Sunday, April 04, 2010

Comments of British Generals

These comments of British Generals regarding the Sikhs and their Turban.
These quotes are from my book, How Europe is Indebted to the Sikhs - Role of
Sikhs in Europe during WW II, Vol. II.
- Bhupinder Singh (Holland)

Lt.General Sir Reginald Savory K.G.T., C.B., D.S.O., M.C. states in a letter
to Mrs.G.Scott, Scientific Section, House of Commons Library:

"... I have known Sikhs to pick bullets out of their turbans during and
after battle. In fact the turban absorbs the shock of a bullet possibly
rather better than a tin helmet. If the turban is properly tied, it will
also form an effective buffer too, for instance from a toss from a motor

During World War 1, when the steel helmet was first introduced, we British
Officers of Sikh Regiments tried to persuade our men to wear them, but they
steadfastly refused, and have done so ever since."

A letter from Major General B.W.Key, C.B., D.S.O., M.C. to Gyani Sundar
Singh Sagar states:

"... At the outbreak of World War II I was serving at A.H.Q. (Army
Headquarters). Shortly after I was sent for by the C. in C. General Sir
Robert Cassells. He asked me if the Sikh Regiment was prepared to wear steel
helmets. I replied that they had not done so in World War I, that it was
contrary to their religion, that we had never interfered with religious
tenets, and was it worthwhile arousing strong feelings to reduce head
injuries by an infinitesimal proportion? I also pointed out that the Sikh
Pagri (Turban) was a very good protection in itself to head wounds.

This latter point I would emphasise as regards riding motor bicycles. There
is no question that the Pagri offers greater protection than an ordinary hat
or cap.

The reasons given above were accepted by the C. in C. India. Sikhs did not
have to wear steel helmets, and I hope the same reasons will satisfy the

A letter from Col. H.A.Hughes, D.S.O., M.B.E., D.L., and J.P. to Gyani
Sundar Singh Sagar:

"Thank you for your letter of 6th August 1975 enclosing Sir Reginald
Savory's letter. May I say I entirely agree with all that the General says.
I was in the 2nd Royal Battalion Sikh Regiment during the Frontier Campaign
of 1936-38 on the N.W.Frontier of India.

My Regiment consisted entirely of Sikhs and of course they always wore the
Khaki Safa (Turban to the uninitiated!)

During World War II I commanded the 4/16th Punjab Regiment from the battle
of El Alamein to Tunis. In this battalion I had a company of Sikhs plus
those in H.Q. Company. They all wore the Safa and I certainly had no more
head wounds in this battalion than in any other battalion in which the
soldiers were wearing steel helmets.

In Great Britain we claim to support religious tolerance. Why therefore
should we try to force someone to do something which is definitely against
his religious convictions?

The Sikhs have fought for us in so many campaigns and laid down their lives
for us - I consider that we owe them a great deal and have now a chance to
repay our debts in a small way by allowing them to wear Turbans instead of
crash helmets while driving motor cycles.

I give you my full support in your struggle to get exemption and wish you
the best of luck."

In "The Sikh Regiment In The Second World War" by Colonel F.T. Birdwood,
O.B.E., the last words of the foreword of this book written by General Sir
Frank Messervy, K.C.S.I., K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O. state

"Finally we that live on can never forget those comrades who, in giving
their lives, gave so much that are great and good to the story of the Sikh
Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice. May
they rest in peace.

In the last Two World Wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed
and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of
Britain and the World, enduring shellfire with no other protection but the
turban, the symbol of their faith."

Turban vs. Helmet

In the early days of World II (1939-1945) the Sikh Regimental Center, then
known as 10th Battalion the Sikh Regiment, was stationed in Nowshera (now in
Pakistan), when I got enrolled in June 1940.

I recollect that Maj Gern Kilroy (who had earlier commanded its No: 4
Company as a Captain) was deputed by the Army HQ (then called General HQ) to
visit the Training Center to convince and persuade the Sikh soldiers being
drafted to the European War Zone, to wear helmets (even over their turbans )
to protect themselves from sustaining head injuries. The entire gathering
opposed the idea.

Ultimately he came forward with a bet that let any one soldier accompany me
to the battle field where heavy shelling is going on. If that person yet
refuses to wear a helmet, I will reward him with Rs. 100 and in case he then
wares it, he will pay me Rs.1 only for losing the bet. (In those days a
soldier's monthly salary was only Rs.16).

He was astounded to see that all the listeners raised their hands, in
acceptance of the challenge. He left the stage with a smile and submitted
his findings to Army HQ, where the idea was nipped in the bud for good.
- Gurbachan Singh Bedi, Ottawa, Canada.

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