Sikhs in British Armed Forces : Sikh Forces – Siam & Malaya
August 1945 – December 1946
Just after peace was declared the 1st/ 11th Sikhs moved to Dabein and took over railway guard duties on the main Rangoon-Pegu railway. There were better accommodation and training facilities at Dabein and the move was generally welcomed. However, just as the Sikhs had finished settling in, building hockey grounds and generally getting down to peace-time routine, they were ordered to move again. This time the 7th Indian Division had been ordered to Siam to round up and disarm the Japanese forces there and occupy the country. Before leaving Dabein the Battalion had one very sad day when all the mules were withdrawn. These mules had served faithfully throughout the whole of the Burma campaign and the Battalion would not have been able to operate without them. This was particularly so in the Manipur battles of 1944 when the mules had to pass through the enemy’s forward positions, often without adequate protection, to take rations and ammunition to the Battalion behind the enemy’s lines. They had had to work fourteen hours a day time and time again in all weather and they seldom had any rest. The mule drivers were heart-broken at losing their charges which they had looked after so well and with which they had shared the hardships of the Burma fighting for so long.
On the 22nd of September the Sikhs moved to Mingladon, the airfield for Rangoon, where the Division was concentrating for its move to Bangkok by air. The Battalion remained in Mingladon for nearly a month and spent the time smartening itself up and preparing for the move. Here it held two small ceremonies when Japanese swords captured by the Sikhs in action were presented to General Crowther, who visited the Battalion from the 17th Indian Division, and to the 347th Battery of the 136th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, who had given the Sikhs staunch support ever since the fierce battles around Buthidaung in the Arakan in March, 1944. In its turn the Battalion was presented with an inscribed shellcase from which the 347th Battery had fired the last shell against the Japanese in the war.
On the 22nd of October the Battalion emplaned for Bangkok, where it arrived without incident. The 1st/11th Sikhs were located in school buildings on the outskirts of the town, and guards and the attendant ceremony were the order of the day. Here the Sikhs lived under peace conditions for the first time for many years. The officers lived in comfortable, modern, well-furnished houses and led a very gay life. Although sports grounds were very limited, the Battalion started playing hockey again and had many games with the 4th/15th Punjabis and also with the Dutch Army.
In Siam the Battalion provided a demonstration platoon for a Dutch contingent which was training for operations in the Netherlands East Indies at Cholburi on the coast, some sixty miles south-east of Bangkok. “A” Company, under Major Farrow, also moved to a pleasant camp on the coast and from there provided guards on the lighters which carried cargo from ships up the river to Bangkok.
Lieutenant-Colonel Spink left the Battalion in November for leave in England. He had led the Battalion successfully through the last campaign and was the only officer to have fought with the Battalion throughout the whole of the war. Everyone was naturally very sorry to see him go, and a Japanese sword captured in action and inscribed “In Appreciation” was presented to him by the officers and men. Major E. T. R. Jones officiated in command of the Battalion until the beginning of December, when Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford arrived to command the Battalion again.
At this time the 1st /11th Sikhs received orders to move overseas for further operations, this time in Java. Hurried preparations were made and the Battalion embarked on the 10th of December. However, just before sailing orders were changed and the Battalion was diverted to Malaya. The 1st/ 11th Sikhs had a very pleasant voyage with the 4th / 8th Gurkhas in the Georgetown Victory, a U.S.A. transport, and disembarked at Port Dickson on the west coast of Malaya on the 19th of December. From there the Battalion moved by train and lorry to Bahau, a rubber-planting district some sixty miles from the coast. The Sikhs were accommodated in buildings on different rubber estates and were responsible for internal security in the area. There were many armed Chinese gangs roaming the countryside at this time and there was also some communal tension between the Malays and Chinese, but the presence of troops had a quietening effect and the Battalion had a peaceful time with no incidents.
The Pipes and Drums, which had been re-formed and had been training in Nowshera, joined the Battalion in January and the Sikhs started ceremonial guard mounting and other ceremonial parades.
The 1st/ 11th Sikhs were once again under General Messervy, who was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief in Malaya. He visited the Battalion at the beginning of February and the men were all delighted to see him again. In Bahau the Battalion had an opportunity to start training and to practice both hockey and athletics, since it was an excellent training area and there were many good sports grounds in the district.
In March the Battalion left for a coal-mining district, Batu Arang, about thirty miles from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaya, for further internal security duties. Here Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford went away to command the 89th Brigade temporarily, but he returned at the beginning of April. During his absence Major Jones officiated in command of the Sikhs.
The Battalion remained in Batu Arang for only a month and then moved to a tented camp outside Kuala Lumpur, where it started preparing for the Trooping of the Colour and its Centenary celebrations in May.
On the 26th and 27th of April the Malaya Command Athletic Meeting was held and fifteen teams, on a brigade level, took part. Men of the 1st/ 11th Sikhs managed to win three events and were placed second in five others, enabling the Brigade to win very easily from a strong Royal Air Force team. All events were of a very high standard and the men, who until they arrived in Malaya, had been living under active service conditions for nearly five years, did very well to achieve such results.
The Brass Band arrived from the Regimental Centre towards the end of April and by the 1st of May all arrangements for the parade; and Centenary celebrations were complete.
General Messervy had very kindly lent the Battalion his aircraft and this enabled General Savory, now Adjutant-General in India, His Highness The Rajah of Faridkot, Major Webster and Captain Pritam Singh, who had both just recovered from their bad wounds, and five pensioners, Honorary Captain Thakur Singh, Sardar Bahadur, O.B.I., Honorary Lieutenant Sampuran Singh, Sardar Bahadur, O.B.I., and Subadars Man Singh, Bhagat Singh and Hardit Singh, to fly from India and stay with the Battalion for the celebrations.
Admiral The Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, honoured the Battalion by agreeing to take the salute at the Trooping of the Colour, which took place on the grass playing fields of the Salangor Club in Kuala Lumpur on the 4th of May. Admiral Mountbatten was accompanied by General Stopford, now Commander-in-Chief, Allied Land Forces, South-East Asia, General Messervy and General Savory, so three of the Battalion’s great wartime leaders were present at the ceremony. The parade was witnessed by some fifteen thousand people, including Sir Edward Gent, Governor of the Malaya Union, His Highness The Rajah of Faridkot, the Sultan of Salangor and the Sultans from four other Malay states, Air Vice-Marshal J. D. Breakey, Air Officer Commanding, Malaya, Major-General Lovett, G.O.C. 7th Indian Division, and representatives from all formations and units in Malaya.
At the beginning of the parade the Regimental Colour was in charge of Havildar Nand Singh, V.C., and was guarded by two sentries, Lance-Naik Dewa Singh, I.D.S.M., and Lance-Naik Karam Singh M.M. The Colour was still borne by the pike which was shattered by a bullet in the fighting in Lucknow in 1857. The Battalion was marched on to the parade ground by the Battalion Havildar-Major Sarwan Singh, with the Pipes and Drums playing “Gully Ravine,” a march composed to commemorate the battle on the 4th of June, 1915, at Gallipoli.
Admiral Mountbatten inspected the Battalion and then gave it a stirring address, after which the Regimental Colour was trooped in the traditional manner. Jemadar Bhag Singh, M.C., carried the Colour. It is understood that this was the first time that a Colour had been trooped by any regiment since the beginning of the war, and it was the first time that the “guards” had been organized in the three ranks. It had been quite impossible to obtain red safas, or the pre-war white gaiters, except for the Band and Drums. However, the men looked very smart in their olive-green uniforms with the yellow pags and large ceremonial chakkers, and it was left to the Pipes and Drums and the Regimental Brass Band to provide colour for the parade.
The men all put their heart and soul into the drill and were determined to present a good show. The parade finished with the Sikhs giving a “Bole so nihal, sat siri akal,” for the King-Emperor and Admiral Mountbatten. This was most stirring and inspired everyone attending the parade. Admiral Mountbatten wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford after the parade and sent a signed photograph for the Officers’ Mess. In his letter Admiral Mountbatten said
” I would like to congratulate you personally and through you the whole of the 1st Battalion of the Sikh Regiment for the really magnificent Parade last Saturday.”
” I have seen the Foot Guards Troop the Colour on many occasions. I do not believe it is possible to do it better than they do it, but I assure you that your Battalion did it just as well and that is very high praise indeed.
” I hope you will convey my appreciation to all ranks that took part in the Trooping of the Colour and accept my congratulations on the centenary of your Regiment.”
A signal was also received from General Stopford, in which he said
” So many thanks for asking me to your centenary celebrations today. I was delighted to see the Battalion again and congratulate you and all ranks on the superb execution of the ceremony of Trooping of the Colours.”
A service in commemoration of the Centenary was held in the Gurdwara on the 5th of May and General Savory, His Highness The Rajah of Faridkot and all officers attended. During the service Honorary Captain Thakur Singh recited an inspiring poem on the 14th Sikhs.
On the 8th of May the Sikhs held a special ceremonial parade, when Subedar Gurbachan Singh presents a sword to General Savory
Japanese swords captured in action by the Battalion were presented to Lieutenant-General Savory, His Highness The Rajah of Faridkot, Honorary Lieutenant and Subadar-Major Budh Singh and Havildar Nand Singh, V.C. At the end of the parade General Savory took the salute at the march past.
On the 8th of May Honorary Lieutenant Budh Singh left to go on pension. He had been Subadar-Major for four years and was with the Battalion throughout all its battles in Burma except for a short period when he was wounded in 1942. He had completed thirty-two years’ service and won the Indian Distinguished Service Medal as a sepoy with the 47th Sikhs in France in the First World War. He had a very fine record and always worked hard for the good name of the Regiment. He was given a great send-off in traditional style and flew back to India. His place was taken by Subedar Gurbachan Singh, who has a great war record, winning the Indian Distinguished Service Medal on the North-West Frontier and the Military Cross in Burma.
On the 8th of June the Sikhs provided a contingent for the Victory Parade in Kuala Lumpur. All units in the area were represented, in addition to contingents from the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Malaya Military Police. The Sikhs’ party consisted of the Colours, Pipes and Drums and seventy men under Major Harwant Singh. This was the first time that the Colours had both been taken on parade since the beginning of the war and they were the only Colours carried on this Victory Parade. Havildar Nand Singh, V.C., was also on this parade with seventeen other men with gallantry decorations.
After a temporary move to Bentong, in the centre of Malaya, the Sikhs moved to Kota Bharu, on the east coast near the Siamese border. It was there that the Japanese made their initial assault landings in 1941. The Sikhs spent four pleasant months in Kota Bharu and were able for continue training and hockey. Being the only battalion in the station, the capital of Kelantan State, they had to provide numerous guards of honour and earned a very high reputation for their drill, bearing, turn-out and discipline. In September “B” Company returned to Bangkok for two months to guard Japanese war criminals, while the Battalion moved over to the west coast of Malaya in October in preparation for its return to India.
The Pipes and Drums had attained a very high standard of drill and playing in Malaya. They beat “Retreat” in nearly all the big towns throughout the country and were given very high praise in all quarters. In Malaya the morale of the men was as high as ever it had been, and they displayed great enthusiasm in all they did. They earned a very high reputation and showed that they were as good soldiers in peace as they were in war. General Lovett, in a letter to Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford, wrote:
” Your battalion was and is quite outstanding in the division and I told the Chief so the other day when I saw him.”
The Sikhs sailed from Port Swetenham on the 12th of November in the Dutch transport Boisevain, and arrived in Bombay on the 19th of November. The 2nd Royal Battalion, who were at Santa Cruz, gave the Battalion a great welcome at the docks before the latter entrained for Delhi.
General Savory visited the Battalion the day after arriving and everyone appreciated his welcome. Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford left the Battalion on the 29th of November for three weeks’ leave in England, prior to taking up the appointment of G.S.O.1 at the Staff College, Quetta, and handed over the Battalion to Major Jones, who officiated in command until the arrival of the new Commandant, Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. Wilson.
The Sikhs had an internal security role in Delhi, but large parties of the men were able to go on some well-earned leave.
Source:The Sikh Regiment – Lieutenant-Colonel P.G. Bamford, D.S.O