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Subadar-Major Sardar Bahadur Balwant Singh O.B.I. R.V.M., 1st Bn,, 23rd Sikh Pioneers
First World War Army Indian
By Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill

United Kingdom

Subadar Major Sardar Bahadur Balwant Singh
View record on CWGC

Subadar-Major Balwant Singh 'Sardar Bahadur' O.B.I, R.V.M was the son of Suchet Singh of Sohal, Gurdaspur, Punjab, India.

He enlisted in the 1st battalion, 23rd Sikh Pioneers regiment in 1893.

During his distinguished military career of 22.5 years, he led his men to the Coronation of King Edward VII in London on 1902. Just 13 years later in 1915, he was intentionally shot dead by his own Sepoy whilst the regiment was engaged in action against the Ottoman Turks in Aden during WW1. One of the only Subadar-Major's to be killed by his own Sepoy (Private).

Military career and appointments

Enlisted:- 28th Feb 1893

Jemadar/Lieutenant:- 28th Feb 1893

Subadar/Captain:- 15th Sep 1898

Subadar-Major/Major:- 4th Apr 1908

War Services

Relief of Chitral 1895 NWF of India,

Waziristan, 1901-02

Tibet 1903-04 NWF of India

1908, Zakha Khel 

WW1 - Aden, defending the lines of communication between the Red Sea and the Suez Canal against Ottoman attacks.


Admission to the 2nd class Order of British India (O.B.I):- 1st Jan 1903

Recipient:- Royal Victorian Medal (silver) (R.V.M) on 21st Jan 1912. [This was during HM visit to India for the 1911 Durbar in Delhi.]

Edward VII Coronation & Hampton Court Palace

In 1902, the then Subadar Balwant Singh led a contingent from.tbe 23rd Sikh Pioneers to the Coronation of King Edward VII. The regiment was one of 26 regiments which formed part of a 1200-strong Indian contingent and they were stationed at Hampton Court Palace. The Indian Army would travel from Hampton Court Palace to participate in parades in Central London as part of the Coronation festivities.

Killed by his own Sepoy (Private) in Aden during WW1

The 23rd Sikh Pioneers were fighting the Ottoman Turks in Aden in 1914-1915.

At 03:00 on 29th July 1915, Sub-Maj Balwant Singh was killed after 22.5 years service, alongside Subadar Paritam Singh, by 4570 Sepoy Basakha Singh 29th May 1915 in Aden. 3886 Havildar Uttama Singh Singh had engaged with 4570 Sepoy Basakha Singh but not before Basakha Singh managed to shoot both Sub-Maj Balwant Singh and Subadar Paritam Singh who were both sleeping.

Basakha Singh was court martialled in a military court in Aden and hung in Aden Special Prison on June 7th 1915.

War diaries reveal that the murderer*, Sepoy Basakha Singh, was motivated by caste dynamics within the regiment. When the 2nd battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers was raised in Egypt in February 1917, the diary notes that Commanding officers were keen that the battalion reflects the caste composition of previous Sikh Pioneer regiments and that all castes are considered for promotion.

It was a hugely significant moment in the history of the regiment. Balwant Singh became one of the only Subadar-Major's to be killed by one of his own men.

The war diary of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers describes him as a man of great ability and one who was held in high esteem and respect by every British Officer he had served with. He also held the affection of the Indian Officers and the rank and file whose interests he had at heart for whom he did so much. The Commanding officer said he'd lost a personal friend.

Subadar Balwant Singh was one of 26 men from the 23rd Sikh Pioneers at the Coronation in 1902. (copyright unknown)
(copyright unknown)