South Asian military efforts marked at legislature

As Sikhs' ship turned away from Vancouver in 1914, another left to fight alongside Canada in World War I

An 1874 version of the Red Ensign flag has been presented to the B.C. government to commemorate the contribution of Indian Army soldiers to allied forces in World War I and their settlement in the province.

Steven Purewal, founder of Indus Media Foundation Canada, presented the flag to Premier Christy Clark Oct. 28 as a symbol of their contribution. Here are excerpts from Purewal’s speech:

“In 1849 Vancouver Island and the Punjab both became realms of the Crown. For the Punjab, the Victorian era opened up many opportunities within the vast military administration of the empire. And by the turn of the 19th Century, Punjabis had won many accolades as outstanding soldiers of the Queen in the various campaigns throughout Asia and Africa.

“As we know, in the summer of 1914, the ship Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver to a less than welcoming environment. It was a sad episode in our community’s history.

“But there is another story, an epilogue if you will, to the Komagata Maru story. And that is that another ship was asked to sail at the very same time the Komagata Maru was leaving from India, that was asked to sail to France.

“That ship contained the kith and kin of the people aboard the Komagata Maru. Their story is the story of the men that stood with Canada during its baptism of fire in World War I.

“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. They stood true despite the events of Vancouver.

“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.”

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