KITCHENER — Canada’s defence minister was among those who paid tribute in Kitchener Sunday to a Sikh soldier who fought for Canada in the First World War.
Harjit Singh Sajjan was among about 300 dignitaries, veterans, cadets and others who stood beneath the dripping maples of Mount Hope cemetery on a rainy Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to Priv. Buckam Singh, one of only nine Sikhs allowed to serve in the Canadian army in that historic war.
Singh’s grave, in the military section of the Kitchener cemetery, is the only known grave in Canada of a Sikh soldier, and for the past nine years it has been the site of a remembrance ceremony organized by the Sikh community.
Buckam Singh came to Canada as a teenage farm labourer in 1907. He enlisted in 1915 to fight in the First World War, and was wounded twice in the battlefields of France and Belgium. But he died at age 25 in 1919 in the Freeport military hospital from tuberculosis.
Sajjan said the story of Priv. Buckam Singh’s sacrifice has a particular poignancy for him personally.
The young soldier was born in a Punjab village not far from where Sajjan himself was born.
Buckam Singh chose to fight for Canada in 1915, Sajjan pointed out, even though just the previous year, Canada had turned away hundreds of Indian would-be immigrants, most of them Sikh, on the steamship Komagata Maru.
Sajjan learned the story of the young Sikh soldier fighting for Canada shortly after he himself was appointed commanding officer of the British Columbia Regiment.
“From a personal sense it was very poignant, because I had just become a commanding officer at that time. I realized if it wasn’t for people like Priv. Buckam Singh who broke down those barriers, I wouldn’t have been able to be, potentially, a commanding officer.”
Sajjan, who has been defence minister in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet since 2015, is a retired lieutenant-colonel who was deployed overseas four times: Once to Bosnia-Herzegovina and three times to Afghanistan.
03 Jun 2020
04 Jun 2020