On a day when Sikh soldiers from the Battle of Saragarhi are commemorated for their bravery, Melbourne-based descendants of Captain Ishar Singh remember him as a pioneering Sikh soldier who won a Victoria Cross- the highest battle honour in the British Empire.
Trying to keep his great grandfather’s memories alive, Gursharan Singh took his daughter to the Anzac Day dawn service in Melbourne earlier this year.
“I told my daughter that it is important that we remember the stories of valour and pride that our forefathers shared with us,” said Mr Singh.
“We’re from the family of the legend named Ishar Singh, and we believe he was the first Sikh soldier to receive prestigious Victoria Cross.
Ishar Singh (then 25) was a Sepoy in the 28th Punjabis, Indian Army during the Waziristan Campaign when, on 10 April 1921, he displayed remarkable gallantry for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Mr Singh said people often confuse his great-grandfather with Havildar Isher Singh who fought at Saragarhi.
“Each year on 12 September, we remember the sacrifice of 21 Sikh soldiers who were led by Havildar Isher Singh. But some people out of ignorance share our great grandfather Captain Ishar Singh’s photographs,” he adds.
“They both had the same name of Ishar Singh. Their circumstances and the act of valour is also quite similar given they fought with bravery despite being outnumbered against the tribesman fighting for the British army in the same region.”
The family claims that Sardar Bahadur Capt Ishar Singh is the first non-British soldier to receive the Victoria Cross for his acts of bravery during a military campaign – this claim is yet to be verified.
But there is no doubt that his valour was duly acknowledged in newspaper reports back in 1921.
Sardar Bahadur Ishar Singh was the first Sikh soldier to win a Victoria Cross
The citation depicting the bravery that led Ishar Singh to Victoria Cross was published in a supplement to the London Gazette of 25 November 1921.
“War Office, 25th November, 1921.
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned: —No. 1012 Sepoy Ishar Singh, 28th Punjabis, Indian ArmyFor most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 10th April,1921, near Haidari Kach (Waziristan).
His gallantry and devotion to duty were beyond praise. His conduct inspired all who saw him.”
The Waziristan campaign was a military campaign conducted in Waziristan by British and Indian forces against the fiercely independent tribesmen that inhabited this region.
These operations were conducted in 1919–20, following the unrest that arose in the aftermath of the third Anglo-Afghan War.
Ishar Singh later attained the rank of captain and also served in the Second World War.
In addition to the Victoria Cross, he was awarded the prestigious Order of British India, First Class, which carried with it the title of ‘Sardar Bahadur’.
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