Gilbert Cole (Tracking his roots)

Gilbert Cole Memorial Tour of Michael Clapp in Fatehgarh with Tornos

This is a travelogue by Michael Clapp who visited Fatehgarh with Tornos to trace his Grandfather’s tragic death history as a Police Officer serving British Police of United Provinces (Now Uttar Pradesh) in 1936. The trip was coordinated and researched by Team Tornos to track the Police Memorial and obtain necessary permissions. Gilbert Cole is a celebrated name in the Uttar Pradesh’s Police Department (UPP), specially in Fatehgarh for his duty and valour. Read On….


(Pic: Gilbert Wheeler Cole – Superintendent of Police, Fatehgarh – Killed in action on 3rd April 1936) 

18th & 19th November, 2018

Some people commented that heading off on my own at the end of my tour to India might be the most interesting bit of the holiday.  The plan was to visit a place called Fatehgarh in Uttar Pradesh to see whether any of the memorials to my Grandfather’s death in 1936 were still there.  In the end it turned out to be an amazing adventure thanks to the local people and especially the Farrukhabad/Fatehgarh Police Department!

The background was that Gilbert Wheeler Cole joined the Indian Police Service straight out of school in the 1920’s after coming top in his examination group at Sandhurst for the Indian Civil Service.  By 1936 he was Superintendent of Police for the Fatehgarh district of the United Provinces next to the Ganges in Northern India.  On the night of 4/5th April, 1936 he was called out to a village about 10 kilometres from Fatehgarh to arrest a man who had just shot dead a couple of his relatives and was holed up in a village house.  Gilbert Cole lead an assault on the house and ended up being shot dead in the confusion and darkness.  The murderer also died in the incident and Sub-Inspector Jainti Prasad was fatally wounded.  At the time my Grandmother, Helen Cole, was in Sheffield recuperating from a car accident in India the previous autumn.  At the time of the shooting she was having an appendix operation so was not told about the shooting until a few days later.  My mother and uncle were also in Sheffield being looked after by their Grandparents.

Helen Cole did not visit India again but in the 1980’s and 1990’s various family members visited Fatehgarh to see the grave and the various memorials.  I think the last to visit were my parents in November, 1999.  My mother’s family history archive contained a list of four sites of interest, so my intention was to see as much as possible.

I left the Explore group in Amritsar after a great day seeing the Golden Temple and the flag down ceremony at the Pakistan border crossing.  I shared the flight down to Delhi with various members of the tour but managed to miss the opportunity to say goodbye in Delhi Airport as I was right at the back of the plane and everyone was through to the international section of the terminal before I got off.  After a second short internal flight I arrived at Lucknow Airport and was met by my guide, Pankaj Singh from Tornos my   travel organiser, and Thapa, my driver. Once I had checked into the Sarovar Portico Hotel (a step up from most Explore hotels) I went for a short walk to see a little of Lucknow.  Unfortunately, it got dark before I managed to get further than the closest park, so I returned to the Hotel where I had dinner with a couple of British Ear Doctors who were on their way to southern Nepal to help some local charitable health mission.

At 9 am on Sunday 18th November we left the hotel and headed east towards Fatehgarh.  Within half an hour we were driving along the new Agra to Lucknow Expressway, which was a bit of a surreal experience after the chaos of most Indian roads.  Three almost empty lanes of road in each direction with only the occasional tractor, pedestrian and motorcycle making it any different from elsewhere in the world. At one point the road markings and central reservation disappeared and the road was marked out as a full-size emergency runway.  After a couple of hours, we turned off the expressway and headed north on a more traditional Indian road. By 1230 we reached the Diamond Palace Hotel in Farrukhabad, checked into the hotel and had some lunch in the hotel restaurant. 

At 1.30 we headed out of the hotel with the first aim of finding the memorial in the Police Lines. On the way I asked to stop to buy some flowers to lay on the memorials and grave.  After a few stops to ask directions (and a few U-turns) we found the entrance to the Police Lines at the southern end of Fatehgarh.  The Police Lines are barracks for policemen and their families.  We stopped at the entrance to ask for permission and were escorted into the armoury building.  After a few minutes sitting on the veranda we were led into the audience hall of Regional Inspector Shi Kishwas (Name may be wrong) Ali where Pankaj and I were asked to sit down and offered a cup of chai. We explained my reason for visiting and after several interruptions due to urgent police matters Shi Ali escorted us out of the armoury and drove us in convoy around the corner to the memorial.

To my amazement the memorial looked cleaner than it had in the 1990’s pictures. It also had a new wall surrounding it and a square of trees.  Apparently, the new Superintendent of police had ordered the restoration work when he had been appointed to the district earlier in the year and they had had a parade on 22nd October to commemorate martyr’s day.  I laid a garland of flowers at the base of the memorial and took numerous photos, including some with the police officers who were showing me around.  I did mention that somehow over the years my grandfather’s name had been changed from Gilbert to Cilbert (easily done if you never see English Christian names).

After asking directions to the British Civilian cemetery we said our goodbyes and headed off to search for Gilbert’s grave.  Heading west from the Police Lines we fairly quickly found a very derelict British Cemetery which had lost its enclosure wall and was being encroached by the surrounding farmland.  This did not look anything like the previous photos, so we quickly concluded we were in the wrong place. 

Pankaj had the number of a local priest who he called and agreed to meet at the mission hospital.  By the time we found him the priest had to go off to a meeting (it was Sunday!) but a local man he recommended jumped in the car to give us directions to a British Military Cemetery that he believed looked more like the photos I had brought with me.  Within a few minutes we arrived at this place and the surroundings made it look like we were on the right track!  Unfortunately, the place was looking very overgrown and many of the graves here were looking in a sorry state.  It looked like some of the locals had been grazing their animals in the graveyard. 

As we started our search of the undergrowth a crowd of local children gathered and started the new Sunday afternoon game of “hunt the grave stone”.   From the photos we managed to work out which quarter of the grounds the grave was, but we did not seem to be having much luck finding the correct inscription.  I was just looking for Pankaj to ask him whether to ask whether there was a place where the broken tombstones were laid aside, when a cry went up from behind some bushes “Cole Sahib!”.  After fighting my way through some bushes there it was!

The crowd soon cleared away all the foliage and leaves and I laid another of the garlands on the top of the headstone.  Of course, then many pictures were taken including lots of selfies by members of the crowd.  An old woman came up to Pankaj claiming to be the one cleaning the gravestone in one of the photos my parents took in 1999.  She seemed to be the custodian of the graveyard.  Pankaj suggested I gave her 500 rupees to clean up the grave and look after it for a few years, which I did as he paid someone to buy some sweets for our young helpers.  I am not sure where she was while we were searching all over for the grave or whether she, too, had forgotten where it was!

So, two out of four missions accomplished, and it was still only about 4.30 in the afternoon.  We headed back towards Farrukhabad to drop off the helpful local who had shown us where the graveyard was.  As we were driving, I mentioned that one of the next two aims was to find out whether the bungalow my grandfather had lived in was still identifiable.  To help us with this the local man suggested searching out the current Superintendent of Police’s (SP’s) bungalow.  The only things we had to work with were a photo from the 1930’s and a reminiscence from my mother (or Grandmother?) that it had fantastic views across the Ganges.  After many drives down dead end lanes that ended up at the top of a river cliff overlooking the flood plain of the river we came across the Superintendent’s Bungalow and enquired with the sentry whether he recognised anything from the photo.  He sent for another policeman who invited us into his office and offered us some chai.  After much discussion and searching for records, etc.  I was told we were waiting to see whether the current SP had time to see us.  Half an hour later we were led though a gate in a wall into the impressive front garden of the bungalow.  Unfortunately, the porchway looked nothing like the one in the photo!

We were then invited into a living room where we were offered another cup of chai (superior china this time!), sweets and savouries.  After a few minutes SP Santosh Kumar Mishra came out, set up his phone and police radio, and I explained what we had already found and what I was looking for.  SP Mishra spoke perfect English as apparently, he had worked abroad for several years as an engineer before coming home to India to serve his people as a policeman.  At 36 he was only a few years older than my grandfather, when he held the same post.

My story of a crazy Englishman coming all this way to Fatehgarh, to search out where his grandfather had died, obviously struck a chord with him and within a few minutes he was suggesting we hold a proper commemoration at the parade ground the next day.  He also asked his local staff whether they had any ideas where the 1930’s bungalow was.   After half an hour and a few photographs of this historic occasion I was led out to the SP’s jeep and we drove off in a convoy fronted by a jeep load of armed policemen and followed by my driver and car. 

After a few minutes we turned down a side road, like some of the one’s we had already investigated, and stopped in front of an old brick wall with what looked like bricked up archways.  Some of the officers who had been in the area for a long time believed that this was all that remained of the 1930’s bungalow, which had been on a far larger plot of land that may have stretched as far as the current SP’s bungalow.  The land had progressively been sold off by the government because of its prime location next to the Ganges.  After a brief look around, I was driven back in the convoy to the SP’s bungalow where we agreed some plans for the next day.  By this time, it was around 7 pm so we drove back to the hotel and I had dinner in the hotel restaurant (only vegetarian food was available, and no beer could be consumed at the tables).

Next morning after breakfast we left the hotel at 9 am on a quest to find a plaque in the village of Pipar Gaon, which was where the incident occurred in April, 1936.  Pankaj had arranged with the Superintendent of Police the previous evening that we would be shown the spot by officers from the local police station, so we first drove to the village of Mohammadabad.  After further chai and a search through an old record book, to see whether they could find a record of the incident we headed off in convoy back towards the village of Pipar Gaon. 

This was two or three miles back along the road we had come along and then down a single-track side road, across the railway line and into a small farming village.  We stopped next to a gate in a wall into what turned out to be a school playground.  There in the corner stood what looked like a bus shelter with the plaque at the top with exactly the words I had found quoted in a letter from a visit by a friend of the Helen’s in 1939.  Right opposite the local Junior high school was in session and were in the middle of a lesson in the courtyard. 

Within a few minutes quite a crowd had gathered, which included various members of the local press.  Of course, this resulted in a long photo session along with various selfies with any of the locals who possessed a camera phone.  The police officers then joined in the lesson of the day at the school, which happened to be about road safety and traffic rules! I was asked to say a few words to the children about the reason I was there.

Apparently, the school was the local junior high school for 6 to 11-year olds.  At one time it had been called the Cole-Jayanti school after the plague but was now just to be called after the village name.  It looked very basic by British standards, but the children remained sitting in disciplined rows despite the chaos that was going on just behind them. 

Just as we were about to be offered another cup of chai by the locals, we had to make our apologies as I was told we were expected back at the Police Lines in Fatehgarh by midday.  As we were leaving, we were bombarded with offerings of snacks, which I am sure would have been more suitable to give to the children for lunch.

We made our way back to the Police Lines via the remains of the old bungalow we had been shown the previous evening.  This enabled me to look at the view that Gilbert must have seen most days and meet the current owners of the property which is currently being developed for Gayatri Shakti  Peeth Ashram.  Apparently, the organisation also has such places in the UK.

Soon after midday we arrived back at the police lines, which appeared to be far busier than the previous day with uniformed officers all over the place.  We were ushered into the armoury building and asked to wait on the veranda (and served another cup of chai). After fifteen minutes or so we were escorted across to another building, greeted by various senior police officers and shown into an audience room where I was sat at a place of importance next to the large desk.  A few minutes later SP Mishra arrived with various officers and proceeded to check that all his communication was functioning.  There then followed a session that I doubt would relate to anything that goes on in a British police station.  A series of petitioners came into the room, singularly and in groups; presented pieces of paper to the SP, which were written on and placed ready to file.  There followed various prolonged discussions, in Hindi, which seemed to consist of arguments from the civilians followed by a proclamation from the SP or one of the other police officers.  It was difficult to follow exactly what was happening as I only occasionally got translations.  Apparently one case was a land dispute; another  the resulting property dispute after a married daughter had decided to move to a city after her marriage rather than live in the parental home and another something to do with a suicide.  The final case seemed more like British police matter as three men came in looking as though they had been in a fight.  I commented that most of the issues we heard in that short session would probably be resolved in other ways in England, often involving the expense of consulting a lawyer, at far greater expense to the plaintiff.  Of course, some would not occur in the first place due to the difference in cultures.  This system was the same in the days of the British Raj, so my Grandfather was probably involved with daily sessions like this although the population of the district was probably a lot lower than the current two million.

After this session was over, we strolled down to the parade ground with an entourage of people.  We were met there by a couple of hundred police recruits, lined up in military style ranks, who were called to attention and saluted as the SP arrived.  I was then shown into the veranda of the old hospital building, which overlooks the monument, and asked to show the waiting press corps some of the pictures and documents I had shown SP Mishra the evening before.  They all took notes, and some tried taking TV videos of my tiny tablet screen.  This was to try to explain to them what was about to happen and why the commemoration was more about the dedication of policeman in the past, and into the future, rather than a throw-back to the days of empire.

Next, we paraded into the enclosure around the monument where I was given a wreath to place on the steps (the inscription had meanwhile been changed to Gilbert).   I am sure I should have had a suit with me rather than the clothes I had been travelling with for the last two weeks.  I am not used to being in the middle of a paparazzi pack!

Next, we moved to the adjoining parade ground where a microphone had been set up and I was requested to make a speech to the gathering of police recruits.  Luckily, I had been prewarned of this so had a little time to prepare some words.  SP Mishra introduced me to the crowd and then I relayed some of the history and say how the event inspired many members of the family in different ways.  I am sure Pankaj’s translation to Hindi made a better job than I did in portraying the story as an inspiration to the new recruits.

As we were leaving the parade ground SP Mishra asked me whether I knew anything about military drill.  As I said the only experience, I had was with the scouts he asked the RI to give a quick drill demonstration to us.  I managed to capture the whole of this on video on my phone.

Next, I was shown around some other important buildings in the police lines, while discussing which buildings may have been around in 1936.  SP Mishra was pleased to show me the women’s police station next to the main gate where women can be seen exclusively by women police officers.  I was then ushered into a large conference room where the press had gathered for a post parade press conference.  This started off with refreshments of snacks and samosas (and of course some chai).  I then answered a few questions about Gilbert Cole and my opinions of what I had seen of the work of the Indian Police.  I exchanged a few business cards in case the press or TV wanted to clarify any of the history.

Once this wrapped up, we walked back to the SP’s audience room where I shook hands with the local BJP MP who received his own explanation of the events of the day.  SP Mishra then presented me with a book as a memento of the occasion.  By this time, it was 3.30 pm and we had at least a 3-hour journey back to Lucknow to get some sleep before my early morning flight back to London.  We therefore made our apologies and headed off.  Unfortunately, we got a little lost on the way out of Fatehgarh but, thanks to the expressway, we got back to Lucknow soon after 7pm. 

Well you don’t get that sort of treatment of your average Explore group tour to India!  Thanks, must go to the Farrukhabad/Fatehgarh police force and especially SP Santosh Kumar Mishra for making me so welcome in their district.  I would also like to thank my guide Pankaj Singh and driver Thapa from Tornos for looking after me so well over the last four days.  All four target sights visited and a lot more besides!

Michael Clapp

High Wycombe, UK.

21st November, 2018.