I) had been established by the United Nations General Assembly to secure an end to the Suez Crisis of 1956.
A United Nations peacekeeping force made up of soldiers from different countries had been the brain child of Canadian Minister of External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, who would later go on to become Canada’s Prime Minister.
In 1957 Daulat Singh was promoted to Captain and finally retired from the military in 1960 after a long military career spanning 31 years of active service. He retired in 1960.
That’s over 53 years ago!
Returning to his birthplace of Banwalipur, Captain Daulat Singh was so well respected and loved by everyone, that he was unanimously elected the Sarpanch of the village (equivalent to being the mayor).
He would go on to be the Sarpanch of Banwalipur for over 15 years, during which time he dedicated himself to improving the life of his fellow citizen. Captain Daulat Singh was instrumental in helping to build the village Gurdwara and school, and fought to improve the provincial transportation service and overall infrastructure of the town.
In 2001 Captain Daulat Singh finally moved to Canada to join his children and great-grandchildren after his wife of 60 years, Sardarni Puran Kaur had passed away.
What a remarkable life of a humble soldier who has committed his life to the service of others, both in his military and civilian life.
It is soldiers like him who have served and sacrificed so much, who we honour at the Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony. To have this century-old warrior attend the Remembrance Ceremony was something special that I will certainly never forget and neither will anyone else who was there.
Captain Daulat Singh truly is a living treasure in every sense of the word. May this old soldier continue marching on in Chardi Kala.
We all salute you!
Sandeep Singh Brar is the Chief Organizer of the Annual Sikh Remembrance Day Ceremony and the Curator of SikhMuseum.com