Buckam Singh

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Buckham SinghAKA (Bukum Singh) (December 5, 1893 – August 27, 1919) was a Canadian Sikh war veteran.

Early life[edit]

Buckham Singh was born on December 5, 1893, in the farming town of Mahilpur, India, to Badan Singh Bains and Chandi Kaur. In March 1903, at age 10, the young Singh was married to Pritam Kaur of Jamsher in an arranged marriage. At the time, India was still under British control, and as such, many Sikhs enlisted in the British Army due to their warrior tradition that dated back to the time of Guru Hargobind in the 17th century. In 1887, some Sikh soldiers travelled from India (Punjab) to reach Britain to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. They traveled by train across Canada and fell in love with the landscape of British Columbia. Upon their return to Punjab, word about Canada spread and the 14-year-old Singh left for British Columbia in 1907.[1][2]

At the time of Singh's immigration to Canada there was a labour shortage in British Columbia, and while the Canadians did not like to give jobs to foreigners, they had no choice. Later in 1907, riots in Vancouver prompted the Canadian government to institute racist laws which required all South Asian immigrants to come from their homeland to Canada in one continuous journey, a feat impossible for the Sikhs as there was no direct route from India to Canada. Additionally, all new immigrants had to have $250 in savings, ten times the amount European immigrants had to have. This was quite a large amount as at the time wages were just cents a week. Because of these discriminatory conditions, Singh moved to Ontario and began working for a farmer in Rosebank.[1]

Wartime[edit]

Singh's enlistment papers

On August 5, 1914, Canada entered World War I as a member of the British Empire. On April 23 the next year, Singh enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force and became one of just nine Canadian Sikhs to fight in the war. He was then sent to Barriefield Camp near Kingston, Ontario, and joined the 59th Battalion. On his attestation papers he was recorded as of the Church of England religion, as there was no option for Sikh.[1][3]

Because of the need to deploy troops to the Western Front as quickly as possible, Singh received little training and was shipped out in the first of two contingents of 250 men aboard the S.S. Scandinavian 2 on August 27, 1915, arriving in England on September 5. There, Singh was transferred to the 39th Reserve Battalion to await deployment to a combat battalion. On January 21, 1916, Singh arrived in France and joined the 20th Battalion. While fighting he was hit on the head with shrapnel on June 2, 1916, and sent to hospital until the end of the month, when he rejoined his battalion. He was again wounded at St. Eloi on July 20 and sent to a hospital run by John McCrae and then crossed the English Channel to make his recovery in Manchester.[1]

On March 11, 1917, Singh was considered fit enough to rejoin active combat and was sent to the Central Ontario Regimental Depot and waited to be sent to France again. However, he developed severe tuberculosis and was sent back to Canada in May. He was discharged on August 1, 1918, and spent the remainder of his days at Freeport Military Hospital, where he died on August 27, 1919. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario. His grave is the only known Canadian Sikh soldier's grave in existence.[1]

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