Udham Singh: The legend who was not only a freedom fighter but also a mechanic and an actor

In blink-and-miss roles, Singh has also acted in at least two Alexander Korda productions

Jallianwala bagh,Amritsar. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Among the many youths and organizations that galvanised post the massacre, Udham Singh, 20 at that time, was deeply scarred
  • It was in USA that he developed his liking for pseudonyms
  • Hanged in 1940, his remains lay in Sunam in Punjab, where Singh was born

While to most of us Udham Singh is best known as a freedom fighter and a revolutionary who assassinated British administrator Michael O’Dwyer in 1940, but there are more roles the renegade assumed during his short life.

Born in 1899 in Sunam in undivided Punjab, Singh was brought up in an orphanage when the state was going through a serious political upheaval.

Before killing Michael O’Dwyer, the governor of Punjab at the time of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Singh tried his hand at various occupations and most intriguingly had also appeared as a movie extra in at least two Alexander Korda productions.

Udham Singh. Image Source: Wikipedia.org
Udham Singh. Image Source: Wikipedia.org

Among the many youths and organizations that galvanised post the massacre, Udham Singh, 20 at that time, was deeply influenced with the gory incident. It is believed that the scar on his arm was due to the injury he sustained during the commotion in the Jallianwala Bagh. A story goes that he was serving water to the thirsty crowd that day.

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While Singh took his time to get attached with the armed resistance, he began his journey abroad in 1920.

He first worked in East Africa as a labourer for the railway lines, and then moved to the USA. However, it was in San Francisco that he made contacts with Ghadar members (a movement formed by immigrants from Punjab in the west coast of the United States of America against colonial rule).

It was here that he developed his liking for pseudonyms. He used the names Ude Singh, Sher Singh and even Frank Brazil (giving himself a Puerto Rican identity) to hide his identity.

According to an article published in Scroll.in, Singh spent five years in travelling to various cities like Chicago and New York. As Frank Brazil, he used to travel to Europe. It was with this alias that he worked as a carpenter on a ship returning to India and came back to Punjab in 1927.

It was in the same year that he was arrested for the possession of illegal weapons and the radical newspaper, Ghadr di Gunj. After which he served four years of imprisonment till 1931.

Even after his release, Singh went through a series of police harassment. They doubted him of having links with the Irish Republican Army and the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association led by Bhagat Singh. The investigation forced him to leave for England in 1933, again using a false passport.

It was at time he traveled to London, Poland, Germany, Holland, Italy, Austria and the Soviet Union.

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In London, Singh engaged himself as a peddler and a carpenter, and also went ahead and associated himself with different socialist groups.

Singh found employment briefly as a signboard painter and a mechanic but seems like destiny had more in store for him. At that time he began appearing as an extra in Alexander Korda’s movies in a blink-and-miss role.

He was first seen in ‘Elephant Boy’ (1937), based on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Toomai and the ‘Elephants from The Jungle Book.’ And next in ‘The Four Feathers’ in 1939, an adaptation from AEW Mason’s 1902 novel of the same name.

General Michael O’Dwyer, Image Source: Wikipedia.org
General Michael O’Dwyer, Image Source: Wikipedia.org

Only a year hence, on March 13, 1940, Singh assassinated Michael O’Dwyer in London. The place was Caxton Hall, where O’Dwyer had come to  participate in a discussion on Afghanistan.

During his trial, Udham Singh gave his name as Mohammad Singh Azad and was hanged in July 1940 at London’s Pentonville prison.

It was only later after a campaign in 1974 leb by the Congress party legislator Sadhu Singh Thind, that Singh’s remains were flown from London prison to Delhi. Currently, they lay in Sunam in Punjab, where he was born.




  • Aparna Gupta

    Udham Singh is an unforgettable freedom fighter. It is good to know that he possess other talents also.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Udham Singh was indeed a very great man!