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Fort William at Calcutta: Tribute to the Raj

MG is an air warrior and a global traveler who loves to visit and explore new places

fort-william-at-calcutta-tribute-to-the-raj
Inside view of the  fort

Inside view of the fort

Introduction

The Raj is a euphemism for British rule in India and Calcutta was their lynchpin. Calcutta now called Kolkata is the largest Indian city in the Eastern region of India. It is also the city that is most associated with the Raj having served as the Imperial capital till 1911. It was the headquarters of the East India Company till 1857. From 1858 when the Crown took over the administration of India It remained the capital till 1911.

Thus entire India was controlled by the English from Calcutta. This long association with the Raj has left the city with iconic buildings and monuments that breathe the spirit of the Raj. One such building is Fort William which was named after William III the King of England at the time the Forts construction was commenced in 1758.

If you drive along the Hooghly River you cannot miss seeing this flat structure nestled within open spaces called the maiden. The maiden with its green spaces is open land and presently serves as the lungs of Calcutta. But at that time when the fort was constructed the open spaces were kept deliberately, so that the cannons mounted on the ramparts of the Fort could have a clear line of fire.

The name of the great Robert Clive is closely associated with this Fort. In 1757 after his great victory in the Battle of Plessey, Clive made plans for the construction of this fort. It came on the land adjoining the Hooghly River in 1758 and has a checkered history of more than 240 years. It is estimated that the fort was built at two million pounds sterling and is one of the best pieces of architecture left behind by the Raj. The Fort has an octagonal shape with six gates surrounded by a moat. The construction is simple but arresting. The Fort was ready for use after a construction activity spanning 13 years.

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fort-william-at-calcutta-tribute-to-the-raj

The fort

The Fort was designed by Captain John Brohier on the instructions of Robert Clive who occupied it. Fairly large, the Fort can house 15,000 troops and has excellent barracks inside that have stood the test of time. The Fort also houses the residence of the Army commander.

The fort inside has iconic structures that breathe history. There is the chapel of Saint Peter inside which was built in 1826. The chapel is no longer in use and houses a library. But a visit inside will be a rewarding experience as the names of British and Indian heroes of the British Indian army who gave their lives for India and the Raj adorn the walls.


The material used to construct the fort is brick and mortar. It has the shape of an irregular octagon and covers the area of 5 km². Five sides of the fort face the land while the other 3 sides face the Hooghly river.


The fort was erected at a time when explosive shells were unknown. When it was constructed it could stand its own against cannon firing solid shot.

The fort is surrounded by a dry moat that can be flooded with water from the Hooghly river. The moat is 9 m deep and 15 m wide. The basic design of the fort is to withstand flanking fire and prevent the attackers from reaching the walls.

There are six gates: Chowringhee, Plassey, Calcutta, Water Gate, St Georges, and the Treasury Gate.

Presently the fort is the headquarters of the Indian Army's eastern command and not open to general visitors. But one can obtain a permit and visit this beautiful structure which is an enduring tribute to the Raj and the days when the sun never set on the British Empire.


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St Pauls Cathedral inside the Fort

St Pauls Cathedral inside the Fort

Fort William after 1947

Presently the fort is the headquarters of the Eastern Command, Indian Army. Even during the days of the Raj, it was staffed by troops of the British Indian Army. It was the headquarters of the British Indian army in India. The Commander in Chief of all British and Indian forces sat in Fort William. This continued till 1911 when the commander in chief and the Governor-general shifted to Delhi. However, during World War II the commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army was located in Fort William.

From here he planned and conducted the battles in Burma. Earlier the Cin C conducted the military campaigns as far away as the North West of India and Afghanistan. After the British left in 1947, Fort William was handed over to the Indian Army. It now houses one of the most important commands of the Indian army, the Headquarters of the Eastern Command. This is the main command that faces China in the entire East and North East up to the McMohan Line.

In 1970 the situation in the east was volatile as the Pakistan army had begun a crackdown on the civilians in East Bengal. Mrs. Gandhi, a shrewd leader asked the GOCin C, Eastern Command General JS Aurora to plan for an invasion of East Pakistan. He was also instructed to establish contact with the Mukti Bahini( A freedom fighting group) for the conquest of Bangladesh( East Pakistan). One of the historical facts is the general JS Aurora burnt the midnight oil in Fort William and planned the battle in East Pakistan.

Nobody at that time knew the significance of Fort William where the battle plans for the invasion of East Pakistan were made. General Aurora sat for hours late into the night along with his staff officers and planned the invasion of East Pakistan. After the war, the importance of Fort William and the Headquarters of the Eastern command has increased manifold, with the threat from Communist China and the ongoing insurgency in the North East. One can look back with relish and realize that Fort William has still a great role to play in independent India.

Civilians as a rule or not allowed inside Fort William. However, some conducted tours are organized for tourists for which necessary permissions are given.

Fort William is just a stone's throw away from the famous Victoria Memorial which houses a museum and library and is a tribute to Queen Victoria, Empress of India.

Calcutta is one of the biggest metros of India and has the stamp of London on it. At one time during the days of the Raj, it was known as the second city of the empire after London. One can reach Calcutta by an international flight from anywhere in the world. Fort William and Victoria Memorial are located in the heart of Calcutta close to the Hooghly river. For a tourist visiting, both the Victoria Memorial and Fort William can be at a rewarding experience.

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 02, 2020:

Ayub did not allow his body to come to Pakistan. The rulers of Pak have the mark of death on them right from the Laiqet Ali the PM was shot dead.

tom on October 02, 2020:

he died as a poor man ,buried .in iran,he sandhurst cadet ,parent unit was poona horse,later in ifs ,given honarary lt gen and became defence scretary ,governor general and president,he selected ayub as cinc and extended his terms

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 02, 2020:

Tom, Interesting information. Iskander Mirza was forced into exile by Ayub.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 01, 2020:

Yes, His main General Mir Jafar changed sides and joined Robert Clive.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 01, 2020:

Siraj Ud Dowlah was too young and he could not build on his success and he spoiled his book with the black hole tragedy.

tom on September 30, 2020:

sirajdoula captured the fort,clive was called rabert kallu by indiansin hindi

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 29, 2020:

Liz,.it is a cathedral and its walls have all the names of Indian army personnel who died in the Afghan wars. Thanks for commenting

Liz Westwood from UK on June 29, 2020:

It is strange to see a building closely resembling a British cathedral within the walls of a fortress in India.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 29, 2020:

Thanks, Flourish, for commenting

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 28, 2020:

Thank you for explaining the Raj and historical background.The photos and description are impressive. I would imagine this is a very popular tourist site.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 26, 2020:

Thank you Robert for your comment

Robert Sacchi on June 26, 2020:

The pictures are impressive. Fort William has been the venue for important historical moments in India and the world.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 26, 2020:

Pamela, thanks for your commment

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 26, 2020:

This is another interesting article about Fort William in India. The English influence on India is very present.