‘I am very happy. Happy birthday to me,’ smiles the oldest Sikh in Portsmouth, Dewan Singh Dewana Digpal, as he celebrates his 95th birthday.
Born on April 11, 1924, Dewan Singh lived in India and became a wrestling champion before he moved to England in the 1950s in search for a better quality of life.
Once he arrived, he worked in palmistry on Brighton Pier with his father-in-law before taking a job at train stations. He came to Portsmouth to work in the Dockyard and stayed there until he retired. Alongside his work in the dockyard, Dewan regularly attended Kingston Prison as a Sikh minister to hold services for prisoners.
Today, Dewan lives in Portsea with his third-youngest son Oude Singh and some of Dewan’s 10 children still live locally. Dewan has made a significant impact on the city’s Sikh community and is well-known throughout Portsmouth.
‘Portsmouth is home to all of us. My father has seen all the changes in the city,’ says Oude, 53.
‘It’s unbelievable he has made it to 95 years old.’
To celebrate his 95th birthday, Dewan’s children, 45 grandchildren, 69 great-grandchildren and 15 great-great grandchildren travelled to the Gurudwara Guru Nanak Sar, Somers Town, from all over the country for a three day celebration of Akhand Path – the continuous recitation, without any break, of the Guru Granth Sahib.
On April 12 – the first day of the celebration – Dewan was surprised at the Gurudwara, which he hadn’t visited for more than a year because of ill health, and emotions were running high.
‘I cannot put it into words,’ says his youngest daughter Tharm Kaur, 48, from London.
‘It’s brilliant and we’re all very proud of him. I always remember dad getting up at 5am before work in the dockyard to have a bath and pray – that is always how he would start his day.’
Friends and family alike gathered in the Darbar Hall at the Gurudwara as Dewan was surprised for his birthday.
Sindy Kaur, his daughter in law, says: ‘We’re all very, very proud. He has moved with the times but his opinion and advice is always very important to us.’
For the next two days, Sikhs travelled from Birmingham, Coventry and Southampton to join Dewan’s birthday celebrations, which also coincided with Vaisakhi – a historical and religious festival in Sikhism.
Deputy Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr David Fuller who attended the celebrations says: ‘It’s an honour to be here and it’s very exciting.
‘This fantastic community event is great for the world and our city of Portsmouth.’