Pune. 18 January 2020. Sappers have taken initiative in assisting civil projects and have left a legacy in restoring even heritage architectural monuments that have become landmarks.
Yerawada Bridge at Pune was designed by Capt R S Sellon who was a Royal Bombay Sapper, in and constructed by Royal Military Engineers in 1867 at a cost less than 2.5 lac . The bridge has 13 spans of stone masonry arches each of 60 feet length whic connects Pune city to the Mumbai Ahmednagar Road. It still serves the city even after hundred and fifty years of its consrtruction and has carried more vehicles on it than the planners would ever have imagined !
In Mumbai ,Maj J A Fuller designed and constructed the High Court building on Mayo Road using an early Gothic architectural style. Built in 1878, the four-storey structure cost Rs 16,44,528 and is 526 feet in length ,187 feet in breadth and 90 feet high.The first and second floors have a sculpture of a Monkey judge (taken from Aesop’s Fables) with one eye bandaged, holding the scales of justice. The Bombay Mint was designed and built by Capt John Hawkins, between 1824 and 1829. The original construction of the Mint was improved upon and extended during the last hundred years by a long succession of Military Engineers. The work on the Bombay Town Hall commenced in April 1867 and completed in March 1874 by Lt Col (later Gen) J A Fuller . Bombay Secretariat was designed and built by Capt (later Gen) H S C Wilkins during 1859-1864. Landmark Pune Deccan College was designed in 1868 by General HST Claire Hickins. The other well known structures in Pune are the old RSI and St Mary’s Church built by the Bombay sappers.
Dock Works :in 1810 Capt William Cooper completed two new dry docks using fine civil stone & solid masonry .In 1840 Capt J Estridge carried out similar works on Duncan Docks . In 1880 Col H D Oliver RE designed a graving yard dock yard for Bombay harbour and constructed a dry dock . Same year Lt Col J A Ballard, CB provided a comprehensive scheme for the reclamation of the foreshore to the north shore of the Bombay Mint . He also initiated the building of an ocean quay to accommodate large liners, today known as ‘Ballard Pier’.1825, all of which reflect the expertise of the Bombay Sappers.
The Sappers have a legendary record for road building, both inside and outside battlefields. In1803, Maj Gen Sir Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington) organized the construction of a road up the Bhor Ghat, using military engineers and pioneers, to improve communication between Bombay and the Deccan. Military Engineers of Bombay were also responsible for the construction of two causeways made by reclaiming land from the sea at Sion and Mahim in Bombay. Capt W Brooks constructed the first between 1790 and 1805 which was later enlarged by Capt W A Tate in 1826. The second was constructed in 1845 by Capt J J P Cruickshank. The Bombay Sappers were also involved in trunk road projects from Bombay to Nasik and Indore, Bombay to Poona and further south, to Sholapur and Aurangabad. In 1947, 653 Plant Company and 757 Plant Platoon were involved in the construction of 143 miles of railway tracks in Assam, to link the State with the rest of India. The Sappers helped in constructing bridges and a catwalk across the river Teesta for working parties, instead of ferrying them over raging waters. The whole project involved 1,80,00,000 cubic feet of earth work which was completed under the most inhospitable conditions of terrain and climate.
After World War II ended the Civil Authorities asked the Army Engineers to help restore roads and railways demolished in Burma by enemy forces. 305 Field Park Company was among others who were assigned the task of reinstating the postwar road and rail traffic links between Rangoon and Mandalay. To do this, they built a diversion railway bridge and a Bailey Pontoon road bridge across the river Irrawady. They also dismantled the existing road-cum-railway bridge, and rebuilt the abutment of the original railway bridge to carry a new Warren Girder bridge brought from India.
371 Field Company and 41 Construction Company were involved in the Tribhuvan Rajpath Project which connects Kathmandu in Nepal to Raxaul in India. The work commenced in October 1952 and the road was opened to traffic in June 1957. The total length of the road was 72 miles with an average of about 8 culverts per mile! In 1970, 371 Field Company restored communications between North and South Goa by constructing a 200 feet Bailey Bridge across River Zuari.
For the Sappers, the term ‘Aid to Civil Authorities’ means utilising their technical skills to work for rescue and relief operations, rescuing marooned people during floods, restoring communications during earthquakes and natural calamities, providing water supply during drought, and maintaining essential services. Sappers have also, at times, taken the initiative in assisting civil contract projects and in many instances, they have left a legacy of restoring heritage architectural monuments that have become landmarks.
Capt L F Heard, Royal Bombay Engineers with 21 Field Company, was involved in relief work in the aftermath of the Quetta Earthquake on 31 May 1935. Rescue work continued for 3 days including restoration of water supply, rail diversion, and extraction and pumping of petrol from the underground tanks in the city. Some troops from other areas were attached to this field company to help in the reconstruction, and the repair of damaged roads and buildings.
In 1943, the Army was approached by the civil authorities for assistance in the construction of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s installations at Abadan. This was part of a refinery expansion scheme, for which specialized skill was required. The Sappers were represented in this assignment by an Engineer Battalion, an Artisan Works Company and four Artisan Pioneer Companies. Oil Pipelines in Assam In 1943, the Bombay Sappers under Lt Col J V P Braganza were engaged in the construction of oil pipelines in the East. The Sappers were assigned the task of erecting two large tanks of 30,000 gallons capacity at two pumping stations, two 3,50,000 gallon tanks at Chandranathpur and Lahunjan, as well as testing of the pumping sets.
Bombay Sappers have thus left indelible footprints on the sands of time , for generations to see and applaud.