Category Archive: scots guards

  1. Turban vs Bearskin

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    The recent news coverage of Jatenderpal Singh Bhullar joining the Scots Guards and going on parade has been largely positive. I’ve reflected on this in previous posts.

    Above: Jatenderpal shaking hands with Major Rick Fletcher (Slough ACIO) after taking the oath of allegiance.

    He is parading alongside Guardsmen in their traditional bearskins.  Below I will narrate why the significance of both lend the turban and bearskin to being complimentary to each other.

    With media asking me for interviews and background to Sikhs in the British Army, I wanted to take this blog post to add some colour to why Jatenderpal wearing his turban is not only important but a celebration of +150 years of British and Sikh interaction in the military.

    First, Jatenderpal is NOT the first Sikh to go on guard duty outside the Palace with a turban. That honour goes to Signaler Simranjit Singh (Royal Signals) and Lance Corporal Sarvjit Singh (Army Air Corps) who both undertook the duty in 2009 (below). Both have gone on to undertake operation tours in Afghanistan.

    Nor is he the first to join the Household Division – Trooper Ranny Singh, was the first to join the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry.

    BUT Jatenderpal is the first to pass selection and join a Foot Guards unit and go on duty with his turban and beard (symbols of his faith) intact.

    No doubt other Sikhs without turbans and beards have joined the Household units, but as uncut hair is crucial for Sikh identity Jatenderpal is making history in maintaining this in the uniform of a Guardsman.  More on this below.

    Secondly, he is making history as a Guardsman but is also continuing a strong lineage of Sikhs who fought for Great Britain.  Historically, Sikh interaction with the British military goes back a long long time:

    In 1845 the Sikhs fought Britain during the Sutlej campaign (First Anglo-Sikh War)

    In 1847 the Sikhs fought Britain during the Punjab campaign (Second Anglo-Sikh War).  That year, the kingdom of the Sikhs was annexed by the British.

    In 1857, Sikhs stood loyal to Britain during the mutiny. If they had not done so India could have fallen out of British hands

    During the World Wars Sikhs fought valiantly for Britain in all areas of conflict (more here).

    All this is the background to what I call the “special respect” the British had for Sikhs.

    Unfortunately, this strong connection and history is lost, sadly over around 50 Sikhs serve in the British Army today.

    Above: Sikhs historically served Britain, here some of them are meeting Winston Churchill in Yalta during WW2

    Moving on to the turban vs bearskin issue (the title of this post), both are strong rich traditions which should be wholly supported as the highest symbol of respect, discipline and honour.

    The bearskin is a tall fur cap worn by Foot Guards, it is an honour they won following their brave heroics at the Battle of Waterloo where they ousted Napoleon’s forces.

    Today it is worn for ceremonial purposes but is a constant reminder of the valour of those who brought honour upon their regiments.

    It is also a symbol of the rich traditions and heritage of the British and the respective Guards units that wear them, providing a poignant backdrop of historic endeavours in an age where we often forget about the service and sacrifices of those who helped make Britain great.

    The turban defines a Sikh, above: Trooper Ranny Singh meeting other Sikhs at a Turbanology event

    The turban, quiet simply, defines a Sikh.  It is the physical form given to disciples since the creation of the faith by Guru Nanak Dev ji in 1469.  The Sikh Gurus all wore turbans and it denoted their high spirituality.

    In wearing a turban a Sikh shows he is independent, distinguishable and a follower of the way of life prescribed by the Sikh Gurus.  This applies equally to women as well as men.

    But the key to understanding the turban of the Sikhs is actually the uncut hair is houses – one of the 5 Ks.  In keeping unshorn hair and beards, Sikhs accept the will of God and the humility of maintaining uncut hair gives them discipline and purpose.

    The turban is the best way to cover, protect and encase the long hair – and becomes a crown which all Sikhs wear to show they are an independent race.

    For an initiated Sikh, wearing a cap or hat is out of the question as it degrades the turban.  Similarly the turban should be tied afresh daily and respected by all by not touching it or mocking it.

    So the bearskin represents tradition, duty, honour, history and remembrance.

    So the turban stands for identity, spirituality, independence, discipline and selflessness.

    Is there any difference between them?  Or do they actually compliment one another because of what they symbolise especially in a modern age.

    I hope this short piece will shed some light on why Guardsman Bhullar is wearing his turban and not a bearskin – the key is to respect that he is able to serve in his regiment with his Sikh identity intact.

    I truly hope his example inspires many more Brits to work hard and towards the goal of serving their faith and country.

    There is more on the significance of Sikh identity in my new book here.

  2. Proud of Jatenderpal

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    Here’s some photos of him on duty … truly hope it inspired more young men (of all religious backgrounds) to serve their country with pride:

  3. The First Sikh Scots Guard

    The Daily Mail have an article entitled “The Sikh soldier who will be the first to guard Buckingham Palace without a bearskin as he’ll be wearing a turban instead”.

    It’s about Jatenderpal Singh Bhullar, a remarkable young man who swapped bricklaying for a career in the British Army.

    It’s indeed a fantastic success story, one we’ve followed all the way and featured in our recent film “Slough to Soldier” (below).

    When we got to know Jatenderpal for the filming – he told us he wanted to be in the Paras.

    He wanted to push himself – and venture into a career path that not many Indians had gone down let alone a Sikh with a full beard!

    We urged him on, why shouldn’t someone set a goal for themselves and work hard to achieve it?!
    It’s an inspiration, one which I was certainly touched by and his ambition and drive for success is certainly something which more young people need to have.  

    Jatenderpal didn’t get into the Paras though because of his run time which was a few seconds below the requirement, but he did into the Scots Guards.  In doing so he became the first Sikh with uncut hair/beard to get into Guards regiment!

    I spoke to him after he passed out to congratulate him on this remarkable achievement, and urged him to carry on doing what he was doing because he was not only breaking new ground but representing his faith and community.  

    He sent me a picture of himself in his Scots uniform, and it made me proud to think a Sikh such as he had broken new ground – and would go on to do well in that regiment.

    I knew he’d make a great soldier and felt pleased about his progress from when we first met and filmed him.

    So it’s unfortunate to hear he might have some difficulty in his ambition.

    BUT I for one have full faith in Jatenderpal’s strive to succeed as a soldier – and will be supporting him in every way possible.  

    I hope people from the community-at-large will do the same.

    Please comment positively on this post so we can convey our best wishes to the first Sikh Guard – may he inspired many others to follow suit!