While searching for information on a group of 40 Sikhs who came to Victoria, B.C. in 1906 -1907 for his film Searching for the Sikhs of Tod Inlet, David Gray discovered that eight Sikhs, with the surname Singh, had enlisted in the Canadian Army in the First World War. Two additional Canadian soldier Sikhs have since been found. This part of Canadian Sikh history was virtually unknown and thus of great interest to the Canadian Sikh community.
There is no information published on the role of Sikhs in the Canadian Armed Forces in World War I. In order to assess the potential for creating a documentary film on the Canadian Sikhs in WWI, we spent several weeks researching the topic in Library and Archives Canada, at the Directorate of History, DND, the Canadian War Museum archives, and through various WWI and other Websites.
At the DND Directorate of History we found a few pieces of information relating to Indian soldiers in WWI and some figures relating to country of birth of Canadian soldiers, but no articles, reports, or any other significant information on the Sikhs in the Canadian army. We discussed the project with Historians at DND and the Canadian War Museum and circulated a request for information. Responses to date suggest that there is no one else researching this topic.
We have completed the basic research in the extensive military records of the ten Sikh individuals.
Archival Film Sources
There is an abundance of good footage of all aspects of Canadians serving in World War I including recruitment, training, travel across Canada, loading troopships, arrival in England, disembarking in France, going into battle, recovery in hospital, travel back to Canada and demobilization. Though we have not yet located any archival film footage of Canadians in WWI that specifically shows any Sikh men, we are reviewing all available footage in the various film archives in our search for such material.
We have viewed all of the relevant archival film available at Library and Archives Canada. We have completed the search for photos and film sources in the archives at the Canadian War Museum and have started to search the holdings of the Imperial War Museum in London.
What Comes Next?
The research for this film required many months of intensive searching. Because of the limited funds for research and the time constraints for film production, research on the soldiers had to be cut off at a point where the information for the film was adequate, but not exhaustive.
We are proposing to continue our research into the immigrants from India who participated in Canada’s Army in World War I. Our goal is to produce a book on this story which would be published in early 2014, as Canada and other nations begin to commemorate the start of World War One.
To reach that goal, we need to complete the next phase of research. The research steps proposed are:
- to expand the search for descendants in Canada and India
- to search the archives at the Department Veterans’ Affairs
- to complete research in the War Diaries of the units the Canadian Sikh soldiers served in
- to continue the search for photos of the battalions the ten soldiers were a part of
- to search the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s archives
- to search the Indian Army records of these Canadian men
- to search the new online sources such as Ancestry.ca, the 1911 census of Canada, the Canadian Letters & Images Project, newspaper archives, and other online community and war histories.
We would greatly appreciate any support, and any new information, photographs, or suggestions relating to the search.