Kids Corner

Photographs: by the author.


They Died For Freedom



The British empire under the banner of the East India Company, in the early 18th century, controlled the entire Indian sub-continent, except for the Sikh Empire under Maharajah Ranjit Singh. The western boundaries of the British Empire ceded at the banks of river Sutlej in Punjab, while the Sikh empire continued to expand into Afghanistan, Kashmir, Ladakh and had reached as far as
Western Tibet.

At the demise of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the betrayal by the Dogra ministers of his cabinet was rewarded by the British with the state of Kashmir. The treachery resulted in the cutting off of the supplies of the Sikh forces engaged in fighting the British on the banks of Sutlej and brought an end to the mighty expanse of the Sikh empire, the last remaining bastion of independence in the region.

The British chronicles are filled with the heroic acts of the Sikhs; they acknowledge that the two Anglo-Sikh wars were the toughest in the British conquest of India. An extract from the Leaves from the Journal of a Subaltern on page 155, reads:

“The Sikhs, fought like devils … fierce and untamed even in their dying struggle … Such a mass of men I have never set an eye on and as plucky as lions: they ran right on the bayonets and struck the assailants when they were transfixed.”

The Sikhs fought two mighty wars against the British but then at the turn of the century, they contributed 25% of the army from the sub-continent that fought for the Allied forces during the two World Wars. This contribution by the Sikhs, a mere 2% of India’s population, is also well recognized in the British texts of World War I & II.

General Sir Frank Messervy, in the Foreword by Colonel F.T. Birdwood, in the text, “The Sikh Regiments in the Second World War,” says:

“In the last two world wars, 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded for the freedom of the World, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.”

However, I believe the contribution of the Sikh soldiers during the two World Wars, with their presence in countries like Germany, France, Britain, Singapore, Burma, etc., has not been fully recognized in terms of the awareness amongst today’s population.

The Commonwealth Wealth Graves Commission maintains war memorials in many countries across Europe, Turkey, Egypt, Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma, etc.

One such War Memorial lies in the outskirts of Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma). It is called Taukkyan War Cemetry. A large number of the 27,000 names of soldiers listed are of the many Sikhs who fought and died in Burma during the World Wars.

I felt proud to see the inscription in Gurmukhi on the walls of the memorial, which translated in English, reads “THEY DIED FOR FREEDOM”.

As I walked around in the cemetery, the words of Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master, resonated in my ears:

“O Lord, grant me the boon that I may never deviate from doing good deeds; That I shall not fear when I go into the good fight; And, with determination, be victorious; That I may teach myself this greed alone, to learn only Thy praises. And when the last days of my life come, I may die in the thick of battle.”


Amardeep is currentl based in Singapore with American Express as Head of Merchant Pricing for Asia-Pacific region. He has lived in Singapore, Hong Kong & India, and traveled significantly across the world. For more of his delightful work, check out

January 15, 2013

Conversation about this article

Comment on "They Died For Freedom"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.