ABSTRACT

The Great War created an unprecedented demand for soldiers and resources, triggering the formation of new units, some recruited from traditionally shunned areas. The names of the 49th Bengali Regiment's fallen soldiers, mostly upper-caste Hindus, and a handful of Muslims, are engraved on a marble column commemorating the unit's sacrifices in the Great War. Located in the city of Kolkata's College Square, the decrepit monument is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence and maintained somewhat half-heartedly by the authorities. It acknowledges the deaths of, among many others, H. L. Sarkar, Kazi Abdul Khan, Hargovinda Dey, Adi Uddin Meanh, Amarnath R. Chowdhury, and Suraj Meann. These names evoke the geography of pre-1947, undivided Bengal – Pabna and Mymensingh, Chittagong and Khulna, and Murshidabad and Tipperah (present day Comilla). The monument's now plaintive-seeming inscription “To the Glory of God, King, and Country” is a reminder of a forgotten moment in Bengal's history – the province's experiment of raising a Bengali Regiment for the imperial war effort in the Middle East, a startling departure from the norm when Bengalis were barred from military service for being non-martial. Besides the 49th Bengalis, the province of Bengal also contributed the Bengal Ambulance Corps, as well as innumerable lascars and khalasia, seamen and boatmen who travelled the dangerous wartime shipping circuit, ferrying personnel and materiel to different ports in Europe and Asia, plying barges on the Tigris and the Euphrates.