A Havildar in the 58th Vaughan's Rifles (Frontier Force) who was born in the village of Narangwal in the district of Ludhiana, East Punjab. He was a prisoner of war in Germany during the war. His life has been researched by Citizen Historian Arjan Singh Grewal who shares the same ancestral village as Lal Singh.
What We Know
1. Life Before The War
Lal Singh was born around 1887 in the village of Narangwal in the district of Ludhiana, East Punjab.
It is likely that Lal Singh joined the 58th Vaughan's Rifles some time before the Great War.
Just before war broke out, the regiment consisted of three companies each of Pathans and Sikhs, and one company each of Dogras and Punjabi Muslims.
2. Life During The War
On 21 September 1914, the 58th Vaughan’s Rifles (Frontier Force) sailed from Karachi for France.
On arrival they joined the Bareilly Brigade of the 7th Meerut Division.
The regiment served on the Western Front, fighting in the Battles of Givenchy-les-la-Bassee, Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge and Loos. It is likely that Lal Singh was captured during one of these encounters (see image).
Indian captives such as Lal Singh would be held at the citadel of Lille briefly before being distributed to various prisoner camps in Germany.
The main camps for Indian Army captives were in the adjacent towns of Wünsdorf and Zossen near Berlin, where they were routinely subjected to German propaganda. Attempts were made by visiting Indian agents working for Germany to seduce the Indian prisoners to rise against their colonial masters and switch allegiances. Their efforts failed to produce any substantial results.
While interned, Lal Singh's portrait was captured by a military artist, Hermann Struck (1876-1944). He travelled between the German war-prisoner camps and documented 100 individuals in the portfolio of lithographs titled Kriegsgefangene: 100 Steinzeichnungen von Hermann Struck ('Prisoners of War: A Hundred Lithographs by Hermann Struck'), which was published in 1916. Some of the men, such as Lal Singh, even signed their names in their own language on their portraits.
By 1917, tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases were rampant among Indian prisoners, and their mortality rates were particularly high. The German authorities had most of them transported to a state farm of Morile-Marculesti in Romania, where the milder climate was felt to be less detrimental to their ‘oriental’ physiques.
Detainees in poor health (including mental health issues) were sometimes transferred to neutral countries like Switzerland or the Netherlands and sometimes exchanged with German prisoners held by the British. Lal Singh may have experienced such treatment but more research is required to confirm this.
3. Life After The War
According to the casualty database maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lal Singh is not recorded as having died during the war.
It is assumed, therefore, that he survived the war and returned to his village.
A marble memorial tablet (see image) was put up in Narangwal after the war.
It acknowledged how it gave 'practically every able-bodied man and boy' to the war effort (M.S. Leigh, Punjab and The War, Lahore, 1922, p 118).
Under the initials GRI, which stand for 'George Rex Imperator' or King Emperor George V, are the words :
FROM THIS VILLAGE 105 MEN WENT TO THE GREAT WAR 1914-1919
OF THESE 1 GAVE UP HIS LIFE
Marble memorial tablet, Narangwal
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