One of the most celebrated veterans in Canada, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh Jauhal, passed away peacefully this past week with his family by his side.
He was 95 years old.
Lt. Col. Singh served in the British Indian military and lived through the 20th century’s era of tremendous social and technological change. When witnessing the emergence of his native India’s independence as a youth, he could not have envisioned that one day he himself would become an agent of change in post-colonial Commonwealth.
His courage in battle would serve him well, guiding his rise from humble origins to serving honourably as an officer in several wars including World War II.
In 1993 at the age of 73, Singh inadvertently found himself in the middle of media storm when he, along with four other Sikhs, were barred from entering the Royal Canadian Legion in Newton, Surrey. The club’s members opposed the men’s entry on the grounds they were ‘wearing hats’, thus turning away the war veterans.
As a Sikh, Singh politely declined the club’s demand he remove his turban, which is an indelible part of his religious identity. It was also a sanctioned part of his military uniform which he wore when fighting against Nazi Germany on behalf of the Allies.
Singh’s grace through the Legion incident sharply contrasted with the ugly threats of violence that took a heavy toll on his household. Sadly, his wife passed away at that time from a cardiac arrest.
Today Canada’s Defense Minister and head of our Armed Forces wears a turban. Its inclusion as part of the Canadian military uniform is now taken as self-evident – as is its place in Royal Legion Halls across Canada.
Lt. Col. Singh’s dignified stand over two decades ago is one of the many quiet but indispensable victories that has made Canada a beacon for tolerance and plurality. His grace under fire would lead him to being invited for tea with Queen Elizabeth II who took it upon herself to ask Singh about the incident. Ever an officer and a gentleman, Singh stated that was sorry to have troubled her with the matter.
In 2013, Singh published his memoir, A Soldier Remembers, in collaboration with the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley.
The funeral will be held at Valley View Funeral Home & Cemetary -14644 72 Ave, Surrey, on Sunday, July 3, 2016 at 3PM. It will be followed by a prayer ceremony at 4:30PM at Canadian Singh Sabha Gurdwara, 8115 132 St, Surrey BC.
Jagdeesh Mann is a writer and media professional based in Vancouver.
Republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post