Becoming Canadian: Pioneer Sikhs In Their Own Words


Section 6

In 1942 under the National War Services Regulations, all single men and childless widowers of the ages twenty to forty (inclusive), who were British subjects and who had been in Canada for at least one year, were being called for compulsory military service. Many Sikhs were included in this group and got notices to report for basic training. But the temple intervened on their behalf: the Khalsa Diwan Society engaged the legal services of Bird & Bird, a Vancouver law firm, and the Sikhs refused to go to war until they were granted full franchise rights.

Mr. Phangan S. Gill came very close, though, " I got my basic training in Vernon. Then I went to Halifax for advanced training. Three days before going overseas, I hurt my finger training on the anti-aircraft gun. They sent me to the hospital and while I was there my unit left for Europe. I was thirty days in the hospital, I think. Then I came back to a new unit, mostly Ukrainians. My finger would still not work properly so they lowered my category and sent me back here. I wasnít fit to go overseas. I was stationed at Exhibition Park where they had the Japanese locked up. They didnít treat them too good. They lost everything. They wasnít no troublemakers, no, no, not one case. We had a lot of Japanese neighbors on 2nd Avenue. For two blocks there was only one white house, the rest were Japanese and East Indians. They didnít lock up Germans or Italians. I guess they made a mistake." "I was the first person to be drafted in the Hindustani community," Mr.Darshan S. Sangha remembers." Gareebu was the second. Discussions arose at the Gurdwara and our people began to say
Mr.Darshan Singh Sangha
Mr.Darshan Singh Sangha
why are we being drafted when have no rights and therefore no duty to defend this country? I asked some people what I should do and they said I should obey. Kapoor Singh said that I should go while the gurdwara people will work on my behalf. So I went to training camp in Vernon. There were some officers there who had served in India. I was the only Hindustani, the rest were white. Several other men got the call to go, but because of the furor raised by the temple committee, they did not have to join the armed forces. Although the government relented on this issue and did not pursue the matter of compulsory military service for the Sikhs, franchise rights were not granted until some years later.

The government's unjust treatment of the Japanese was deeply felt by the Sikhs. Many of the older Sikhs remember very well how unfairly they were treated by the authorities. " They got kicked out by the government, " says Mrs. Jagdish K. Singh, who lived on 2nd Avenue. " They had to leave their homes, they couldnít take anything with them, only what they were wearing. They had to leave everything else, their furniture, belongings, clothes, possessions all behind. They just told them to get out and they did. These were our neighbors and they went empty-handed. It made me feel pretty bad seeing all this. They told us at the temple that if we didnít stay good, this could happen to us, as well. They stood up in the Gurdwara and told us these things. We were scared. " The fear was widespread throughout the Sikh community, not only because of the fate of their neighbors, but because of the Canadian governmentís past treatment of the Sikhs and the uncertainty of their present status. The common feeling was that today it is the Japanese and tomorrow it may be us.



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