BENGAL LANCERS MESOPOTANIA
As the British came to dominate India in the 18th and 19th centuries, the country was run by the Honourable East India Company, which divided its military forces into
three presidencies, Bengal, Bombay and Madras. After the Great Mutiny of 1857 the British Government took over control, but retained the three-way split, and at that date the Army of Bengal had 19 cavalry regiments. Between 1864 and 1900 15 of those 19 regiments
were converted into lancers, creating the famous Bengal Lancers a body of cavalry that was widely admired by friend and foe, and participated in several of Britain’s campaigns as well as serving in and around India itself.
Each of the regiments had a considerable amount of say in their uniform and equipment, and made changes as and when it pleased them, so the half century up to the outbreak of World War I is a mass of different uniforms and standards, making these figures impossible to date with certainty. However during the early years of direct rule from London the regiments seem to have mostly worn the alkalak, a long tunic with a wide trimmed front that is not shown on these models. Instead all wear the kurta, which replaced the alkalak over a long period, and for our purposes differed mainly in having a simpler buttoned opening down to the waist. This is the form most often taken when someone pictures the typical Bengal Lancer and is appropriate for the later years of the 19th and early 20th century, though exactly when varies greatly between regiments as we have said.
On their heads all these models wear a lungi (also called a ‘safa’ but technically not quite the same as a turban), which is wrapped around a pointed cap called a kulla. Although named for Bengal, by no means all the troopers were actually Bengali, and while their main uniform was common to the whole regiment, the form of headdress varied between squadrons, denoting the religious or tribal background of those men (squadrons were deliberately made up of men with the same characteristics to avoid problems). The kulla and lungi modelled here are very typical however.
The rest of the costume is also correct for the period, with a cummerbund round the waist and short boots and puttees on the legs (gradually replacing riding boots as the century progressed). There is a wealth of photographs and illustrations of these men during the late colonial period, but naturally many focus on the gorgeous full-dress uniforms, and on the officers, rather than the rank-and-file in campaign dress. A large number of these show a belt over the left shoulder, but these men have one over the right. This seems to be a simple brace belt for the waist belt, as surprisingly none of these men have the haversack we would have expected on the left hip. The men all have twin ammunition pouches on the waist belt, which is reasonable.