Following article appeared in Daily Dawn of 11th April 2010 article is written by By Majid Sheikh courtesy Daily Dawn
MANY years ago, I was sitting at a leather book binding shop just off Rattigan Road when I noticed that the stone slab the binder was using as his base was shaped like a tombstone. I forced the young boy to turn it over and there it said: Here lie the mortal remains of Captain Radcliff Haldin, died 1849.? Where did you get this,? I asked in utter surprise at the end this old tombstone had met.
The calm reply from the boy was equally amazing. He said hundreds of these stones are available for use in workshops from the Christian graveyard on Ravi Road. You can buy this for just 50 or 60 rupees.The marble ones sell for 150 rupees. It was so matter of fact that I had to investigate this matter deeper. After a month or so I went to the graveyard just opposite Taxali Gate, and the condition was so pathetic that I wrote a piece about its condition.
My three visits to the graveyard, and two to the Roman Catholic Church office, inside Cathedral School on The Mall, did not produce any result.
The clergy seemed markedly disinterested. The church that runs this graveyard, so sources inform, receives considerable funds from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), an organisation that was formerly known as the Sir Fabian Wade’s Imperial War Graves Commission, at least this is what the records of the Punjab Government’s Records Office informs us.
Given the pathetic condition of such an important British-era cemetery, one that is financed by the CWGC and managed by the RC Church of Lahore, I then wrote a piece about this graveyard. A brief six-month campaign did result in the outer walls and the gateway being rebuilt. However, the graves inside the compound and their con dition seem to have gone from bad to worse.
To find out more about these tombstones, from time to time I undertook short walks throughout the Ravi Road, Mohni Road, Santnagar and Rattigan Road areas, where hundreds of bookbinders use these tombstones as a base for their folding and gluing operations. Such a mission of discovery is never a one-day job. It takes a number of sorties to just find out where to find them.
At a shop on Mohni Road, a small binding shop has three such stones. They cost the owner Rs150 each, and he purchased them just a year ago.There was one of a gentleman called Edward Woolly, station master of Lahore, 18461874. The stone says the young man was the first station master of Lahore and he died at the young age of 28 of pneumonia. The fact that he was the very first station master of Lahore meant that this fact had to be investigated. The record at the Pakistan Railway Headquarters on Empress Road did not yield any result.
They sent me to the Mughalpura Workshop, where, they claimed, all the old record had been shifted. At that place the record clerk informed me that when the military government of Gen Musharraf took over, they placed military officers to head the workshop. These officers thought the record was very old and of no use, so it was sold as raddi. Imagine. This is how our history is destroyed. So back to my search for other tombstones.
At the binding workshop in Santnagar, the one that prides itself as having leather-bound Gen Ayub Khan’s book Friends Not Masters, they have several such stones. The one that interested me most said: William John Vousden VC, CB, 1845-1902.
The very mention of VC meant that the gentleman had earned the Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry award the British give for outstanding valour in battle. He had also been awarded the Commander of the British Empire, another high distinction. Here was a man of immense distinction and his story needs to be researched. I went over a book by Rao Javed Iqbal titled Hindu, Sikh and Christian Personalities Buried in Lahore. This was presented to me by my friend Saifullah Khalid.
My research tells me that William John Vousden was born at Perth in Scotland.
This officer commanded the 5th Punjab Cavalry, a regiment born out of the original 12th Cavalry of the Frontier Force.The 5th Punjab Cavalry was founded in 1849 when Lahore was annexed by the British. When the regiment was reorganised by Lord Kitchener in 1903, it became the 22 Cavalry FF and the 25th Cavalry FF.
Vousden was a Lt-Col of the 5th Punjab Cavalry that went to fight in Afghanistan in the Second Afghan War, and in the famous battle of Asmai Heights, he was the man who charged, again and again with his Punjabi horsemen, the Afghan forces, opening up the road that eventually led to the capture of Kabul. For this amazing feat, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. His contribution to the Tirah Campaign in the Second Afghan War thus is documented in mili tary history as an outstanding example of flanking and attacking tactics, an innovation that led to the breakup of the main enemy force entrenched on the Asmai Heights.
He lived in Lahore, but just where I have not been able to find out. His regiment could well be camped where the famous Sam Browne Force the 36th Bengal Regiment raised and based in Lahore. This was located near the RA Bazaar in the Lahore Cantonment. By the age of 56, he had become a major general and was the inspector general of the Cavalry of the British Army in India. The cause of his death, as given in the British Army War Graves documents, which luckily are available on the web, is given as dysentery.
His family documents show that Maj-Gen WJ Vousden left 2,097 pounds, 13 shillings and six pence to a fellow officer of the 17th Bengal Lancers, Captain Steel. This was a handsome amount given that in 1902 the price of gold in Lahore was mere five rupees nine annas a tola. The current value of his estate the reader can calculate given current gold prices.
He was buried in the Lahore Cemetery on Ravi Road, outside Taxali Gate, with full military honours. The man who won the Victoria Cross thus lay in peace for a long time, until one of his grave’s tombstone ended up in a book binding shop, as have hundreds of others from the same cemetery. Soldiers, no matter which side they fight on, always respect the brave. This is a universal feeling among men at arms, especially for the dead. Sadly, that respect has gone missing for this oldest Christian cemetery of Lahore. Sadder still is the fact that the custodians of the cemetery do not feel this way
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