A military relic belonging to a wounded Sikh soldier from World War I reveals a story of war, the significance of a sword to Sikhs and a bond of gratitude and respect between two men from different cultures that intersected at a military hospital in Brighton.
The relic is a WWI era rifle bayonet with the following old note attached to it:This Bayonet was given by Subadar Thakur Singh MC, 14th Sikhs (Attached 47th Sikhs) to Colonel Sir Bruce Seton Bt of the Indian Medical Service in gratitude for the treatment he received at Kitchener Indian Hospital, Brighton
A Special Gift
Why would Thakur Singh have given Colonel Seton a bayonet? Is this not an odd gift?
To a Sikh one of the most sacred articles of their faith is the Kirpan or sword. Mandated by Guru Gobind Singh for all devout Sikhs to carry, it reminds Sikhs of their commitment to fighting injustice and oppression in any form.
As Sikh soldiers were shipped out to faraway lands as part of the British Indian Army to fight the Great War, the amount of personal items that they were allowed to take with them were severely restricted. The British were accommodating in allowing Sikh regiments to take the Guru Granth Sahib, their Holy Book and Spiritual Guide with them as well as musical instruments for kirtan, the singing of the Holy hymns which they regularly did in their base camps wherever they were posted.
In the surreal landscape of the battlefields of France and Belgium, their spirituality provided Sikh soldiers with a sense of strength and sanity while facing a determined enemy in the first mechanized war of the 20th century which saw unprecedented efficiency in killing and death never before seen in warfare.
With the lack of personal items on the battlefield, the bayonet likely filled the role of the sacred kirpan for the Sikh soldiers.
Looking for a special and meaningful gift to give Colonel Seton and knowing full well that an old veteran of the British Indian Army like Colonel Seton would fully understand the cultural and religious significance of the gift and appreciate it, Thakur Singh choose to give Colonel Seton a bayonet. Being manufactured in November 1914, this would have been a brand new bayonet at the time of Thakur Singhs hospitalization and he likely requested and received in from one of his staff members in December 1914 or early January 1915 to present to Colonel Seton as his hospital stay in Brighton neared an end.
Being an officer, Thakur Singh’s gift would not only have been something that he gave to Colonel Seton in gratitude for his own personal medical treatment. As an officer and leader of men, Thakur Singh would also have been representing all the Indian soldiers in this gift presentation to ensure that Colonel Seton would be aware that the work of his medical team at the Kitchener Indian hospital at Brighton was appreciated by all of its Indian patients.