Prince Andrew, Duke of York, recently visited Kohima War Cemetery to pay homage to hundreds of soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the Allied Forces in the Battle of Kohima in 1944 during World War II. Prince Andrew is the first member of the British Royal Family to have visited the Cemetery maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission of which India is one of the seven members.
Many perhaps do not know the importance of that distant town, Kohima, nestling in the misty hills of Nagaland in the North East. The Battle of Kohima was fought for around three months by the Allied Forces who defended India against a determined Japanese offensive. It was a turning point in the War. Aiming at the railhead at Dimapur the Japanese made a resolute attempt to break through the defences into the Brahmaputra Valley and then into India, only to be resisted with strength and pushed back by the Allied forces. The decisive Battle was fought mostly around the Kohima collector’s bungalow and his tennis court. Towards the end of the battle the two enemies happened to face each other from across the two side-lines of the court, eventually ending up fighting hand-to-hand with huge number of casualties on both sides. Once Kohima was secured, the Japanese were pushed back down the Kohima-Imphal Road into Burma, and later from the entire South East Asia.
The Kohima War Cemetery is beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Cemetery has a lovely garden that overlooks Kohima. The structure, design, horticulture, etc. are all on the basis of the standards prescribed by the Commission. At Kohima the Stone of Remembrance, a feature of all War Graves taken care of by the Commission, has an evocative epitaph which says,
“When you go home tell them of us and say
That for their tomorrow we gave our today”.
During my tenure in the North East in 1988-1990 I had the good fortune of visiting Kohima on a few occasions and visit the War Cemetery. A photograph (now faded) taken then is being uploaded. I also happened to travel down the historic Kohima-Imphal Road on which several tough battles were fought to dislodge the Japanese. The highways authorities, showing an unusual sense of history, have put up signage ndicating sites of various significant battles, for example, “the Battle of Zakhama”.