Soldier Singh, an Indian ANZAC
A new life in Aotearoa
Jagt Singh migrated to New Zealand in 1913 and served in World War I as a trooper with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Singh was born in Punjab, India in 1889 and at age 24 left home for a new life in New Zealand. Just over a year after his arrival in New Zealand, Singh enlisted in the Army and became one of a small number of Indian New Zealanders who served with the New Zealand Forces in World War I.
Though they were often willing to serve, the Indian community in New Zealand were excluded from service in the First World War for the most part. As British subjects, Indian immigrants living in New Zealand were balloted for service, however, when they tried to enlist they were usually turned away. They could be rejected on grounds of being medically unfit, and later ‘commissariat difficulties’* were used as a reason to put them on early discharge or indefinite leave.
This context, of systematic racial and religious intolerance, makes Jagt Singh’s achievements in the First World War all the more remarkable. He was an experienced soldier who proved himself to be a valuable asset to the New Zealand Army.
Jagt Singh entered Trentham Camp in January 1915 and served with the New Zealand Army for the duration of the War, a full four years and 176 days. He had previously spent nearly six years in the Indian Army in the cavalry regiment the 20th Deccan Horse, earning the nickname "Soldier Singh".
Private Singh was posted to Egypt for training with the Wellington Mounted Rifles, 3rd reinforcements and went on to serve in the Gallipoli Campaign. It was during the Battle of Chunuk Bair in August 1915 that Jagt Singh was badly wounded in the leg and admitted to hospital in Heliopolis.
Making his mark
Singh recovered quickly and rejoined his unit in Palestine and Egypt. By 1916 Singh had transferred to the Auckland Mounted Rifles 4th reinforcements. He is praised in the diary of Lieutenant Colonel James McCarroll, Commanding Officer of the Auckland Mounted Rifles for his quick thinking and helpfulness in the field.
The Regiment H.Q. reached a small knoll and we dismounted and had a look and here was the whole Turkish force on the move back – we were within a hundred yards of them, so I ordered all to retrieve to the horse mount and get back. I could not find my horse and I saw the Turks on the hill and we got some heavy fire. I was running back, bullets flopping round me, so I fell behind a bush, then Jagt Singh came up with my horse. I can tell you I got mounted in record time. We retired and assembled about half a mile away.
For Jagt Singh, the Army offered him the opportunity to make a return visit to India. In 1919 he went to Bombay on leave and returned to the New Zealand Army a few months later. After the War he was discharged and sent back to New Zealand, eventually moving back to India though he returned to New Zealand for work on multiple occasions.
The many poppies placed on our digital memorial to Jagt Singh on Online Cenotaph represent the tributes of those still remembering him today.
You can visit Online Cenotaph to lay your own poppy, add a note, or contribute information you have about the man and his service.
*'Commissariat difficulties' referred to the difficulties for the army to cater to diets such as vegetarian and Halal, and special food preparation requirements adhered to for religious reasons.
Cite this article
Johnson, Ella .
Soldier Singh, an Indian ANZAC. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 14 August 2017. Updated: 28 August 2017.
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Roche, M., & Venkateswar, S. (2016). Neither natural-born British subjects nor aliens. In J. Crawford, D. Littlewood, & J. Watson (Eds.), Experience of a lifetime: People, Personalties and Leaders in the First World War (138-152). Auckland: Massey University Press.