ANZAC martyrs remembered in Wellington



Gurtej Singh and Nirmal Singh carrying a wreath on behalf of the Sikh community at the ANZAC Day Commemoration Service in Wellington on April 25, 2023 (Photo Supplied)

Venu Menon
Wellington, April 25, 2023

The Wellington Citizens Wreath Laying Service 2023, organised by the Wellington City Council, was held today at the Cenotaph located near the Parliament grounds.

Wreaths were laid in memory of the fallen at Gallipoli.

Wellington City Mayor Tory Whanau placed a wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of Wellington City Council, with various community associations following suit.

Gurtej Singh and Nirmal Singh laid a wreath on behalf of the New Zealand Sikh Society.

The annual event marks the landing of Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) troops on Gallipoli in the Turkish peninsula during World War 1 in 1915.

Among the estimated 125,000 lives lost in the failed military campaign were Sikh and Gurkha infantry battalions, along with several thousand mule drivers, from India.

But this has remained a largely forgotten chapter of the Great War.

Gurtej Singh and Nirmal Singh with other members of the Sikh community at the ANZAC Day Commemoration Service in Wellington on April 25, 2023 (Photo Supplied)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australian historian Prof Peter Stanley sheds light on the significant contribution made by Indian troops, recruited by the British to engage Turkish forces, in his seminal book, Die in Battle, Do not Despair, The Indians in Gallipoli 1915.

This book, coupled with the diary records of the Indian Brigade deployed in Gallipoli, is the only available account of the role of the Sikh and Gurkha regiments that fought Winston Churchill’s war in the Dardanelles.

The book draws a distinction between the Indian soldiers who fought in Gallipoli and those Indian Anzacs who joined the Australian Imperial Forces after 1916.

Prof Stanley claims the contribution of four Gurkha battalions and a single Sikh infantry unit, as well as several thousand mule drivers from Punjab, have gone largely  undocumented because “most Indian troops were either illiterate and didn’t maintain any records, or if they did, those records haven’t survived.”

The legacy of the Indian Anzacs who fell on the battlefields in Gallipoli has been pieced together from the dairies, photos and letters of “Anzac soldiers who wrote endearingly about their Indian mates.”

Prof Stanley says, “The close ties between Australia and India can be traced back to the landings at Anzac Cove, where Australians and Indians stood together resolutely, shoulder to shoulder.”

Prof Stanley’s research took him to New Zealand, India and Nepal and established that 16,000 troops had fought alongside the Anzacs in Gallipoli, with 1,600 becoming casualties of war.

His book lists the names of the 1,600 Indian soldiers, mostly Sikhs and Gurkhas, who fell and were cremated in Gallipoli.

A photo accompanying a report in the Sydney Mail in 1916, captioned  “Best of Chums,” showed three Australian soldiers posing with a Sikh soldier. The photo was taken in Gallipoli and sent back home by one of the soldiers.

In his letter to the Commander-of-Chief in India, Gen Ian Hamilton described the outcome of an artillery attack by the Turks that drew heavy Sikh casualties: “…….. the slope was thickly dotted with bodies of these fine soldiers all lying on their faces as they fell in their steady advance on the enemy.”

War memorial records in New Delhi show that on 28 June 1915 “with the aim of capturing Krithia, the 10th Gurkhas charged fire lines of Ottoman trenches in the Gully spur, while the 5th and 6th Gurkha extended the line near Gurkha Bluff and pushed the Turks by 1000 yards.”

“After eight days of Turkish counterattack when the battle ended on 5th July the Gurkhas had lost 40% of their strength.”

Subedar Sahabir Thapa and Jemadar Dalbahdar Thapa of the Gurkha battalion received the Indian Order of Merit, while buglers Ambare Gurung and Sriman Rai received Indian Distinguished Service medals.

Brigade war diary records cite Major Allanson’s account of a fierce assault on Sari Bair: “At the top we met the Turks…… we fought hand in hand, we bit and fisted, and used rifles and pistols as clubs……… And the Turks turned and fled, and I felt a very proud man.”

The victory was short-lived. The Turks retook the position by heavy artillery fire.

But the capture of Sari Bair by the Gurkhas, “though only for 10 minutes, remained the only major objective attained during the Gallipoli campaign.”

The battalion withdrew and Subedar Major Gambhir Singh Pun, who led it, was awarded the Military Cross for his leadership and gallantry.

The Indian Army suffered its biggest blow on the Gallipoli campaign when transport ship Ramazan, with Sikh and Gurkha backup troops on board, was hit by a torpedo. Around 80 Sikh and 173 Gurkha soldiers perished in the attack.

The Indian Mule Corps, deemed to be non-combatants, faced bullets like the infantry and the gunners. Their courage under fire maintained the supply lines at Gallipoli.

Jamadar Hashmat Ali and driver Bir Singh received the Indian Order of Merit.

The wreath-laying service in Wellington ended with a haunting invocation:

“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

“We will remember them.”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington.

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