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Safar Maina House

There is much speculation as to how did the Commandant’s residence at the Bengal Engineer Group and Centre at Roorkee came to be known as the Safar Maina House. Some believe that it is indicative of the transitory nature of stay of even the head of the establishment in the journey of a soldier’s life ostensibly to motivate him towards humility. A more plausible explanation is also available, which states that it is a Hindustani version of ‘Sappers and Miners’, as the Engineers were known in the days gone by.

During the Burma Campaign of World War-II, a large base camp was established astride Road Kohima-Imphal (what is now National Highway No 39) for the Sappers engaged in the construction of Road Tamu–Kalewa. The location came to be referred to by the locals as the ‘Sappers and Miners Camp’, and later just as the ‘Safar Maina’. This location is also marked as such on the map of the Area.

In 1930s there was a ‘bazaar’ located between the present day Group Masjid and the Sarvatra Marg and was known as the “Safar Maina Bazar”. The present ‘Safar Maina House’ was actually converted as the Commandant’s official residence in early 1950, when the old residence was handed over to be ‘Brother’s Hostel’ of the St Gabriel’s School.

Retrieval of Mess Trophies from Train to Pakistan.

As the Indian Army was being divided to raise the Pakistan Army, the Bengal Sappers were the worst sufferers. With a large Muslim representation in its ranks, most of its heritage and assets were taken away to Pakistan, surreptitiously aided by the overtly pro-Pakistan British Officers.

On a fateful morning in early 1948, it was discovered by a young officer that two trophies, rightly inheritated by the Indian part of the Bengal Sappers, had been taken by those departing by the train to Pakistan. The train was intercepted at Saharanpur and the trophies retrieved. That’s how we can still look at the Trophies, ‘Hurnai Valley Piece’ and the ‘Silver Mule Led by a Sapper’ in our Mess.


God’s Own

How did the Bengal Sappers acquire the sobriquet of ‘God’s Own’ ? This was an informal reference. The King of England enjoyed temporal powers and as far as the commoner was concerned, he was the God. Since the Group was King Gorge’s Own and the initials G and O fit in well, the Group came to be colloquially known as the “God’s Own”.

Setbacks, Fightbacks and Bouncebacks

In the course of its historical past the Bengal Sappers have been struck down twice, and have bounced back with sheer determination. Five Companies of Bengal Sappers mutineed on 15 May 1857 and joined the First War of Independence. For this reason, some of the most hard earned Battle Honours, including Ghuznee, were withdrawn from the Bengal Sappers. The Bengal Sappers however, continued in the same stride. Their valour was recognised in the following years. In an unique reversal of policy, the withdrawn Battle Honours were restored to the Bengal Sappers in 1880s. Next blow came during partition of the country in 1947. Most of the assets and heritage were transferred to the newly created Pakistan Army Engineers. Within a span of few days the well endowed Group had been left with virtually nothing. It goes to the credit of officers and men of the Bengal Sappers, that slowly and surely the Group recovered from these setbacks.

Officers’ Mess Building at Roorkee

The land an which the Officers’ Mess stands was initially leased to Lt Newmarch by the Government for his private residence. The lease was signed in October 1912 by the then Commandant, Lt Col (later Maj Gen) Twining and witnessed by Hav Rahmat Ullah, the Head Clerk, and Jagdamba Prasad, the Regimental Munshi.

Construction of the Mess Building was started by Lt Newmarch as his private residence – rather enormous by present day standards – but, as the Bengal Sappers had been without a proper Officers’ Mess accommodation since their move to Roorkee in 1853, they purchased it from him even before it was completed.