Stand on Guard for Thee - Painting by Kanwar Singh

Artist's inspiration of the emblematic story of Bukham Singh, to mark the 100th Anniversary of WW I

Private Buckham Singh - painting by  Kanwar Singh (artofpunjab) (86K)In "Stand on Guard for Thee" artist Kanwar Singh (artofpunjab.com) focuses on the role of Sikhs during World War One. Sikh soldiers participated in most of the key battles of the Great War, whether in the trenches of France, or the deserts of Mesopotamia. To mark the 100th Anniversary of World War One, the artist drew inspiration from the emblematic story of Bukham Singh, a farm labourer living in Canada, who volunteered for Canadian Expeditionary Force in the spring of 1915.

Private Buckam Singh served with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion in the battlefields of Flanders during 1916. He was a genuine Canadian hero because not only did he serve, he was also wounded twice in two separate battles. Private Buckam Singh received treatment at a hospital run by one of Canada's most famous soldier poets, the Doctor Lt. Colonel John McCrae. While recovering from his wounds in England, Private Buckam Singh contracted tuberculosis and spent his final days in a Kitchener Ontario military hospital, dying at age 25 in 1919. His grave in Kitchener is the only known World War One Sikh Canadian Soldier's grave in Canada. His family, living in the remote Punjabi village from Northern India where he embarked for Canada at age 14, knew nothing about his national service in the Great War. They just received a notice of his death some years later.

The title of the painting, taken from the Canadian National Anthem, reflects upon the willingness of Sikhs to fight against oppression throughout history. It is a testament to the spirit of Guru Gobind Singh, which forever emboldens the Khalsa to strive towards a greatness that surpasses humble beginnings. Click here to see painting details.

Toronto's Great War Attic

The Great War Attic documentary:

Kanwar Singh, whose paintings have been exhibited across North America, Europe and India, was born in the Punjab and grew up in Toronto. He described how his study of history at York University formed the basis for the development of his artistic style. He was approached by a museum in Canada to do a painting of a Sikh soldier in World War One. Over 200,000 Sikhs fought in World War One, primarily in the British forces, and a few with Canada. Now that India is independent, the loss of thousands of Sikh lives in military campaigns on behalf of Britain and the Empire at the time is ignored. He discovered that one such Sikh who fought for Canada was Buckam Singh who is buried in Kitchener. With no photo of his subject available, he re-imagined him as a symbol of all those Sikhs whom the artist sought to honour.

The Great War Attic project is a joint venture of the City of Toronto Museums and Heritage Services department, Historica Canada (the proprietor of the Canadian Encyclopedia), the York University History Department and the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. I commend it to you. The stories are fascinating, the artefacts moving, and the venture a most worthy memorial of those who gave all they had in war that we might have peace.

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