World's Greatest British Battle in Kohima-Imphal and things unanswered
- Part 1 -

Oken Jeet Sandham *

II World War Cemetry, Imphal
II World War Cemetry, Imphal :: Pix - Robert Lourembam Ningthouja

The people of the Northeast India particularly living in Manipur and Nagaland had mix-feelings and prides when they got the news that the Second World War, which were fought between the British Army and the Japanese Army in the Imphal and Kohima sectors in 1944, was declared as the "Greatest British Battle" in the world. And when this news flashed from London, it hit the headlines here in the region of north east India.

Noted war historians presented their papers on the past British wars fought across the globe. They were given 40 minutes to present their papers. This was conducted under the Britain's National Army Museum to identify "Britain's Greatest Battle." And finally, the two victories over the Japanese, which took place in the same region of the north east India over the same period in 1944, were voted on Saturday as the "Greatest ever battle involving British forces."

Taken as a single victory, Imphal-Kohima was on a shortlist of five battles which topped a public poll and on Saturday, they were selected as the ultimate winner by an audience of more than 100 guests at a special event at the museum, in Chelsea, west London. Imphal-Kohima, a distance of 145 kilometers and connected through a National Highway 39 (now 2), received almost half of all votes. This remarkable presentation on "Second World War fought in Imphal and Kohima sectors" was done by Dr Robert Lyman, an author and fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Although people living in the northeastern part of India bordering Burma (now Myanmar) borne the brunt of this Second World War, they still have the pride of telling the stories of these historic and great wars fought in this part of the world. I have come across many grand old men and women who are now in their 80s and 90s could vividly tell the stories of the Second World War. Many of them experienced of being "Forced labor" by the British Army and also used to spy against the Japanese soldiers. Even the British Army who stationed in the Chakhesang and Angami areas also experienced untold miseries at the hands of the British Armies and also the Japanese. The British soldiers even burnt down their granaries with the intention to starve the advancing Japanese soldiers.

The Japanese army coming from the Homatin side of western Burma successfully pushed the British army and occupied the Jessami ridge. When the Japanese were trying to push back the British armies from the Jessami position, there were heavy exchange of fires and both sides suffered heavy causalities. The Japanese also shot down British fighter planes in many Chakhesang areas. After about a week of fierce gun battle; the British soldiers could no longer withstand the onslaught of the Japanese attacks. They had to retreat.

The villagers were so simple that they ran out to see whenever fighter planes flew overhead and enthusiastically watching the explosions of the bombs. They hardly realized that the bomb explosions would hurt them. In fact, many of them got hurt and the British jawans had tough time warning the villagers against coming out while fighter planes were coming and bombing. They even taught them how to dig trenches so that they would use them during bombings and even during gun fights between the British and Japanese soldiers.

They instructed the villagers how to dig trenches in "V" shape for hiding themselves during bombings and serious gun fights. But the villagers didn't pay any heed to such advices; instead they were enjoying digging trenches for the Japanese troops. So many villagers became victims as they didn't take advices of the British.

The British soldiers were well-equipped and well-versed of the areas, besides more associated with the locals as they had been ruling the Indian sub-continent for years together. On the other hand, the Japanese soldiers coming from their homeland thousands of miles away from these areas of north east India were neither familiar with the locals nor area environment.

On one side, they had to fight the British armies. On the other, they faced a lot of hardships as they had to cope with the locals and area environment. They had to depend on the locals for not only fighting against the British but also for their sustenance. Without the support of the locals, it was almost impossible to fight against the British. The British armies knew very well of this. They told the locals in advance that the advancing Japanese armies would come in different forms to extract the information of them (British armies).

Like the British army, the Japanese army too had their own intelligent armies who would mobilize information of the British army movement and their activities by using the services of the locals. Unfortunately, the ones mostly used by the British armies before the Japanese arrived at, would be again used by the Japanese to extract more information. Such trend became major threats on the lives of many innocent villagers.

In fact when the Japanese was about to be defeated, they even tried to kill many villagers as they thought they would be reused as spies by the British against them. But on many occasions, they faced strong resistance from the villagers.

Kohima, present capital of Nagaland state, was a place where one of the fiercest battles between the Japanese troops and the British troops took place in the history of the Second World War. These memorable battles at Kohima started from April 1944 and ended in June 1944. Japan was literally responsible for pushing Asia into full scale war. But most of the people in this part of the world in the 40s were not aware of that. The Japanese, in fact, attacked almost all the Asian nations and captured them. Their invasions of the Asian nations had prompted the Allies to specifically target their bases and even to the extent of dropping atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Kohima siege and the casualties caused to both the Japanese troops and the Allies during the Second World War in Kohima and Imphal sectors were unimaginable. The wars at Kohima and Imphal claimed the lives of 65,000 Japanese troops and 18,000 British and Indian soldiers.

There are three Second World War Cemeteries; one is at Kohima, the capital of India's present state of Nagaland, while other two at Imphal, the capital of the India's present state of Manipur. The upkeep of these Second World War Cemeteries here at Kohima and Imphal is under the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The Commission is responsible for the continued commemoration of 1.69 million deceased Commonwealth military service members in 150 countries. Since its inception, the Commission has constructed approximately 2,500 war cemeteries and numerous memorials. The Commission is currently responsible for the care of war dead at over 23,000 separate burial sites and the maintenance of more than 200 memorials worldwide.

Today, it has become a history in this part of the world as to how the allied soldiers valiantly fought against the aggressive Japanese troops as Kohima siege. The Kohima War Cemetery which lies at the heart of Kohima City has today become a living testimony. There are over 1000 grave markers and every tourist visiting this war cemetery will still have visualized how they had fought against the Japanese troops during those 13 days of Kohima siege. They gave their lives for freedom. And one of the famous inscriptions which everyone will remember throughout their lives is:
"When you go home
Tell them of us, and say
For their tomorrow
We gave our today

To be continued ....

* Oken Jeet Sandham wrote this article for
The writer can be reached at nepsonline(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was posted on April 25, 2013.

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