Sikh soldiers were ‘brothers in arms’

REMEMBRANCE DAY: Surrey man’s exhibit honoured Punjabi soldiers

Surrey’s Steven Purewal reminded the B.C. legislature about the contribution of Punjabi soldiers during the Great War.

Surrey’s Steven Purewal reminded the B.C. legislature about the contribution of Punjabi soldiers during the Great War.

Tom Fletcher, BC Local News

Surrey resident Steven Purewal was in the B.C. legislature recently to mark South Asian military efforts in the lead-up to Remembrance Day.

Purewal was also the man who embarked upon a journey last year to detail the story of 500,000 Punjabi combatants who fought alongside Canadians in the First World War through the exhibit “Duty, Honour & Izzat.”

Purewal, a British-born Indian, has been collecting primary artifacts from the First World War pertaining to the involvement of Punjabis, including war medallions and propaganda art. He said that the Sikh side of the story has been grossly underrepresented and even the public school system completely bypasses that aspect of its history.

“The deficit isn’t just at the common layman’s levee, it’s even in academia,” Purewal told the Now last year at City Centre Library, where the exhibit then resided.

“We’re not saying, ‘Why haven’t you told our story?’ because we haven’t told it ourselves,” said Purewal at the time. “That’s the point of this project.”

It is surely with great pride that Purewal presented an 1874 version of the Red Ensign flag to the B.C. government on Oct. 28 to commemorate the contribution of Indian Army soldiers to allied forces and their settlement in the province.

“The heroic story of the Canadians in Flanders Fields is told in our classrooms. But what’s not told is that the Punjabis were standing united with Canada. They were there as brothers in arms and friends in need,” he said in his speech in the legislature.

“On the centennial of World War I, our children should learn that the Indian Army won 9,000 gallantry awards, that the Indian Army fielded more men in World War I than all the other colonies put together, including Canada and Australia, that they were critical to the allied victory.”

-With files from Kristi Alexander