Udham Singh

Locations

Canterbury CT1 2PR
United Kingdom
51° 15' 57.888" N, 1° 4' 43.3056" E
8 Mornington Terrace
London, NW1 7RS
United Kingdom
51° 32' 2.9436" N, 0° 8' 32.9856" W
Other names: 

Sher Singh, Udhan Singh, Ude Singh, Frank Brazil, Mohamed Singh Azad

1
Date of birth: 
26 Dec 1899
City of birth: 
Sunam, Patiala, Punjab
Country of birth: 
India
Date of death: 
31 Jul 1940
Location of death: 
Pentonville Prison, North London
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1934
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Y
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1934-40

Location: 

London, Canterbury, Gloucestershire, Kent.

2
About: 

Udham Singh was a political activist from the Punjab. He was closely linked to communist activists and parties associated with the independence movement. During the early 1920s, after a brief three-month stay in Dover in 1921, he spent some time in the US, working in Detroit for the Ford Motor Company as a tool maker, before relocating to California. While in California, he established contacts with the Ghadar Party, which was dedicated to Indian freedom and independence. It had strong communist tendencies and was founded by South Asians living in America and Canada. He returned to India in 1927.

Back in the Punjab, Udham Singh was arrested for the illegal possession of firearms and sentenced to five years imprisonment. Singh was released from prison in October 1931. He managed to acquire a passport and made his way to London in 1934. In his application for his passport endorsement, he claimed to have been working as a sports outfitter in India, but since his arrival, living in Canterbury, Kent, he was unable to secure employment. There are suggestions that in this period he worked as a pedlar. During 1937, he worked as an extra in crowd scenes for Alexander Korda’s London Studios at Denham. During 1938, he worked as a carpenter at the RAF Station at Great Chessington, Gloucestershire, before becoming unemployed.

Udham Singh was well known in the Indian community at the time and also had contacts with Sikh pedlars living in Coventry, and Southampton. The objective of his stay in London was to find an opportunity to assassinate Michael O’Dwyer, the Governor of the Punjab in 1919, whom Singh held responsible for the Amritsar massacre, which had left a lasting impression on Singh after his brother and sister were killed there. Subsequently he had sworn to avenge the massacre. Singh had had a few opportunities to assassinate O’Dwyer but he was waiting for an occasion when his actions would have the most public impact.

On 13 March 1940, Singh shot O’Dwyer at a meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society at Caxton Hall. O’Dwyer was killed instantly and Lord Zetland, Lord Lamington and Louis Dane were also hit and wounded by the shots. Singh was immediately arrested and held in Brixton prison. There he staged a thirty-six day hunger strike, which resulted in him being forcibly fed through a tube. The assassination of O’Dwyer was reported widely in the press. In police statements and at court Singh gave his name as Mohamed Singh Azad as a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity in the fight for Indian freedom. He was tried at the Old Bailey on 4 June 1940. Krishna Menon was part of his defence team. After a trial in which the prosecution presented a simple case and the defence of Singh was often sketchy and chaotic he was sentenced to death by hanging on 5 June and executed on 31 July at Pentonville Prison, where he was also buried. In 1974, his body was repatriated to India and cremated in his home village of Sunam.

Connections: 

Surat Alley, Krishna Menon, Michael O'Dwyer, Marquess of Zetland.

Ghadar Party

Involved in events: 

Assassination of Michael O’Dwyer

3
Secondary works: 

Grewal, H. S. and Puri, H. K. (eds), Letters of Udham Singh (Amritsar: Guru Nanak University, 1974)

Maighowalia, B. S., Sardar Udham Singh : A Prince Amongst Patriots of India, the avenger of the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, foreword by Krishna Menon (Hoshiarpur : Chhabra Printing Press, 1969)

Singh, H. (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, 2nd ed. (Patiala, 1998)

Singh, Navtej, Challenge to Imperial Hegemony: The life story of a great Indian patriot, Udham Singh (Patiala: Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, 1998)

Singh, Navtej and Jouhl, Avtar Singh (eds), Emergence of the Image: Redact Documents of Udham Singh (New Delhi: National Book Organization, 2002)

Singh, Sikander, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammed Singh Azad: A great patriot and martyr who challenged the British Imperialism: a saga of the freedom movement and Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar: B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh, 1998)

4
Example: 

Statement of Witness, Cannon Row, Station ‘A Division’ 13 March 1940, L/PJ/12/500, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Content: 

This extract from Udham Singh’s witness statement details his motivation to assassinate Michael O’Dwyer at Caxton Hall.

Extract: 

I went back home again, then I thought it was time to go to this afternoon meeting to protest. I take my revolver from home with me to protest.

In the beginning of the meeting I was standing up. I did not take the revolver to kill but just to protest. Well then when the meeting was already finished I took the revolver from my pocket and I shot like I think at the wall. I just shot to make the protest.
 
I have seen people starving in India under British Imperialism. I done it, the pistol went off three or four times. I am not sorry for protesting. It was my duty to do so. Put some more. Just for the sake of my country to protest.

I do not mind what sentence. Ten, twenty or fifty years, or to be hanged. I done my duty. Actually I did not mean to take a person’s life, do you understand. I just mean protesting you know.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/500, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/637, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/7/1715, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Mss Eur C826 1940 Copy of transcript of proceedings in the trial, on 4 Jun 1940, of Udham Singh for the murder of Sir Michael Francis O'Dwyer (1864-1940), Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab 1913-19, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

MEPO 3/1743 Murder of Sir Michael Francis O'Dwyer by Udham Singh at Caxton Hall, Westminster, on 13 March, 1940, National Archives, Kew, UK

PCOM 9/872, National Archives, Kew, UK

P&J (s) 466/36, National Archives, Kew, UK