As I write this letter, Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia and a BBC headline is asking: “Is the pandemic entering its endgame?”. I would not presume to have an answer, save to say that it must have dawned on most of us by now that we are going to have to live with Covid-19 and that, in order to do so in relative safety, we need to be vaccinated. In that spirit the BACSA Executive decided that, barring new Government restrictions, the AGM will go ahead as a live meeting at the Union Jack Club on 23 March 2022. It was with a heavy heart that we took the decision to cancel the GM in October. It is high time we met again. So I urge you to attend the AGM in person on 23 March if you are within striking distance of London. Video link arrangements will allow other members to attend remotely.
Notwithstanding that 2021 proved to be more disrupted by the pandemic than any of us had anticipated, BACSA achieved a good deal last year. Most significantly our new website was launched (www.bacsa.org.uk). Our grateful thanks go to the website Sub-Committee, chaired by Dr Rosemary Raza, who selected Indigo Tree as the website designers and oversaw the project to its completion. The website provides BACSA with a refreshing and contemporary new face and contains links to a great deal more searchable content, which will expand year on year as more material from our cemetery database and photographic archive is uploaded to it. Work also resumed on several of our projects in the Sub-Continent. Phase I of the restoration of the cemetery of St Mary’s on the Island in Chennai was finished last autumn. Subject to being able to raise sufficient funds, we are now planning Phase 2. It is also gratifying to be able to report on projects in Pakistan making progress in the past year. For political and security reasons getting restoration projects off the ground in Pakistan can be challenging and local initiative is essential. BACSA is indebted to Major-General Syed Ali Hamid, a retired Pakistan Army officer, for spearheading a project to restore the grave of officers and men of the 24th Foot who fell at the battle of Chillianwallah in the Second Anglo-Sikh War. His enthusiasm and initiative echoes that of retired Brigadier Simon Sharaf, who took it upon himself to clear undergrowth from graves in the Harley Street cemetery in Rawalpindi in 2020. BACSA can achieve a great deal more, where there is leadership from the local community.
Although work has resumed in India and Pakistan, our events and lectures in the UK are still on hold because of the pandemic. Rest assured that we will resume them just as soon as we can be confident of a good attendance. Meanwhile I commend to those members not familiar with it, the British in India Historical Trust Lecture series arranged and promoted by Valerie Haye. Details of the remaining lectures in the series can be found on www.eventbrite.com.
BACSA’s financial position remains strong, although the value of our invested funds is inevitably influenced by stock market sentiment. On the topic of finance, it is hoped that we may have found a new Treasurer. We shall know for certain by the time of the AGM. If that proves to be so, it will end a search for a successor to Charles Greig which has lasted for more than two years.
And just as one post is filled, others are vacated. Valerie Haye has relinquished responsibility for the sale of second-hand books, having held that portfolio since 2016. In the six years of her stewardship, sales have raised over £25,000 for BACSA. Valerie has been assisted in the valuation and sale of the more valuable items by John Randall (www.booksofasia.com), a long-standing BACSA member. BACSA has reason to be extremely grateful to both of them for their dedication to this important aspect of our fund-raising. Whilst it is hoped that John will continue to advise, the second-hand book portfolio has passed to Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones. Whilst Rosie volunteered for the role, I cannot help thinking that her commitments as Editor of Chowkidar, and as widely-known author and lecturer are burden enough. If anyone else should be willing to take over the sale of second-hand books in the foreseeable future, would they please make themselves known to Peter Boon, our Hon. Secretary?
Another retiree, after many years of supporting BACSA in an executive role, is Caroline Whitehead. Caroline was a long-standing member of BACSA’s Executive Committee and handled second-hand book sales before Valerie Haye. She supplied directions to cemeteries and collected UK Mis, as well as ran the table displaying BACSA publications and merchandise at the general meetings. Caroline has well earned her retirement and I extend to her the warmest thanks of BACSA for her dedicated support.
As we emerge from the pandemic and get fully back to business, BACSA is going to have to contend with a society which, at home even more than in South Asia, is questioning whether any credit can be derived from our imperial past. It is not BACSA’s function to provide an answer to that overall question or to promote one point of view. Our remit is simply to record, conserve and restore the graves and memorials of those who served in our Empire in South Asia, in whatever capacity, and who never came home. It is foolish to try to re-write history or judge it wholly by contemporary mores. Undoubtedly bad things were done in the past, some even by the standards of those days, but there was also much good. For better or worse the period of the British Raj happened. BACSA’s task is to encourage local communities to see the cemeteries and monuments we left behind as being as much a part of their history as of ours, and as being part of their built heritage which is worth preserving.
I look forward to seeing many of you at the AGM on 23 March.
18th January 2022