The College Square, located opposite to the College Street campus of the University of Calcutta, is regularly frequented by hundreds of the local people, the students of different schools, colleges and the two Universities of the neighbouring area and the aspiring swimmers attached to the different swimming clubs situated in the campus of the square. Most of them must have noticed a marble memorial located in front the eastern entrance of the busy square, but nobody cares to give it an inquisitive look, let alone try to find out its identity. Known as the Bengali War Memorial, 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 and the base of the memorial indicates that it was dedicated ‘to the Glory of God, King and Country’. While the column is neatly decorated 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 file and the district of their origin.
The Bengalee Regiment has an unenviable history behind it. Due to some unknown reasons, initially the British rulers in colonial India were reluctant to recruit the people of Bengal in the army, let alone to form a separate regiment consisting only with them. However, on 7 August, 1916 the colonial government announced recruitment for a Bengali Double Company. It was a great news for the people of Bengal, which was responded enthusiastically. Many national leaders of Bengal also encouraged the youth to join the army, as they thought that, sooner or later, when India would earn its independence, the country would be well equipped with a strong army consisting of those trained soldiers of the Bengalee Regiment.
Along with others, Kazi Nazrul Islam was recruited, while Subhas Chandra Bose was rejected due to his poor eyesight. On 1 July 1917, the Bengali Double Company or BDC was officially named as the 49th Bengal Infantry Regiment or 49th Bengalee, in Karachi. However, it was popularly came to be known as the Bengali Palton. Subsequently, the Regiment was shipped off and they fought in Gallipoli and North and East Africa, side by side with the British Army. It was believed that, in those wars 47,746 among them were marked as killed or missing with 65,000 wounded and after the surrender of the British Force in Iraq to the Turkish Army, the 49th Bengalee were immediately dispatched to Mesopotamia. However, in the mean time, the ordinary soldiers of the unit became disillusioned about the ranks and promotions, since the Indians were deprived to rise to the rank of a commissioned officer.
As they reached Baghdad in September 1917, they were assigned to garrison duties. But, apart from the mental disturbances, the soldiers were also suffering from physical ailments due to the harmful and detrimental climatic condition of the area. In 1918, in an unwanted incident, three officers were shot by two of their comrades, while they were in sleep. At last, as the WW I ended with the signing of the truce on 11November 1918, the Bengalee Regiment was one of the first to be disbanded and it ceased to exist on 31 August 1920.
It is a fact that, the unit was not reported well, whilst on field service in Mesopotamia.