Bangali Paltan

Bangali Paltan a regiment of Bengali soldiers during the First World War. It was at the beginning of the First World War (1914-1918) that the Bengalis began to be recruited for the Indian Army. In the process, many non-combatant soldiers and skilled and unskilled laborers were also recruited from Bengal. Towards the middle of 1916 the British Government decided to create a regiment of Bengali soldiers and its first unit was called Bengali Double Company. These Double Companies, each consisting of 228 soldiers, were made part of the Indian Army. On 7 August 1916, Governor of Bengal lord carmichael announced the formation of these companies at the concluding session of the Legislative Council in Dhaka. The leaders of Bengal decided to form a Bengali Regiment Committee to extend cooperation to the government in recruiting companies. Its central office was established in Calcutta and its branch offices were formed at all districts and at some major subdivisions. The committee ran campaigns through public meetings, newspaper publicity and other means to enthuse people to join the Bengali Double Companies. Important leaders, zamindars and social leaders attended the meetings. The government very earnestly solicited their cooperation. The programme to recruit Bengalis for the Double Companies began on 30 August 1916 at the Fort Williams Cantonment in Calcutta. The first ten soldiers of the Bengali Double Company left Calcutta on September 12 for Naushera for training. Subsequently, more groups of recruits left for Naushera. At Naushera the 46th Punjab Regiment was in charge of their training. The first regiment of 228 soldiers of the Bengali Double Company arrived in Karachi in January 1917 after four months of training at Naushera.

Although the first regiment was completed, the recruitment in Bengal continued and the recruits were sent to Karachi for training. The Bengali Double Company raised the first Bengali Battalion on 26 June 1917. It was named the 49th bengali regiment or briefly the 49th Bengalis.

The first battalion of the Bengali Regiment divided into three groups left Karachi in July 1917 to take part in the Mesopotamian war and by mid-September reached Baghdad. While in Baghdad a good number of soldiers became sick and some of them died. For this reason the 49th Bengalis were transferred from Baghdad to the city of Azizia and by mid-March to Al Kut. At Al Kut there was no significant improvement in their health. Towards the end of October they were sent to Tanuma near Basra. While at Al Kut, Tanuma and Azizia, the Bengalis performed mainly security duties alongside receiving military training.

By November 1918 armistice was declared. At Tanuma the Bengalis performed the post-war rehabilitation duties. Some of the soldiers were engaged in Baghdad and elsewhere. After the Mesopotamian war there was a revolt in Kurdistan in April 1919. As many as 235 Bengalis were engaged in suppressing this rebellion. By August 1920, the Bengali Battalion left Tanuma and returned to Calcutta and got disbanded on 30 August 1920.

After the first battalion of the 49th Bengali Regiment left for Baghdad in July 1917, its remaining soldiers stayed in Karachi and continued to receive military training. This group of the Bengalis was called Karachi Depot. A group of the Bengali Battalion that stayed in Calcutta was called Calcutta Depot where the new recruits stayed. The soldiers of the Karachi Depot also used to stay here while in transit from leave or on some duty. As a large number of soldiers from East Bengal were recruited in September 1918, a Depot was also opened in Dhaka. It was called Dhaka Depot.

Sixty-three soldiers of the Bengali Battalion died of sickness and other causes. To honour their memory a commemorative statue was erected at Calcutta College Square in August 1924. Some Bengali soldiers and officers received awards and recognition for their meritorious services in Mesopotamia. These recognitions were published in the official gazette. In July 1919 a victory march (rally) and peace celebration was held in London. Soldiers and officers from different parts of the world took part in it. One British officer and one Indian officer and two soldiers represented the 49th Bengali Regiment at this celebration.

The Bengali Battalion was no ordinary army unit. Basically, young men from educated middle class families joined as soldiers. Many of them were in jobs with good salaries before joining the army. Some had graduation, masters or law degrees. Some young sons of nawabs and zamindars and of rich families also joined the Bengali Battalion. Among the well-known soldiers were Subedar Major Sailendranath Basu, Subedar Major Kumar Odhikrom Majumdar, Jamadar Nawab khwaja habibullah, Jamadar ranada prasad saha, Havildar kazi nazrul islam and soldier mahbub-ul alam. [Muhammad Lutful Huq]