Shimla-born soldier Nain Singh Sailani’s centenary commemorated in Perth | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Shimla-born soldier Nain Singh Sailani’s centenary commemorated in Perth

June 1, 2017, marked the centenary of the death of Private Nain Singh Sailani, which was commemorated at the Perth War Memorial’s Kings Park. The event was organised by the Australian Sikh Heritage Association and Indian Consulate in Perth

punjab Updated: Jun 02, 2017 14:47 IST
Manpreet K Singh
The ceremony at Kings Park, Perth, on Thursday to commemorate the centenary of Private Nain Singh Sailani’s death during World War I.
The ceremony at Kings Park, Perth, on Thursday to commemorate the centenary of Private Nain Singh Sailani’s death during World War I. (HT Photo)

His records show that he worked as a “labourer” before joining the Australian Imperial Force in Perth on February 7, 1916. Shimla-born Nain Singh was 43 when he was assigned as a soldier to the 44th Infantry Battalion of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac). He sailed from Fremantle on June 6, 1916, disembarking at Plymouth in England a month and a half later on July 21.

He was then sent to the war front in Belgium, and records show that on June 1, 1917, he was killed in action. A telegram was sent to his father in Simla (India), informing him of the casualty. Records note the father, Runjore Singh, was deceased by then. All further communication was sent to Private Nain Singh’s mother. She was later informed that her brave son was the recipient of three medals -- the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914/15 Star.

Her permission was sought to bury the remains of Pte Nain Singh at a memorial in Belgium itself. A record preserved at the National Archives of Australia shows that he was buried with honour at the Strand Military Cemetery in Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium in plot 2, grave 10.

THREADS OF HISTORY

June 1, 2017, marked the centenary of the death of Pte Nain Singh Sailani, which was commemorated at the Perth War Memorial’s Kings Park. The event was organised by the Australian Sikh Heritage Association (ASHA) and the Indian Consulate in Perth.

Speaking to SBS Punjabi radio, Amit Kumar Mishra, the Indian Consul General in Perth said, “This was a proud moment for us to attend and support. There are threads of history about Indians in Australia that have been forgotten for decades, and must be preserved. Pte Nain Singh Sailani’s story is probably one of the first few successful migrant stories of Indians in Australia -- he came here in 1895 at the age of 22, enlisted in the army some 20 years later, went to the UK for training and was deployed in many theatres of war in Europe. Ultimately, he sacrificed his life in a foreign land and must be remembered for his gallantry.”

“We are glad that ASHA is working so hard to find these stories of Sikhs, especially in Western Australia. In fact, this is the second commemoration we’ve been associated with them -- the first one being at Broome, at the 75th anniversary of the death of flying officer Man Mohan Singh in the Japanese air raids during World War II,” said Mishra.

SENSE OF BELONGING

The Perth commemoration of Pte Nain Singh Sailani was attended by at least three members of Parliament, including Yaz Mubarakai, the first MP of Indian origin to be elected in Western Australia. Many members of the Sikh community also attended the event, with hymns and prayers (ardas) being offered.

Gurdarshan Singh Kailley, the president of the Sikh Association of Western Australia, laid a wreath at Kings Park in the solemn ceremony to mark the centenary.

Kailley said, “This is a remarkable story of a man born in Shimla, who came to Geraldton in Western Australia in the 19th century, and went on to lay his life fighting for the country he called home.”

“Stories like his foster a sense of belonging in us. We feel proud of our Australian heritage and the contribution our ancestors have made to this land. I wish more and more stories like these are found and told. Already, schoolchildren in Western Australia are beginning to learn about this forgotten history. And now that ASHA has received a funding of $61,000 from the defence force, we will shortly see a book that brings forth our military history in Australia,” says Kailley.

“ASHA has uncovered many stories. There are some heroes we know a lot about and there are some like Pte Nain Singh Sailani who were forgotten until recently. In fact, his name was inscribed at the Perth War Memorial as N Sailani. We saw it, but never realised this was Nain Singh Sailani,” he says.

FIGHTING FIT

“Sailani was an incredibly fit man. His service records show that he was never hospitalised for any ailment during his service even though a lot of Australian soldiers fell sick in the bitter European cold in 1916-17,” he says.

Research by Dr Meleah Hampton points to an “accident” involving Pte Sailani. Disciplinary action was taken against him in January 1917 when he may have accidentally discharged his rifle and injured three fellow servicemen, Lt Guy, Sgt Marshall and Pte Brown.

For more on Sailani, click here

(The writer is a Melbourne radio journalist-broadcaster)