Due to reasons best known to them, initially the British rulers in colonial India were reluctant to recruit the Bengalis in the army. But finally, on the 7th August, 1916, when the colonial government announced recruitment for a Bengali Double Company, the people of Bengal responded enthusiastically. Many notable leaders of Bengal encouraged the youth to join the army. They thought that, if India become independent, Indians would be well equipped and ready to defend their Country with those trained soldiers. Kazi Nazrul Islam was one among the recruits, while Subhas Chandra Bose was rejected due to his poor eyesight. BDC or Bengali Double Company officially named as the 49th Bengal Infantry Regiment or 49th Bengalee on the 1st of July 1917 in Karachi. However, it was popularly called as the Bengali Palton.
The Regiment was shipped off and they fought side by side of the British Army in Gallipoli and North and East Africa. There, in total, 47,746 were marked as killed or missing with 65,000 wounded. In a haste the 49th Bengalee were sent to Mesopotamia, after the surrender of the British Force in Iraq to the Turkish Army. But the soldiers became disillusioned about the ranks and promotions, since the Indians were not allowed to rise to the rank of a commissioned officer. However, they reached Baghdad in September 1917 and were assigned to garrison duties. The harmful and detrimental climatic condition also took their toll and large numbers of the troops fell sick. In 1918, in an unwanted incident, three officers were shot by two of their comrades, while they were in sleep. The World War ended with the signing of the truce on the 11th November 1918. The Bengalee Regiment was one of the first to be disbanded after the war and it ceased to exist on 31 August 1920. In fact, the unit was not well reported on, whilst on field service in Mesopotamia.
Most of us are unaware about the existence of the Bengali War Memorial in front of the eastern entrance of College Square. It was dedicated to the memory of the members of the 49th Bengalee Regiment who lost their lives in the Great War of 1914-1918, “to the Glory of God, King and Country.” as depicted on the base of this erection. There is a pediment at the top of the rather small white marble column. Under the pediment one can see the British crown and below it is marked with the inscription “49 Bengalees”. The column is ornamented with floral motif and a wreath. The sides of the base of the Monument enlisted the names of those who died in the course of the Great War, including their rank and district of origin. But unfortunately, details about the designer, date of the foundation or the inauguration of the Monument is not available.
Location of Bengali War Memorial