VIDEO: Kohima War Cemetery, World War II Fought On A Tennis Court?
The Kohima War Cemetery offers a tribute to the fallen comrades of the World War II who died in the Battle Of Kohima. A unique battle developed between British and Japanese upon a small tennis court ion Nagaland, a battle that had cost the lives of tens of thousands. Amidst the chaos, the Naga tribes were sucked into a battle that wasn’t even their own.
The Incredible Story Behind The Kohima War Cemetery
What is known as ‘One of the Greatest Battles in History’, the Battle of Kohima began when the British Deputy Commissioner’s Bungalow was first attacked by Japanese forces in the spring of 8th April, 1944. The battle was fought between the Japanese and British army troops in a small tennis court located in the Garrison Hills of Nagaland in the DC’s residence.
The British had formed allies with the Indian Army and fought in unison to stop the Japanese from advancing into India. It was then that history took a nasty turn in the serene hills of Nagaland, forever changing the lives of the Naga tribes and the way they saw the world.
The Battle Of The Tennis Court
After the Imperial Japanese Army had attacked the British at the Kohima Ridge, the British army fought back while they looked for a strategic positioning. The British troops moved to the highest point of Kohima, the tennis court in Garrison Hills. ‘The Battle Of The Tennis Court’ thus began. The battle fought here was a unique one. The small-sized tennis court provided for a small battleground and the armies had to fight at a dangerously close proximity to each other.
Caught In The Crossfire
The Kohima battle is regarded as ‘The Bloodiest Battle Of The World War II’. Thousands of men – Japanese, British, Indian and the Nagamese lost their lives to this. The Nagamese people were forced to join the British army. They soon became a part of a battle that they never chose to have. They had nothing to gain, and yet everything to lose.
The Naga tribes and their families were exploited by both the British and Japanese armies during this time. Apart from fighting their battles, the Naga tribes were also forced to do odd jobs when asked for. Thousands of Naga Tribes were moved out of Nagaland and were assigned to be labour corps, stretcher bearers, informers and soldiers.
A Bloody Battle In The Hills
Approximately 22,000 soldiers fought in the Kohima War. Both the Japanese and British along with their allied Indian forces were in constant battle. Continuous infantry attacks, grenades, shelling and air bombing burned Nagaland to ashes. The battle of the Tennis court carried on for 64 long days. And what was once home to the Naga tribes in the faraway jungles of Nagaland, was forever scarred and destroyed in this terrifying war.
The Battle Of The Cherry Tree
The Battle of Kohima is also regarded as ‘The Battle Of The Cherry Tree’. During the war in the tennis court, it is said that a Japanese sniper climbed up a cherry located there and killed many British soldiers. Although the cherry tree doesn’t exist anymore, a sapling has been placed there.
The Guardian Of The Foregone
In the video below, a local Nagamese man speaks to TUTC about the significance of the cemetery. He is also the guardian of the Kohima war Cemetery and its unique history. He has been collecting the remains of the Kohima war fought during the Second World War in his home. He says, “I want the younger generations to see them and learn the horrors of war. There is one God and one world. We need to build peace. I find much satisfaction when tourist from across the world come here, learn something new and find new perspectives.”
Six Feet Under Garrison Hills
The Kohima war Cemetery now stands on top of the same tennis court where the World War II was fought. The Deputy Commissioner’s Bungalow on Garrison Hills was completely destroyed in the Battle of Kohima. Traces of concrete lines mark the former existence of this bungalow.
An estimated 2337 gravestones have been built as a memorial for those who died in the Battle of Kohima in 1944. The Kohima war Cemetery has upto 1420 commonwealth burials of those who died in the Second World War. The other 917 Hindu and Sikhs bodies were cremated as per religious obligations.
Inscriptions Engraved Into Time
Two tall memorials stand on the Kohima war Cemetery marking the highest and lowest points of the cemetery. The inscription in the upper stone memorial 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 gravestones at the Kohima War Cemetery houses that of the British, Hindu and Sikh soldiers. Although, many Naga Tribes dies in this battle, there has been no official records of their death and their graves haven’t been memorialized like the rest. Although, there is one gravestone dedicated to a 21 year old Naga Tribe, Saliezhu Angami. The inscription on his grave reads, “The big-minded warring youngest son of mine shall arise and shine like a star.”
Stand Witness To Nagaland’s Bloody History
The Nagamese people are no strangers to bloodbaths. In fact, the Naga tribes used to be head-hunters. To the Naga Tribes, headhunting was a matter of great pride. The higher the number of people killed by headhunting, the higher the value that Naga tribe holds in his community. They also get a traditional tattoo done on their faces that marks their ‘achievement’.
What a shock it must have been to them when the Battle Of Kohima had begun. With huge army troops invading their land with ammunitions, grenades and air-bombing planes. Exploited by soldiers who wanted to capture their homeland; their villages and farm produce snatched away from them. Continuous bombing left their once green land, burned down to ashes. Corpses lying around everywhere.
The War Also Changed Nagamese Lives For Good
The World War II exposed the Naga people to the world outside. The war lead them to see new things that fascinated them – army vehicles, bulldozers, tankers, and a whole variety of ammunitions and machinery that they had never seen before. The Nagas soon became more aware, educated and were wise enough to fight their own battles.
The Naga tribes also came to realize that internal divisions were of no good to them. So after the war, the leaders of each Naga tribe formed the Angami Council in 1944 and changes were made in their lifestyle. Soon, the first hydroelectric project was established in the Naga Hills, followed by the setting up of St. John’s High school in 1945.
These were the direct impacts that resulted out of the Second World war and the Naga Society progressed in terms of education, economy and self-identity.
The mobilisation of the Nagas to France and other countries during the war also made way for new paths. The Nagas finally found their true identity and transformed into a civil society. Further, the Naga National Council was formed in 1946 and the Naga Independence was declared on August 14, 1947.
Kohima War Cemetery, A Memorial Of The World War II
The Battle of Kohima changed everything. The Kohima War Cemetery stands as a testimonial to the bloodiest war in history. Unlike other graveyards, the Kohima War Cemetery doesn’t give an eerie feel when you walk into it. Located in the Garrision Hills and being the highest point in Kohima, it has become a major tourist attraction of Nagaland.
You get a panoramic view of the Kohima City from the Kohima War Cemetery. It gets you thinking about the lives of thousands of brave, young men lost in the very place you’re standing on. Of the many, the youngest soldier buried in the Kohima War Cemetery is the 16 year old Ghulam Muhammad of the 2nd Punjab Regiment.
Imagine a 16 year-old with guns and grenades, and fighting a war. Bloodshed and chaos all around him, as he takes his final breath.
Who would have thought that a beautiful bungalow upon a hill would have a tennis court soon to be turned into a battlefield?
A tennis court where thousands have died and then buried, all in the name of war.
Come, bear witness to Nagaland’s unique history with TUTC at the Kohima War Cemetery. Uncover Nagaland and all of its wonders at the Kohima Camp.
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