Desanda – Dasunda Singh A. I. F.  World War One

Desanda – Dasunda Singh A. I. F. World War One

Private Desanda-Desunda Singh A.I.F. photo: Crystal Jordan taken at Ceduna R.S.L. 2013

Private Desanda-Desunda Singh A.I.F. photo: Crystal Jordan taken at Ceduna R.S.L. 2013. Desunda Singh sent this photo to Albert Moody SA. ca.1917.

© Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan 2013

Was Dasunda Singh’s name incorrectly recorded as Private Desanda Singh when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on the 1st of November 1917? He was given the Service Number of 3720 and was assigned to the 34/3 Light Horse Regiment. Dasunda was unable to write in English so he signed his name with a cross, this was witnessed by E. Johnson was and his name recorded incorrectly as Desanda?[1]  It should be remembered that the Australian Light Horse was an elite Regiment and most people, including Australians who applied for the Light Horse were rejected, as the standard of Horsemanship and horse riding ability required for selection was very high. Bearing this in mind it is reasonable to assume that Dasunda was an exceptional horseman. 

Dasunda said that Australia was the best country in the world.  His enthusiasm was tempered only by the Commonwealth policy that compelled him to live thousands of miles away from his family. Dasunda lived for most of his life at Denial Bay, South Australia and was well known and in later life especially for wearing a blue and gold turban[2].   He had worked as a hawker on and off for 40 years, and returned to India for periodical visits to the Punjab to visit his wife and children.  As well as hawking in the traditional manner Dasunda and his friend Bhagwan Singh also traded on the Murray River as hawkers with Rhoda Singh, a General Storekeeper at Loxton, who owned the Paddle Steamer “City of Oxford”.[3]  Bhagat Singh, Sirdar Singh and Juwan Singh purchased horses on a large scale at the Kapunda Horse Sales in South Australia.[4] It is most likely that they all came in contact with, or knew Rhoda Singh, who was a General Dealer of Horses, Cattle and Sheep at his Settlement Store at Ramco, a few kilometres east of Waikerie, South Australia.[5]

Dasunda was a successful hawker, businessman and farmer and is remembered with pride at the Ceduna R. S. L., South Australia, where his beautifully framed portrait hangs on the wall and he is known affectionally as “The Old Indian”.[6]   The photograph is framed in a very interesting way, in that the decorative mount for the photograph is an army coloured fabric, and has a type of cornelli or applique hand sewing around the photograph, this acts as an inner mount. Under the photo is more embroidery that resembles a ribbon with a medal and the name plate, “Pte. Dasunda – Singh 1st A.I.F.” 

Dasunda returned to India on a number of occasions for holidays to visit his wife and children. He returned to India on the the 30th May 1939 on the “Narkunda” and the trail of Dasunda seems to end in Australia around the 1940s. However, he did finally return to his family in India, where he later became blind and died about 10 or 15 years later.


Desanda-Desunda Singh about 62 years of age, 1931.

Desanda-Dasunda Singh about 62 years of age, 1931.

[1] Elistment Papers, National Archives Australia.

[2] “Returning to India” Port Lincoln Times, SA.13 March 1931, p. 9.

[3] “Desunda Singh” Port Lincoln Times, SA. March 1931, p. 9.

[4] Kenna, Len, Are Indians an Ethnic Minority? Volume 3, Horses and Walers, p. 178.

[5] “The Settlement Store’ Renmark Pioneer SA, Friday 22 March 1910, p. 10.

[6] Photograph Dasunda Singh by Crystal Jordan and research at Ceduna R.S.L. 2013.