1916 January 21
In France transferred to 20th Battalion

1916 June 2
Wounded in head by shrapnel

1916 June 3
Admitted to hospital at Wimereux

1916 June 5
Transferred to Boulogne hospital

1916 June 29
Rejoins 20th Battalion in the field

1916 July 20
Shot in leg

1916 July 21
Sent to John McCrae's Hospital

1916 July 23
Transferred by hospital ship to England

full timeline

Flanders is a region in Belgium, the name deriving from a medieval state that encompassed parts of what are now Belgium and Northern France. However, the soldiers in the First World War would often refer to their service on the Western Front as "France", whether it was in France itself or Belgium. The principal town around which the fighting in Flanders revolved was Ypres, and the area around the town of Ypres was also known as the Salient (see below). This region was fought over from October 1914 until practically the end of the war in November 1918.

Upon his arrival in France on January 21st 1916, Buckam Singh was transferred from the 39th Reserve Battalion to the 20th Battalion. He would remain with the 20th Battalion for the remainder of the war.

At the time Buckam Singh joined the 20th Battalion it was assigned to the 4th Brigade, 2nd Division, Canadian Corps and given a section of the front on the Ypres Salient, near Messines. Duty holding the line included: nightly patrolling in no man's land, endless repairs to wire and trenches, and almost continuous enemy shelling. The winter of 1915-16 was spent in a routine of 18 days on the front and 6 days in the rear, all the while battling lice, trench foot, and disease. In March 1916, steel helmets were issued to all ranks. In the spring of 1916, the Commander of the British Second Army decided that it was essential for an enemy salient near the village of St. Eloi to be eliminated. Following attacks and counter-attacks, the 4th Brigade tried to retake the craters that the 6th Brigade was forced to fall back from. The 20th Battalion managed to retake one crater and held it through a month of concentrated shelling. In one month, the 4th Brigade would suffer 1373 casualties.

Canadian Sikhs were not the only Sikhs in WWI. Sikhs fought in Europe including battles at Flanders (Ypres, La Bassee, St. Julien, Festubert) and Gallipoli as well as in Mesopotamia and Africa during the Great War. At the beginning of the war the Punjab region accounted for 124,000 men in combat ranks as part of the British Indian Army. Three years later, the number had reached a quarter of a million. The Sikhs numbered approximately 65,000 soldiers, or 26% of the Punjabi total, despite representing only 14% of the male population of Punjab of fighting age. Nearly 1,500 distinctions issued for gallantry were awarded to Punjabis, of which 700 went to Sikhs.

In the autobiography of Brigadier Sir John Smyth V.C. we find the following harrowing account of Sikh bravery in the trenches at Festubert as the young Lt. Smyth and a group of Sikh volunteers under his command carried ammunition to frontline trenches:


Sikh Soldiers in France


"By means of pagris [turban material] attached to the boxes, the men in front pulled them along over and through the dead bodies that encumbered the trench, while those behind pushed with all their might. The danger was enough to have appalled the stoutest heart. Rifle and machine-gun bullets ripped up the ground all round them, while the air above was white with the puff of shrapnel. If a single bullet, a single fragment of shell, penetrated one of the boxes of explosives, the men propelling it would infallibly be blown to pieces.


A Sikh soldier on guard duty while Canadian soldiers attend a church service at Flanders.
- The Graphic Jan 1915

Before they had advanced a score of yards on their terrible journey Fatteh Singh fell, severely wounded; in another hundred, Sucha Singh, Ujagar Singh and Sunder Singh were down, leaving only Lieut. Smyth and six men to get the boxes along. However, spurred on by the thought of the dire necessity of their comrades ahead, they, by superhuman efforts, succeeded in dragging them nearly to the end of the trench when, in quick succession, Sarain Singh, Harnam Singh and Sapooram Singh were wounded. The second box of bombs had therefore to be abandoned, and for the two remaining men to haul even one box along in the face of such difficulties appeared an impossible task. But nothing was impossible to the young lieutenant and the heroic Lal Singh, and presently the anxious watchers in the trench ahead saw them wriggling their way yard by yard into the open, dragging with them the box upon the safe arrival of which so much depended.

As they emerged from the comparative shelter of the trench a veritable hail of lead burst upon them; but escaping it as though by a miracle, they crawled on until they found themselves confronted by a small stream which at this point was too deep to wade. They had, therefore, to turn aside and crawl along the bank of the stream until they came to a place which was just fordable. Across this they struggled with their precious burden, the water all about them churned into foam by the storm of bullets clambered by the further thank, and in a minute more they were amongst their cheering comrades. Both were unhurt, though their clothes were perforated by bullet holes; but it is sad to relate that scarcely had they reached the trench than the gallant Lal Singh was struck by a bullet and killed instantly.

For his most "conspicuous bravery", Lieut. Smyth received the Victoria Cross and each of the brave men who accompanied him the Indian Distinguished Service Medal, and we may be very certain that "ne'er will their glory fade" from the proud records of our Indian Army."

The Battle of Mont Sorrel was a conflict on the southern shoulder of the Ypres Salient, near Sanctuary Wood. The battle was fought between forces of the Canadian Corps, 20th Light Division of the United Kingdom, and the XIII (Royal Württemberg) Corps of Germany. The battle took place from June 2 to June 14, 1916. German forces were able to initially capture a majority of Mont Sorrel, also known as Hill 62, within the early portion of the battle. However, Canadian forces were eventually able to retake Hill 62, but at a heavy cost, total Canadian casualties for the battle approached 8,000.

20th Battalion War Diary Entry - Thu., Jun 1, 1916 THE BLUFF, BELGIUM
Fine and warm. A very quiet day – Only a few rounds of 7.7 c.m. in whole area. Sniping is very active. We sent over a few rifle grenades, which drew a few whiz-bangs – Casualties – 1 O.R. killed – 1 – wounded

20th Battalion War Diary Entry - Fri., Jun 2, 1916 THE BLUFF, BELGIUM
Fine and warm. About 9 a.m. enemy opened a very heavy fire on front line about a mile to our left. Bombardment continued for several hours. There was considerable counter – battery work in our rear. Our area was fairly heavily shelled – communications were broken down, and trenches damaged. Late in afternoon, a number of lacrimatory shells were used. These caused some inconvenience at Bn. Hqrs. At 8.35 pm. what looked like a counter – attack developed on our left. This quieted down in about an hour, and usual night’s work was proceeded with. Rifle and M.G. fire less active. Casualties 1 OR killed 14 wounded

view original diary page


With the heavy enemy activity evident from the regimental diary above among one of the combat casualties was Buckam Singh who on June 2, 1916 was hit in the head with shrapnel which his medical report lists as a gunshot wound to the head. He was immediately sent to the No. 8 Stationary Hospital at Wimereux the next day where his wound was dressed and he was then sent to the No. 5 Convalescent Depot at Boulogne to recover from his injury. By the end of the month it was determined that Buckam Singh was sufficiently healthy and on June 29th, 1916 he rejoined the 20th Battalion in the field.


Here at Mount Sorrel and on the line from Hooge to St. Eloi the Canadian Corps fought in the defense of Ypres. April - August 1916

Inscription on the base:
Honour to Canadians who on the Fields of Flanders and of France Fought in the Cause of the Allies With Sacrifice and Devotion.


Less than three weeks after rejoining the 20th Battalion Buckam Singh was wounded in combat for a second time. On July 20th, 1916 at St. Eloi he was seriously wounded by a bullet which entered his left knee shattering his leg below the joint. He was immediately sent to No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne where his wound was dressed.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


No. 3 Canadian General Hospital was no ordinary hospital, it was run by none other than one of the most famous Canadians of the war, the soldier, poet and physician Lt. Colonel John McCrae best known for writing the famous war memorial poem 'In Flanders Fields'.

McCrae had initially been a field surgeon in the Canadian artillery and was in charge of a field hospital during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. McCrae's friend and former student, Lt. Alexis Helmer, was killed in the battle, and his burial inspired the poem, 'In Flanders Fields', which was written on May 3, 1915. From June 1, 1915 McCrae was ordered away from the artillery to set up No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Dannes-Camiers near Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France. C.L.C. Allinson reported that McCrae "most unmilitarily told [me] what he thought of being transferred to the medicals and being pulled away from his beloved guns. His last words to me were: 'Allinson, all the goddam doctors in the world will not win this bloody war: what we need is more and more fighting men."

On July 23, 1916 Buckam Singh was sent from Lt. Colonel John McCrae's hospital to England to recover from his injuries. He made the voyage across the English Channel aboard the Belgian Hospital Ship Jan Breydel.