After a lucky escape at the age of 11, Havildar Waryam Singh joined a renowned Sikh regiment and saw action in Gallipoli, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Waziristan from 1914-1919. He was wounded in action.
After the war ended he was selected to go to England where he met King George V at Buckingham Palace.
He later became a recipient of the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
To hear the full interview (in Punjabi) on our Spoken Histories page, click here.
Here is a translations of the interview:
Introduction (Track 1)
My name is Balbir Singh Banwait. My father's name is Havildar Waryam Singh. He retired from the army and was awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM) in England for his service during WW1.
The Early Years (Track 2)
My father was approximately 11 years old when he joined the army as a cadet. There he was taught English and Punjabi. When WW1 started he was under 16 years of age.
A Lucky Escape (Track 3)
My father told me that a ship with 1700 troops on-board was scheduled to leave for England from Bombay. He was very excited about the prospect of participating in the war so he lied about his age during the recruitment process [to get on the ship].
He put the uniform on and boarded the ship. My father's older cousin, who enlisted him in the army band, suspected that my father had boarded the ship. He told the officer-in-charge that Waryam Singh is missing. They eventually found him. He was told that he was not allowed to go to war as he was under 16 years of age and was then taken off the ship.
Look at his destiny: on the third day after leaving the port of Bombay, the ship was sunk by a Japanese (?) torpedo. All 1700 men on board perished. We children used to joke with our father that he was saved because of us (ie to allow his children to take birth in this world).
Wounded In Gallipoli (Track 4)
At age of 16 my father joined the war. He saw action first in Egypt and then in Gallipoli. The Indian Army was in the middle flank – the British and the ANZACS on either side. The Turkish forces had a distinct advantage being well entrenched at a higher ground.
For three weeks the Australians could not be located. The 14th Sikh regiment was tasked with finding the Australians. Since the Turkish were on high ground they were able to shoot anyone who tried to go out to find Australians. Slowly, slowly they [ie Turks] shot dead all 350 of them. Only four men remained.
My father was in the Signal corps. In those days signal equipment was a flag and piece of glass. One of the remaining men was an officer. He said we must accomplish the task and we may all die. Then my father told us that he said to other men, that we have already lost 350 men. I will not go in the same direction. His colleagues said you decide whichever way you want to go. So my father went through a different way to avoid detection.
With divine assistance he soon found an abandoned trench. He crawled through the trench for two hours. His pants were torn from the knees so he untied his turban and wrapped it around his knees.
Once he reached the end of the trench he made use of his rifle butt to break the barrier [that blocked his way]. By chance he came across another smaller ditch [which gave cover from enemy fire] into which he wriggled and continued crawling.
As the sun was setting he tried to send a signal [using the mirror he was carrying before it became too dark]. As soon as he raised his leg to support his device, they [ie Turkish] shot him.
My father was wounded and he fainted. He regained consciousness after a couple of hours but it was dark by then. Somehow the Australians had got his message and told him to stay where he was and not to move about too much. The Australians then approached him in dark and took him to secure location. From there he was sent to hospital in France.
Visiting England After The War (Track 5)
When the war ended in 1918, all the troops gave a salute to a very senior officer, possibly a general, during a special ceremony. My father told us that he and five other soldiers who were standing in line were pushed backwards out of the queue by a British officer.
My father thought that despite all the fighting we had done and the wounds we had endured, they [the British] were now going to discharge them from the army. He thought to himself, 'what have we done wrong', 'what shall we do now'. He was still of a young age [with his whole life ahead of him]. He remained concerned for some ten minutes but then it was announced that those six men that have been singled out would go to England and receive awards. My father told me that all of them were overjoyed.
Later during the parade the general came down to where they were standing and took all six of them to the stage. Then the whole contingent including the general saluted them. All of their friends congratulated them and they started preparing for the journey. Each had a coat and pants specially made for them. It took those six men three months to sail to England.
On arrival in England they received a warm reception. Since many of the British had died during the war, many ladies and their relatives would visit them. They then received medals and due respect from George V at Buckingham Palace.
Translators: Tarunpreet Singh (Australian Sikh Heritage Association) & Sukhdeep Jodha
Image credit: Harjit Singh (Australian Sikh Heritage Association)