On 75th anniversary of Battle of Kohima, a ‘debt of honour’ to clear

On 75th anniversary of Battle of Kohima, a ‘debt of honour’ to clear
The Battle of Kohima, 1944: Nagas were caught in a war that was not their own but many of them became inadvertently involved. (Screen grab from the KET/KES documentary film ‘WWII The Battle of Kohima, as the Naga people saw it’)


Kohima Educational Trust/Society to commemorate platinum jubilee on April 4, 2019


Morung Express News
Dimapur | October 7


The Battle of Kohima was a turning point in World War II, for the Allied Forces and the Naga people. Lasting 64 days, from April 4 to June 22, 1944, the Battle resulted in unprecedented devastation for the Nagas who stood by the British and won the war together against the Japanese forces. From ashes, the British helped rebuild Kohima but the “debt of honour” that the British owed to the Nagas in winning the “greatest battle in the history of Britain” remained.


April 4, 2019, will be commemorated as the 75th anniversary of the World War II’s Battle of Kohima by the Kohima Educational Trust (KET) in conjunction with its Nagaland counterpart, Kohima Educational Society (KES). Initiated and founded in 2004 by World War II veteran Gordon Graham, the KET is a charitable educational trust in the United Kingdom. Alongside KES, it will observe the platinum jubilee to honour the “steadfast and indispensable” alliance the Nagas provided the British to win the Battle of Kohima.


A novel idea
Gordon Graham, who first used to term “debt of honour” to signify what the British owed to the Nagas for the Battle of Kohima, fought at the Battle as a young captain of the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders in the British 2nd Division under General Grover. He won two Military Crosses in the Burma Campaign and was later a journalist, published author and international publisher. Gordon died in 2015.


He had established the KET with the aspiration to “assist with the education of the descendants of the Naga allies who helped the British to win the Battle of Kohima.” The KET and KES continue with this endeavour—for the Battle’s upcoming platinum jubilee, they have announced the Gordon Graham Prize for Naga Literature.


“Gordon always wanted Nagas to come closer with each other and live in peace and harmony. It was Gordon’s idea to start a Naga Literature Prize to promote Naga writing,” said Dr. P Ngully, Chairperson of the KES, while speaking to The Morung Express.


The prize is for the best novel and calls for entries from Naga people located anywhere in the world. The last date of submission of documents for the prize is October 15 after which a jury will examine the submitted works. The prize will be given at the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Kohima in 2019.


Albeit a first, this is one among the many activities that the KET/KES has been doing over the years.


Ongoing works
“One of Graham’s ideas was to promote understanding through learning one another’s language – the result was ‘Keywords,’ a glossary of the 16 officially recognized tribe languages of Nagaland State, published by the KET and available for sale with the KES,” informed Dr. Ngully.


In an annual event, the KET/KES awards scholarship to poor and needy Naga scholars of Nagaland State as well as kith and kin of Naga World War II veterans. “Till date more than 500 Naga scholars have availed KET scholarships,” informed a note from Mhasisalie Solo, Executive Manager of the KES.


Furthermore, the KET/KES has been providing basic health training to Nagas in Tuensang and Wokha districts of Nagaland State.


While this piece cannot do justice to the range of the works taken up by the KET/KES, two more are worth a mention.


A basketball court was constructed in Phek village in 2015. “When Ray Jackson bailed out of his fighter plane over Japanese occupied territory in 1944, he was rescued, nursed back to health and helped to escape by a Naga (at present Pastor of a church in Phek near the border with Burma). Ray wanted to give something back to Phek and the village opted for a basketball court whose construction was facilitated by KET/KES,” informed Dr. Ngully and Solo.


The people of Pangsha in Tuensang, at the Indo-Myanmar border, had similarly shown great support and kindness to soldiers of the Allied Forces during World War II. In a showcase of gratitude, the KET/KES constructed a 32 bedded hostel in Pangsha and continues to provide educational assistance to children there.


“This project was completed in March 2014 and is now functioning under the care of Pangsha Village Council,” stated the KES.


War veterans
The Naga war veterans of the Battle of Kohima suffered immensely through their lifetime. Their stories, and those of other Nagas who survived the Battle, have been told in a book and documentary film sponsored by the KET. The book is titled ‘The Road to Kohima; the Naga experience in the 2nd World War’ and is authored by KES President and author, Charles Chasie, in collaboration with Harry Fecitt, a former British Army infantry officer. The film is titled ‘WWII: The Battle of Kohima As the Naga People Saw It.’


To support the war veterans and their descendants, the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Servicemen League (RCEL) in UK entrusted the KES in 2017 to locate and find out the war veterans who are still alive, and present them with grants, gifts and even gallantry award replicas from the RCEL.


The veterans have led a harsh a life, battered even by the Indo-Naga war, and they will be recognized as the ‘Heroes of Kohima’ (also the title of a Bagpipe classic that is played till date when a Battle of Kohima veteran dies).