Niagara Gazette

Opinion

November 10, 2013

GUEST VIEW: The Sikh's connection to Veterans Day

Niagara Gazette — For many people, Veterans Day is just another day off from work or school. Maybe a free meal from a local restaurant for those who’ve served. Another sale at a big-box store. The significance of the event lost on those who look forward to, what this year will be a long weekend. What they don’t realize is that where Memorial Day was established to honor civil war dead, Veteran’s Day has definite historical importance.

Although the treaty of Versailles was signed June 28, 1919 fighting had actually ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities between allied nations and Germany went into effect. That day was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — Nov. 11, 1918.

Armistice day was approved as a legal holiday in 1938. After WWII and American forces fighting in Korea, legislation was approved in 1954 changing the name to Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars. In Niagara Falls we have the unique proximity to Canada and offer a nod of thanks to our allies. There are also members of our own community who served as allies, yet they go unnoticed.

It is a little known fact that more Indians volunteered to fight for Britain in WWI than all the Scots, Welsh and Irish combined; up to 1/3 of them Sikh’s despite making up just a fraction of India’s population. As early as September 1914, Indian troops were moving into France to reinforce British troops that had lost a huge number of causalities. Indian troops were on the Western Front by the winter of 1914 and fought at the first Battle of Ypres. In total, 800,000 Indian troops fought in all the theatres of the war including Gallipoli and North and East Africa. By the early 20th century the Sikh’s homeland, Punjab, was providing more than half the troops used in the British-Indian army despite Sikh’s making up just 1% of the county’s population. With the onset of the First World War, Britain found it had a useful new source of war conscript; the enlistment of the Kalsa.

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