Indian soldier, immortalized by his act of selfless heroism and valor
while fighting for the British armed forces in World War I has come in
for heavy praise from UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
has also floated the proposal that British children must be taught “in
the years to come about the role that the 1.2 million soldiers from the
Indian subcontinent played in World War I”.
The soldier Cameron
was referring to was Manta Singh, who served with the 15th Ludhiana
Sikhs, an infantry regiment of the Indian Army who was seriously injured
during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 – one that saw a
large number of casualties for the Indian Army – over 4000 in just three
During the battle, Manta Singh witnessed an English
comrade Captain Henderson who had suffered. Singh himself was hit by
machine gunfire in his left leg but that didn’t stop him from rescuing
his fellow officer Captain Henderson. Manta pushed him to safety in a
wheelbarrow he found in no-man’s land.
Singh and his wounded
comrades were later shipped to Brighton’s Royal Pavilion which was
turned into a hospital for Indian soldiers. Here, his wounds
became infected with gangrene. He was told his legs would have to be
amputated to save his life, a thought which filled him with despair. He died from blood poisoning a few weeks later.
Remembering the soldier, Cameron said “This year, as we commemorate the
100th anniversary of WW1, it is also perhaps worth saying something
specific about how British Sikhs have served in our armed forces with so
much devotion, bravery and courage over so many years”.
Cameron added “Stories like that of Manta Singh, who fought at The
Battle of Neuve Chapelle, that massive battle on the Western Front in
1915, and when his English colleague was wounded alongside him, he
picked him up, carried him, took him to the dressing station while being
wounded himself, and then sadly, tragically died afterwards. Stories of
heroism, stories of valor – the Sikhs have always had this
extraordinary courage and bravery, and it’s been demonstrated so often
in the British Armed Forces”.
Interestingly Manta Singh and the
injured man he rescued, Captain Henderson, had become firm friends as
well as brothers in arms.
When Manta Singh died, Henderson
ensured that Singh’s son Assa, was taken care of. He encouraged him to
join the Sikh Regiment too. Throughout the Second World War, Assa Singh
and Henderson’s son, Robert served together, in France, Italy and North
To this day, the Singh and Henderson families remain close friends.
Assa and Robert have passed away but their sons Jaimal and Ian are in regular contact.
Singh was born in 1870 near Jalandhar and as soon as he left school he joined the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs.
At the start of WW1, the regiment was sent to reinforce the British
Expeditionary Force fighting in France. By late autumn of 1914, one in
every three soldiers under British command in France was from India.
After long months of trench warfare, in March 1915, Manta Singh’s
regiment prepared to engage in the first major British offensive on the
Western Front, the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle. Half of the Commonwealth fighting force, 20,000 men were Indian Army soldiers.
General John French, commander-in-chief of the BEF in France at this
time, planned to take the village of Neuve-Chapelle, which formed a
German salient (bulge) in the British line.
On March 10, four
divisions, comprising 40,000 men, gathered on a sector of the front
which was only three kilometres wide. The infantry attack was preceded
by heavy but concentrated shelling from 342 guns. In 35 minutes, the
bombardment consumed more shells than the British Army used in the whole
of the Boer War 15 years earlier.
While the British and the
Indian Corps advanced rapidly through the lightly-defended village, the
Garhwal Rifles suffered heavy losses as they attacked a part of the
German line left untouched by the bombardment.
After an initial
success, in a matter of hours, the British became paralyzed by poor
communications and a lack of munitions, and their advance ground to a
It was in this chaotic field of battle that the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs fought.
Records say “Fighting ceased on March 13 with British gains limited to
an area two kilometres deep and three kilometres wide for a loss of
7,000 British and 4,200 Indian soldiers, either killed or wounded. The
Germans suffered similar losses and 1,700 of their soldiers had been