A crumpled, half-torn paper certifies that Manna Singh, a sepoy in the first battalion of the 2nd Punjab Regiment, British Indian army, has been discharged of his services and been paid all his arrears. The paper, in English and Urdu, mentions his date of discharge as May 15, 1923, and his tenure as nine years, five months. The document is the only tangible legacy of Manna Singh’s participation in the First World War. Every other war-related insignia was lost to Partition. When Singh’s wife Goma Wanti fled Lahore in 1947, in the ensuing chaos, she left behind the British War Victory Medal awarded to Singh, as well as some photos and articles.
Today, the discharge certificate is glued, taped and laminated and also stored as a scanned image in the laptop of Manna Singh’s grandson Satbir Singh Chadha, a 25-year-old mechanical engineer. Chadha digitised the certificate after British and Indian government agencies approached the family for a World War I centenary commemoration project that will include the publication of a coffee table book, as well as holding of exhibitions.
A native of Hudwal village in Kaimalpur district, now in Pakistan, Singh took part in World War I campaigns in Turkey, Russia, France and Iraq. He retired in 1923 and set up a grocery shop in Hudwal. “He was a true patriot and personally knew Sarhad (Frontier) Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He had erected a 30-foot tricolour over our shop. And no British officer dared remove it. He had a strong built,” says his 75-year-old daughter Balbir Kaur. In 1944, when he passed away from food poisoning, “the British came and asked my mother if they could remove the flag before daring to take it off,” she says.
After his death, the family shifted to Lahore. “Our mother was his second wife. She went to Lahore with her seven children. During Partition, we came to Karnal, Haryana, leaving everything behind except my father’s torn certificate,” says his 75-year-old son Kulbir Singh Chadha, a retired government officer.
The certificate helped Goma Wanti get a clerical job in Karnal jail that helped her raise her children. She passed away in 1972 and did not pass on stories of her husband’s war campaigns to her children. However, despite little knowledge of his army life, his 84-year-old son Harbachan Singh Chadha says he “felt inspired” enough to work in the Army briefly before he joined the Punjab transport department.
Singh’s three sons and their families now live in a modest house in Rajpura, Punjab.