Aerial view of Camp Vernon, where Sikh soldiers Gill and Sangha trained during World War Two.

Sikh Heritage Month

Since 2019, April has been recognized as Sikh Heritage Month in Canada. The Sikh population in this country numbers more than 500,000 people, one of the largest in the world outside of India. Sikh Canadians have greatly contributed to the country’s social, economic, and political history, and to its cultural fabric.

World War One

One aspect of history in which the contributions of Sikh Canadians is often overlooked is their service during the World Wars. Despite being denied the rights of citizenship, ten Sikh men did serve during World War One—and, tragically, most of them did not survive (to learn more, check out the documentary Canadian Soldier Sikhs under the “Resources” section below).

World War Two

Meanwhile, during World War Two, Sikh men were conscripted; however, Vancouver’s Khalsa Diwan Society, which represented the Sikh population in British Columbia, intervened on their behalf, and called on community members to refuse service until they were granted full franchise rights.

However, some Sikh Canadians did decide to enlist, and were trained at Camp Vernon. The book Becoming Canadians: Pioneer Sikhs in Their Own Words, by Sarjeet Singh Jagpal, describes the experience of Phangan Gill, who was trained in Vernon before heading to Halifax for advanced instruction. Due to a finger injury, he did not go overseas, but was stationed at Exhibition Park in Vancouver, where he witnessed the internment of Japanese Canadians.

Darshan Sangha was also trained at Camp Vernon, and was the only Sikh in his troop. Sangha was later released from the army, and returned to working in a mill. Like many Sikh men, he felt that the war was not his to fight.

Eventually, the Canadian Government relented on compulsory service for Sikh men, and in 1947, Chinese and South Asian Canadians were given the right to vote.

Resources

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

(Left) Pte. Albert Saddleman, Sr., in a colourized photograph from 1943. (Right) Chief Albert Saddleman, Jr., in 1993.

Monday, November 8, marks Indigenous Veterans Day. Many members of the Okanagan Indian Band served in both World Wars, as well as earlier and later conflicts. In fact, when World War One broke out, every male member of the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band between the ages of 20 and 35 enlisted for service.

Albert Saddleman Sr., born in 1911, was only a child during World War One. But by the time World War Two had begun, Saddleman was in his thirties, and he enlisted with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. While overseas, Albert wrote regularly to his wife Della, who gave birth to a son, also named Albert Saddleman, on August 12, 1943. In a letter dated September 25 of that year, Albert Sr. asked Della to send him a photo of their newest arrival.

Tragically, Albert Saddleman was killed in action on September 17, 1944. Della learned of her husband’s death ten days later, in a letter from Saddleman’s lieutenant, W.L. Rooch. The letter described Saddleman as “a reliable and trustworthy solider and a real example to all who served with him during any action.” Rooch added that “his presence will be missed by all of us, as he was a real friend.”

Saddleman was buried with full honours in a military cemetery two miles north of Coriano, Italy.

The legacy of this brave man lived on in the life of his son, Albert Saddleman, Jr., who served as OKIB Chief from 1991 to 1992, and 1994 to 1996. He was instrumental in the formation of the North Okanagan Friendship Center Society, as well as a day care and kindergarten at Komasket Park. He fought for fishing, forestry, and water rights, and sat on the boards of several organizations, including that of the All Nations Trust Company. Albert Saddleman, Jr., died on October 8, 1997.

We will remember them.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator