1915 April 23
Joins 59th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force

1915 August 27
Boards troop ship at Montreal for Europe

1915 September 5
Arrives in England transferred to 39th Reserve Battalion

full timeline

When Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, Canada as a member of the Empire officially entered the war on the following day. This was the first time in her history that Canadian forces fought as a distinct unit under a Canadian born commander.

Initially visible minorities were not welcome. When 50 blacks from Sydney, Nova Scotia volunteered their services they were told, "This is not for you fellows, this is a white man's war." By 1915 the rules were relaxed somewhat and minorities including blacks, aboriginals and Japanese Canadians were allowed to join the military, but mainly in segregated units that even traveled and camped separately.

It is interesting that Buckam Singh and the 8 other Sikh Canadian soldiers known to have served Canada in The Great War were integrated into mainstream Canadian battalions rather than placed into one of the existing segregated units.

view attestation form

Leaving the farm of W. H. Moore at Rosebank Ontario in April 1915, Buckam Singh at age 22 made his way to the town of Smith Falls, Ontario to enlist with the 59th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Smith Falls was not far from Brockville where the 59th Battalion was nominally


New recruits at Bariefield Camp near Kingston, Ontario


headquartered. It recruited from this area of eastern Ontario mainly in the region around Ottawa and western Quebec. Buckam Singh formally signed his Attestation Papers on April 23, 1915 swearing his allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fifth and assigned his regimental number: 454819. Buckam Singh was then sent to Barriefield Camp near Kingston for his medical examination and training, the 59th Battalion was commanded at this time by Lt.-Col. H.J. Dawson.

Buckam Singh's name on the Attestation Paper is recorded as 'Buk Am Singh' while he signs his name as 'Bukam Singh' . He is listed as 5'-7" in height, with a swarthy complexion. It is interesting to note that the form asks for the recruit's religious denomination, but only includes the following choices - Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Other Protestants, Roman Catholic or Jewish. Not very accommodating for a Sikh or anyone of another religion which were typically assigned the default of 'Church of England' by administrative clerks.

With casualties in Europe mounting from Canadian battles at Neuve Chapelle and the Second Battle of Ypres where the Germans used poison gas, troops in Canada did not have the luxury of extended basic training as it became imperative to get them to Europe as soon as possible. In one 48 hour period at Ypres starting on April 24, 1915 Canadians suffered over 6,000 casualties, one man in every three.

Like many other infantry battalions raised in the early part of 1915 the 59th Battalion sent 2 contingents of about 250 men in the summer and fall of that year, but the main body did not sail until the spring of 1916. Buckam Singh was part of the first contingent that shipped out from the port of Montreal aboard the troop ship S.S. Scandinavian 2 on August 27, 1915.

The S. S. Scandinavian 2 was a 12,099 tons gross trans-atlantic passenger liner owned by the Allan Line which regularly ferried passengers across the Atlantic between Glasgow, Halifax and Boston in the years preceding the war. She had 3 decks and passenger accommodation for 200 1st class passengers, 200 second class and 800 in steerage. She was fitted with electric lights, refrigerating machinery, submarine signaling device and a wireless. With a top speed of 15 knots, Buckam Singh and his fellow Canadians finally arrived in England one week later on September 5, 1915.

Upon arrival in England most of the new Battalions were absorbed into reserve Battalions. From there troops were sent where they were needed either as reinforcements for the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the army or to the 3rd and 4th Divisions as they were being formed in England. Buckam Singh was therefore transferred to 39th Reserve Battalion awaiting assignment to a combat battalion in need.