TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY JASBIR SINGH MAAN
On 4 November 1886, my Great- Grandfather, Subedar Sardar Singh, was inducted as a Gunner in a newly formed No.1 Bengal Mountain Battery Regiment, raised at Rawal Pindi in 1886, by Capt. C.P Triscott. Eventually, the No. 1 Bengal Mountain Battery became the No. 7 Bengal Mountain Battery in 1899. It further became the Gujarat Mountain Battery in 1901, and then the 27th Mountain Battery in 1903. Interestingly, his regiment still exists and is now called the 22 Field Mountain Battery. The medals he earned as a member of the regiment go back nearly 132 years, and I was fortunate enough to trace his military records from the Indian Army List archives dating 1886- 1905, maintained by the Military Department. As per the records, he had an extensive tenure in the army :
1. He served in the Burma Campaigns from 1885-87 (in the Third Anglo-Burmese War) and 1887-89 (Burma was annexed by British-Indian troops in 1886, which was followed by clear-up operation during the aftermath of the War).
2. He served in the Zhob Valley, North West Frontier of India (present day Pakistan) in 1890 (An expedition which took place under the leadership of Commander George Stuart White. It was a part of the North West Frontier Campaigns. Here the British and Indian troops fought Pakhtun tribesmen who adopted an hostile attitude towards them).
3. And lastly, he served in Tibet from 1903-04 (A British Expedition to annex Tibet, it was effectively a temporary invasion by the British Indian Forces under auspices of the Tibet Frontier Commission, whose purported mission was to establish diplomatic relations and resolve the dispute over the border between Tibet and Sikkim. In the nineteenth century, the British conquered Burma and Sikkim, occupying the whole southern flank of Tibet. The expedition was intended to counter Russia’s perceived ambitions to advance into Central Asia, and fear of Russian invasion of British India. The expedition reached Lhasa the capital of city of Tibet also home to then Dalai Lama. That is the reason why reverse of the medal depicts Potala Place, which was home to Dalai Lama)
The details of the medals he earned on these campaigns are as follows:
- Indian General Service Medal with Burma 1885-87 and 1887-89 Clasps: This medal was authorised on 1 March 1854, for issue to officers and men of the British and Indian armies. It was awarded for various minor military campaigns in India and nearby countries, from 1852- 1895. The medal is Silver with 1.4 Inchs (36 mm) diameter in size. The obverse bears a left facing effigy of Queen Victoria wearing a diadem (a crown or ornamental head-band). Surrounding the head is the inscription Victoria Regina. The reverse depicts Victory crowning a seated warrior with a laurel wreath. In the exergue are lotus flowers and leaves. The medal is suspended by a scrolled bar.
- Tibet Medal: This medal was authorized in February 1905 for all members of the Tibet Mission and accompanying troops who served at or beyond Siliguri from 13 December 1903 to 23 September 1904. The medal is in silver with 1.4 Inchs (36 mm) diameter in Size. The obverse of the medal, designed by G. W. de Saulles, shows the bust of Edward VII in Field Marshal’s uniform and the legend ‘EDWARDVS VII KAISAR-I-HIND’. The reverse, designed by E. G. Gillick, depicts the Potala (winter palace of the Dalai Lamas) in Lhasa on top of the red hill with the words ‘TIBET 1903-04’. The medal is suspended by a scrolled bar.
A lineage of military service is in my genes, for my grandfather, Amar Singh, too, was in the Army, serving in WW2. These medals were part of the belongings that were bequeathed to my father, Major Singh after his death. Since they had been retrieved from his belongings, we were certain they were his, but upon closer inspection of the medals, service records and badges, I found out the Burma and Tibet medal belonged to my great grandfather Sardar Singh.
Researching on such topics can be quite an exhaustive process, till you find some interesting details. My father remembered only a few things, since he had not seen Sardar Singh in person. But my father’s elder sister revealed to me that my great grandfather had retired as a subedar from the army and settled down in village Khanna Khurd near Ludhiana in Punjab. He had six children, my grandfather being the third. After retirement, he mainly focused on farming and was known as a Lambardar of the village, an elderly who advises people on several issues. It was my grandparents who looked after him and it is possible that my grandmother must have kept his medals safely along with the records of my grandfather. This is one reason why they were found together.
My grandfather, Sepoy Amar Singh, was inducted into the 1st Punjab Regiment on 1st November 1940, a regiment of the British Indian Army from 1922-1947. It was transferred to the Pakistan Army on independence in 1947, and later amalgamated with the 14th, 15th and 16th Punjab Regiments in 1956, to form the Punjab Regiment of Pakistan. Amar Singh was born in village Khanna Khurd, Punjab, but travelled across several places during World War 2. In 1941, he was posted in Middle East where he participated in Anglo-Iraq war, later in 1942 he served in Africa moving on to Burma, Singapore and Indonesia and returning to India through Vizagapatam.
Details of his medals are mentioned below:
- 1939-45 Star: A military campaign medal, instituted by the United Kingdom on 8 July 1943 for award to subjects of the British Commonwealth for service in the Second World War. Six–pointed stars, struck in yellow copper zinc alloy to fit into a 44 millimetres diameter circle, with a maximum width of 38 millimetres and 50 millimetres high from the bottom point of the star to the top of the eyelet. The ribbon has three vertical stripes : Dark Blue, which signifies Navy and Merchant Navy; Red, signifies the Army; and Light Blue, signifies the Air Force.
- The Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp: A military campaign medal, instituted by the United Kingdom on 8 July 1943, awarded to subjects of the British Commonwealth for service in the Second World War, specifically in North Africa between 10 June 1940 – 12 May 1943, inclusive.
- The Burma Star: A military campaign medal, instituted by the United Kingdom in May 1945 for award to subjects of the British Commonwealth who served in the Second World War, specifically in the Burma Campaign from 1941 to 1945.
- Defence Medal: A campaign medal, instituted by the United Kingdom in May 1945, awarded for non-operational service in the Armed Forces, the Home Guard, the Civil Defence Service and other approved civilian services during 3 September 1939- 2 September 1945 inclusive. It is a silver or cupro-nickel disk, 36 millimetres (1.42 inches) in diameter. The obverse shows the bareheaded effigy of King George VI, facing left.
- War Medal 1939-45: This medal was a campaign medal which was instituted by the United Kingdom on 16 August 1945, for award to subjects of the British Commonwealth who had served full-time in the Armed Forces or the Merchant Navy for at least 28 days between 3 September 1939 – 2 September 1945. It is a silver or cupro-nickel disk, 36 millimetres (1.42 inches) in diameter. Obverse shows the crowned coinage effigy of King George VI, facing left and signed “PM”, the initials of designer Percy Metcalfe, below the truncated neck of the effigy. The colour of the ribbon is of Union Jack.
- Indian General Service Medal 1918-1962 with S.E Asia 1945–46 clasp: This medal was awarded for service in South-East Asia after the Japanese surrender, for various activities such as guarding Japanese POWs and maintaining law and order. By November 1946, British troops had handed over their responsibilities to the territories former colonial powers. The qualifying dates were: Dutch East Indies (Java and Sumatra): 3 September 1945 to 30 November 1946, and French Indochina: 3 September 1945 to 28 January 1946. The medal was made in silver with obverse showing the crowned effigy of the reigning monarch and the reverse bears the standing winged figure of Victory in a Corinthian helmet and carrying a trident, bestowing a wreath on the emblems of the Army (the sword) and the RAF (the wings).
For many, medals and other service memorabilia might just be pieces of metal and cloth till the time one realizes the history and the struggle that is undertaken to earn them. The courage and sacrifice of my ancestors is embedded within these medals; each disk, each ribbon is laced with their ambition and dedication. I was very fortunate enough to meet several military historians and WW2 researchers, who shared their tremendous research with me, and thus helped me locate details of my ancestor’s regimental history and the role they played during one of the darkest phase of World Wars. Today, I feel extremely proud of their services and the contribution they have made for the nation. It is an honour and also my responsibility to preserve these pieces of history which unfortunately many have forgotten.