Harjit follows the Sikh practice of wearing a turban and not cutting his hair or beard, but he talks with an accent that puts him in the league of Paul Hogan.
Harjit’s passion for breaking down prejudice led him to co-found the organisation Australian Sikh Heritage, which aims to promote the ties Australia has with Sikhs.
“One part of that rich shared heritage is with Anzacs and the Sikhs, and then a very important touch point in WWII being Manmohan Singh,” he says.
Sikh religion branched off from Hinduism around 500 years ago with the concept of the saint-soldier.
As well as a moral code the religion instructs followers to fight for truth and justice. Both world wars provided many Sikhs with a welcome opportunity to practice the soldier side of their beliefs.
“Sikhs are only two per cent of India’s population; however they contributed one-third of the million people that went from India as part of the volunteer army in WWI,” Harjit says.
Sikhs fought alongside the Anzacs at Gallipoli with the 14th Sikh Regiment suffering possibly the highest casualty rate of any force during the Gallipoli campaign, with only 4 survivors.
“379 Sikh officers died on the 4th of June in 1915; it virtually wiped out the 14th Sikh Regiment,” says Harjit.
These Sikhs were mostly from India, but research by Australian Sikh Heritage has also identified ten Sikhs from Australia who served as part of the Australian Imperial Force during WWI.
In WWII Australians and Sikhs found themselves fighting on the same side once again. While the Sikhs’ biggest role in this war was in Europe, they were also active closer to Australia.
But one of the great mysteries for Sikh military history has been traced back to Broome, in North Western Australia.
Manmohan Singh was the first Sikh to train to fly, and became well known before WWI when he participated in a competition to become the first person to fly from India to England.
As an accomplished pilot, Manmohan Singh was one of the first group of Indians to travel to England to join the Royal Air Force in 1939.
After hunting submarines in the Atlantic from a Sunderland flying boat, he was promoted to Flying Officer and given command of a Catalina flying boat in the Philippines.
But as the Japanese forces advanced south through Asia, Manmohan Singh was forced to withdraw south along with other allies. He eventually landed his Catalina on Roebuck Bay at Broome, which was thought by many to be out of range of Japanese planes.
Manmohan Singh was onboard his flying boat moored on Roebuck Bay on the morning of 3rd March, 1942.
Nine Japanese Zeroes fitted with detachable, long-distance fuel tanks strafed his plane along with 22 others that day. Manmohan Singh died during that action.