War memorabilia of a grave reality

The World War II Museum has the rarest collection of articles and invaluable treasures that pay tribute to the 31st Division Japanese soldiers who died in Kohima during the war, writes N J Ravi Chander.

Kohima War Cemetery. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

It is a cold winter morning as we bid adieu to our wonderful hosts at Niraamaya Retreats Aradura, Kohima, Aftab Ansari and his deputy Amitkumar Mondal, and head to the Second World War Museum located in the Naga Heritage Village of Kisama.

The World War II Museum was inaugurated on December 1, 2008, and is dedicated to the ‘Battle of Kohima’ fought in April 1944 between the Allied soldiers and the Japanese troops. The local inhabitants, the Nagas, fought on both sides. The museum, located atop a hill, houses a treasure trove of war memorabilia that includes guns, cutlery, artillery, newspapers carrying war reports, Instrument of Surrender, fighter plane wrecks, uniforms and even a tribute in memory of the 31st Division Japanese soldiers who died in Kohima during the war. The war memorabilia are nicely displayed inside glass compartments and every item is neatly tagged and labelled.

After concluding our visit at the war museum, we head to Midland Colony, Kohima, where the historic war cemetery is located. The Midland Colony is about 11 km from the museum.

Upper Stone Memorial
Upper Stone Memorial


Designed by Colin St Clair Oakes, the historic Kohima War Cemetery is a memorial dedicated to the 10,000 Allied soldiers who lost their lives in the Japanese invasion during World War II. The cemetery, which nestles in the heart of the city, is a hauntingly beautiful spot and presents a 360-degree view of the city. The site lends an enviable peace, aura and tranquillity to the surroundings that ironically were the turning point in the decisive victory of Allied forces during the Second World War. On the 18 plots of the cemetery, there are 1,421 slabs laid out in neat geometrical patterns. Beautifully covered with well-manicured lawns, the plots of the cemetery look like a colourful blanket sculpted with stories of fallen heroes and their valour.

The cemetery is designed in a series of terraces where stone steps lead the way. At the highest point in the site stands the Kohima Cremation Memorial commemorating 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose mortal remains were consigned to flames in accordance with their faith.

The cemetery was earlier known as Garrison Hill and initially served as a tennis ground of the Deputy Commissioner and later got transformed into a battleground.

It is believed that the most savage and intense hand-to-hand combat that saw the Japanese vanquished and driven back from the borders of India took place across the tennis court. The residence court presented a ghastly sight with dead bodies strewn all over and drenched in pools of blood. The white marker lines are still in place.

A soldier's gravestone
A soldier's gravestone


Two huge crosses on either side of the hill cover the perimeter of the cemetery. The inscription on the upper stone reads: “Here, around the tennis court of the Deputy Commissioner, lie men who fought in the Battle of Kohima in which they and their comrades finally halted the invasion of India by the forces of Japan in April, 1944.”

The inscription in another 15 ft stone memorial installed in the lower end, titled the “Kohima Epitaph” reads: “When you go home, tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today.”

The sight of the graves in the cemetery and the touching epitaphs on them is a humbling experience and a stark reminder of the savage battle that was fought in Garrison Hill.

Steering wheel
Steering wheel


One can visualise the anguish on the faces of the loved ones of the fallen soldiers, who waited painstakingly for their return. It is unfortunate that many a young soldier’s life was snuffed out at a tender age in an area as remote as the Naga Hills. But such are the horrors of war!

The War Cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which takes care of 2,500 cemeteries all over the world to commemorate those who died in the two World Wars.

Military and history buffs would do well to include a visit to the Kohima War Museum and the War Cemetery in their tour itinerary. It is hugely satisfying and well worth the visit.

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