A Havildar in the 1st Battalion of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers. He was battling in the front line during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign when he received a poignant postcard from his daughter Kishan Devi. His life has been researched by Citizen Historian Avtar Singh Bahra who owns the postcard.
What We Know
1. Life Before The War
At present, nothing is known about Kishan Devi and Sewa Singh before the war.
2. Life During The War
The 23rd Sikh Pioneers were part of the Indian Expeditionary Force E and consisted of the 22nd (Lucknow) Brigade sent to Egypt in October 1914.
While battling in the front line during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign as part of the Indian Expeditionary Force ‘E’, Sepoy Sewa Singh received a deeply moving postcard from his daughter, Kishan Devi (and it also included a message from her mother).
Postmarked 7 February 1916, this incredibly rare postcard penned in Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script is possibly the only surviving example of its kind.
This is a translation of Kishan Devi's message:
One Creator-Preserver-Destroyer, known through the True Guru’s grace. This is Kishan De[v]i writing to you. Here all is well. Dear father best wishes to you. With God's grace your letter has arrived. We came to know your situation. With the sight of your letter, I felt at peace.
Dear father, mother says that you can write your innermost thoughts to us. I will read the letter. We do not rely on anyone else to read the letters. Father, all the letters from you will be read by me.
I do not fight with anyone. My heart is yours. You are my everything, and I worry about you. Without you I am like a living dead. I am unable to live like this, even though you give me a lot of assurance.
This letter is sent to you on 22nd day of month of Magh [runs from January to February], English date is the 5th [of February]. Mother bows to you with hands clasped.
Dear father we do not have another envelope [ie a postcard to write on]. Dear father please take leave and come to meet us. Please do come! We repeat again and again. Reply to our letter soon.
Translation by Baljinder Singh & Sukhdeep Jodha
It speaks of the links between the home front and the war front, of the love of a daughter for her father, and of the social structures within a rural Punjabi family a century ago.
Sewa Singh was awarded the Indian Meritorious Service Medal (IMSM) for Egypt and subsequently promoted to the junior rank of Havildar.
3. Life After The War
At present, nothing is known about Kishan Devi and Sewa Singh after the war.
The Royal Mail included Kishan Devi's moving WW1 postcard as part of their 500 years commemoration.
This incredibly rare card was in the collection of British collector Avtar Singh Bahra and became a highlight of our 2014 exhibition at the Brunei Gallery. Since then it has been utilised in a number of other WW1 projects culminating with the Royal Mail's 500 years of postal history in 500 items.
With nearly two-thirds of India’s recruits coming from Punjab, the impact on families across the region was profound. Aggressive recruiting campaigns saw one in every seven Sikh men of fighting age head for the battlefront. In their absence, their wives were often left to single-handedly deal with the domestic consequences of war: rapidly rising grain prices, lack of basic medicines, the devastating impact of disease outbreaks and, for many, the consequences of widowhood.
An image of a young Sikh mother and her child photographed by an English eye surgeon in Amritsar in 1911 has been included in the gallery at the top of the page. It illustrates a most wonderful piece of literature concerning our theme.
Images of Sikh women taken during the war are rare, but rarer still are their testimonies. One person who heard them was Mrs G. Bell, the wife of a British officer of the 27th Punjabis. She was particularly sympathetic to the plight of Punjabi women and visited the mothers, wives, widows and daughters connected with her husband’s regiment in a village near Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan). Her aim was to ‘share a few days of the anxiety and mourning together.’ After listening to their tragic stories one morning, she tried to lift their spirits:
watching the anxiety in their eyes I told them how, when I had visited Indian soldiers in Hospital in England, I had found that their talk to me was always of their homes in India, their children, their mothers, and their wives.
The next day the menfolk told me that that had greatly comforted the women, who feared lest the men should take European wives and forget them.
Mrs G. Bell
There are no updates at present.
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