This year, during Gallipoli centenary celebrations, Melbourne resident Nehchal Singh “accidentally discovered” that he is the great grandson of Private Desanda, one of the few Indian Anzacs who participated in World War I as part of the Australian Imperial Force.
Documents from the National Archives of Australia revealed that Pte Desanda Singh joined AIF in 1917. He was assigned to the 3rd Light Horse Regiment and deployed in Egypt during 1917-18. He returned to Australia on a ship named “Wiltshire”.
GALLERY: Private Desanda Singh
NAA records showed that Mr Singh left Australian Imperial Force and returned to India for “family reasons” and Mr Nehchal said he had to look after family following the sudden death of his only brother.
Back in India, Mr Singh’s fame travelled well beyond his village in Punjab. He became known as the “Sahib who had just returned from Australia” and people from neighbouring villages especially came to meet him in the 1920s.
Even though most of Mr Singh’s personal records – and perhaps his three medals – are misplaced or lost, all his service records are intact and preserved in the National Archives.
While the search continues to find out more about where Mr Singh lived in South Australia and whether any of his personal belongings still remained, his great grandson said the personal connection made him feel like he truly belonged to Australia, and that his own forefather had a hand in shaping the identity of Australia as we know it today.
Listen to Nehchal Singh’s full interview with SBS Punjabi, here.