When Sikhs bolstered French honour


When Sikhs bolstered French honour
by Lt Gen (retd) Baljit Singh

Whenever the controversy centred around the Sikhs and their turbans resurfaces in France, my memory invariably reaches out to a slice of history from 1915 as recorded in the chronicles of World War I. For 10 turbaned Sikh soldiers using six spare turbans, wriggled and dragged two boxes of mortar bombs and two of machine-gun bullets, under withering German shelling and automatic fire, in the mid-day sun for about 25 minutes, till at last just one box of bombs was eventually delivered to their beleaguered colleagues.

Nine Sikh soldiers perished as they crawled and dragged the cargo through the rain of shells and bullets. The tenth was struck dead as he momentarily stood up to unknot the turban from around the box of bombs to deliver it to his comrades.

There was an eleventh. He was shell-shocked and stood stock-still, his uniform riddled with bullet holes. One Sikh soldier in the nearby trench reflexably reached out and pulled Lieut John Smyth down to the ground. He emerged the sole survivor of the heroic mission.

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