The medal, the forgotten soldier and heritage reclaimed


 medal 2

    Medal front                                                                Medal back


"PTE. BUKUM SINGH, the first Sikh to enlist with an Ontario battalion has been twice wounded since he went to the front. He was engaged as a farm hand for W. H. Moore, of Rosebank Ont., when the call came for active service. He was reported injured for the first time two months ago. His name appears among the wounded in to-day's list. Bukum Singh came to Canada from Punjab in 1907. After mining in British Columbia he came to Toronto about two years ago. He went overseas with a Kingston battalion." The Toronto Daily Star Aug 9, 1916

The story of one of the first Sikh Canadian WWI soldiers has been uncovered with the discovery of his Victory medal.

Sandeep Singh Brar an avid Sikh historian and creator of the first Sikh website on the internet , purchased the medal from a dealer in England and quickly realized its historical significance. The medal revealed a fascinating story of heroism and tragedy.

Buckam Singh came to B.C. from Punjab in 1907 at age 14 and eventually moved to Toronto in 1912/1913. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the spring of 1915. He's one of the earliest known Sikhs living in Ontario at the time as well as one of only 9 Sikhs that we know of that served with the Canadian military in WWI.

The website covers the early life of Buckam Singh from the Punjab and then his enlisting into the Canadaian Militray. His movements from England and then to Canada show the tremendous courage of  Buckam Singh. The Sikh religion and the military tradition is also elaborated on.

Private Buckam Singh served with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion in the battlefields of Flanders during 1916. He's a genuine Canadian hero because not only did he serve, but 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 t famous soldier poets Doctor Lt. Colonel John McCrae author of the immortal poem 'In Flanders Fields'.

graveMount Hope Cemetery in Kitchener

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 grave in Canada. It's sad that he never got to see his family again and died forgotten, but it is exciting that his heroic story is now being reclaimed and celebrated including a major online exhibit at the website and a Ardas prayer and wreath laying ceremony which will be performed at his gravesite on Remembrance Day. A circle has been completed and Buckam Singh has been reunited with his people after a century of separation from the Panth.


Early life
At age 10 on March 1903 Buckam was married to his wife Pritam Kaur of Jamsher in the Jullundhur District of Punjab. It was common in Sikh families at the time to arrange the marriage of their children at a young age. Although married at a young age, the couple would typically not be allowed to see each other or live together until they had reached adult hood when a ceremony called Muklawa would be performed to formally consummate the marriage. Pritam Kaur's father was Bhagwan Singh Gill and her grandfather was Nihal Singh Gill.

The 20th (Central Ontario)Canadian Infantry Battalion
Upon his arrival in France on January 21st 1916, Buckam Singh was transferred from the 39th Reserve Battalion to the 20th Battalion. He would remain with the 20th Battalion for the remainder of the war.

The Last Battle
Just as Buckam Singh was getting ready to return to the battlefields of France and rejoin the 20th Battalion he instead faced the biggest battle of his life from an unexpected enemy.
Following Christmas 1916 Buckam Singh started developing a serious cough which became only worst. The cough only got worst as did his general condition and three months later on March 19th, 1917 he was admitted to the Canadian Military Hospital at Hastings with suspected tuberculosis.

Visit the following  the website for more details:

Text and images courtesy of Sikh Museum. 

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