Bombay Sappers preserves 200 years of heritage with a grand museum

Mubarak Ansari
Saturday, 1 February 2020

“The oldest artifact in the museum are the Portuguese guns. These were retrieved from the Portuguese fort at Anjedive Islands by the Indian naval ship, Amba in 1981,” Lt Col Saini said. 

PUNE: The ‘josh’ of officers, veterans and their relatives was undeterred despite the chill on Friday morning as they rode on a nostalgic journey at The Bombay Sappers, which is celebrating its bicentenary year.

The Indian Army’s Bombay Engineer Group and Centre (BEG&C), Khadki, popularly called as Bombay Sappers, has turned 200 years. On this backdrop, a grand museum has been built after expanding the existing one, which was functional since 1973. Several activities have been organised to celebrate the year, including a heritage walk. 

Lt Col Sandeep Saini narrated history to the visitors as they entered from the Goodfellow Gate, which is flanked by artworks depicting Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. A ‘living wall’ depicting the past including various locations of Bombay Sappers, life of soldiers, has been created with details. 

“The oldest artifact in the museum are the Portuguese guns. These were retrieved from the Portuguese fort at Anjedive Islands by the Indian naval ship, Amba in 1981,” Lt Col Saini said. 

Another artefact at the museum is the fragment of colours (flag) of Marine Battalion of 1802 vintage. “The original set whose fragment is preserved at Bombay Sappers Museum was taken by King Edwards VII, the emperor of India and the King of England to his private residence at Sandringham House in 1875 when he visited Bombay to review a parade of the Marine Battalion. I wrote an email to the Queen of England’s representative who manages the affairs of the Sandringham House and they informed that the flag disintegrated on its own in 1910,” the officer said.

Lt Gen PS Bhagat’s Victoria Cross is kept in a bank locker and a replica is kept with at the museum as the international price of the Victoria Cross medal is about Rs 4.5 crore.

The heritage walk culminated at the memorial of second Group Subedar Major Savee Erappa Satoor. 

Lt Gen SN Sharma (96), who retired from the Army as Engineer-in-Chief, said, “I didn’t want to join the Army. But during Quit India Movement, we were beaten up by British in Allahabad (now Prayagraj). Gandhiji was kept at Aga Khan Palace. Myself and many of my friends went on to join the armed forces so that after the World War 2 we will take part in the liberation of India. I joined the Army in 1945.  I was first with Madras Sappers then Bengal Sappers and after Partition joined the Bombay Sappers. There is something in the Sappers which distinguishes them from others. The Bombay Sappers have fought battles in various parts of the world in the last 200 years.” 

He is known for his para jumps even now. His brother late Major Somnath Sharma was first recipient of Param Vir Chakra. 

Major  David Young (96) came from England to attend the bicentenary celebrations. “I was commissioned in January 1941 and served till 1946. I was born in Scotland and then shifted to Delhi where my parents worked in academic field.  I was posted in 1942 in Burma sector till July 1945 as part of 30th field company. Then I was posted in Malaysia. I am pleased to be part of the celebrations. I am impressed that Indian Army remembered me even after so many years,” Young told Sakal Times. 

Brigadier MJ Kumar, Commandant of BEG&C, said earlier there was Royal Sappers Association in England, which stopped functioning from 2002. Major Young is the only surviving Royal Sapper.

Speaking about the museum, Brig Kumar said, “We found that the previous museum was not able to depict the achievements of the Bombay Sappers in the last 200 years. Accordingly we renovated and added more sections to make it more inclusive to include details of all officers, junior commissioned officers and jawans.”

He added, “We have computerised details of about 75,000 soldiers since 1961. The process of digitising details of others is also going on. A soldier or his descendants can check the details easily. Now there is a Shahid Gallery to honour the martyrs. There are many handwritten roll of honour, which are very delicate, so we have depicted their photos (like Buddhist Thangka). It is the sanctum sanctorum for us.”

The museum now houses 11 complexes having pre- and post-Independence chronological history, a lakh names of proud Bombay Sappers recruits mentioned year-wise, uniforms, accoutrements and band gallery. There is also sports and adventures gallery and the Humanitarian Aid and UN Missions Gallery, each with epic stories to narrate.

The story does not end here. The museum has sections earmarked for sister sappers (Bengal and Madras Sappers) and those affiliated Maratha Light Infantry, Sikh Light Infantry, INS Magar (Navy) and 30 Squadron (Sukhoi-30) of the Indian Air Force.

The museum is not open to civilian public yet. However, Brig Kumar said that they are working on modalities in this regard.

- Various battles artefacts including those from Ghazni Fort, Afghanistan, (1839) till date.
- A fuel tank of a Pakistani jet which was shot down by the Indian Army in 1965 war
- Pakistani and Japanese flags
- A Pakistani letter box

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