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MONUMENTS & MEMORIALS OF COLONIAL CALCUTTA – Afghan War Memorial

Afghan War Memorial

The first Anglo-Afgan war was fought between the East India Company and The Afghans between 1838 and1841. During 1837, the political situation in Afghanistan under the leadership of Dost Mohammad Khan was not very steady. They lost their second capital of Peshawar to the Sikh Empire and wanted British support to get it back, to which the British were reluctant. At the same time, they were quite apprehensive about the aggression of the Russian Empire into the Central Asia. They were more traumatized when the negotiations between the Afghans and the Russian failed in 1838, and the Russian invasion of India became one step closer to the reality when the Qajar dynasty of Persia unsuccessfully attempted to siege Heart, with the Russian support. In the meantime, Lord Auckland, the then Viceroy of India, was intimated about the arrival of the Russian envoy in Kabul and the possibility of an alliance between them and Dost Mohammad Khan against the Sikhs. In view of the above circumstances, Lord Auckland decided to drive away the foreign elements from Afghanistan and replace Dost Mohammad with Shuja Shah Durrani. Shuja Shah was once a ruler of Afghanistan and was pro British. As per British version, they did not invade Afghanistan, they only extended help and support to the legitimate Shuja government against foreign intervention and a sectarian opposition. But, later the British called it as Auckland’s folly.

afgan mounument

However, In December 1838, a huge army of 21,000 British and Indian troops with 38000 camp followers, 30000 camels and a large herd of cattle, set out from Punjab, under the command of Sir John Keane. After crossing the Bolan Pass they camped in Kandahar in 25th April 1839 and on 22nd July captured the fortress of Ghazni in a surprise attack. They also achieved a decisive victory over the troops of Dost Mohammad, led by one of his sons. Ultimately, Dost Mohammad fled to Bukhara and in August 1838, Shuja Shah has enthroned again after thirty years. But the Afghans were not happy with Shuja as their ruler and hated the presence of the British in their country. They flocked to support Akbar Khan, the son of Dost Mohammad. The situation was quickly going out of the grip of the British. On 2nd November 1841, a senior British officer and his aides were killed brutally in Kabul. Under the leadership of the not-so-young General William Elphinstone, the position of the British army in Kabul was same as the position of a ship in the turbulent ocean without a proper helmsman.

Outbreaks continued throughout the country, and the British eventually found their position indefensible. British political adviser Sir William Hay Macnaghten tried to play a trick and arranged to assassinate Akbar Khan in the process. But he was captured by Akbar Khan, who in turn assassinated him by placing a Pistol in his mouth. The British had no other way but to negotiate with Akbar Khan about the terms of their withdrawal from Afghanistan. On 1 January 1842, an agreement was reached for the safe retreat of the British garrison and its dependant from Afghanistan. The withdrawal began after five days. The number of the departing British contingent was around 16,500, of which about 4,500 were military personnel, and over 12,000 were camp followers. However, the retreat ended tragically. Most of the evacuees were either massacred by the Afghans or punished by frozen cold and hunger for days together. The only soldier to reach Jalalabad was Dr. William Brydon.

Afghan War Memorial

The Afghan War Memorial, said to be constructed in 1842, was dedicated to the memory of the fallen soldiers of the war. It is located just inside the gates of the Dum Dum Ordnance Factory, situated on the Jessore Road, Dum Dum. However, the factory was set in 1846, after the defeat of the British in the Afghan war, when the East India Company felt the necessity of having an ammunition factory in India. The Memorial has some similarity with the Ochterlony Monument alias Shahid Minar. But the Afghan War Memorial does neither have any balcony nor any staircase leading to the top. Yet, the top of the Memorial has been designed and crowned with an intricately designed lightning arrester. There are two plaques, one at the front and the other at the back side of the Memorial. The front plaque enlisted the names of the dead commissioned officers, while the one at the back lists those of the non-commissioned officers. All the names are of British origin. There is no name of any dead Indian soldiers in the lists. On the right is another plaque, which indicated about the restoration of the Afghan War Memorial in 1980.

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee

Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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