HEROES FROM THE FORGOTTEN WAR
TURNING POINT: 50 years on, a new booklet commemorates the
bravery of North-East soldiers who helped win a vital victory in Asia
material on this page was submitted by
Bernard Hope, the son of Tom Hope, DLI, veteran of Kohima
Echo, Friday, May 6, 1994
WITH the D-Day anniversary debacle and the success of the film
Schindler's List, attention has again been focused on the horrors of war in
But it had no monopoly on savagery. At the
same time, Asia was under the grip of another peril as the Japanese tried to
wrestle the colonies from the European empires.
Fifty years ago, the 2nd Battalion of the
Durham Light Infantry spearheaded the battle of Kohima, which spelled the
beginning of the end for the Japanese advance in Asia.
Anthony Barnes looks back and meets a
THE jungle-fringed hill stations provide cool, quiet relief from
the oppressive heat of the Indian plains.
But the idyllic peace was shattered at one
town in the spring of 1944, when Kohima - in the North-East province of Assam -
became a raging battleground for three months.
All parts of the town were absorbed into the
battle, and at one point a tennis court saw a different kind of volley of shots
when it became the only thing separating the two sides.
The Japanese army, in a two-year march across
South East Asia, had already claimed Malaya, Singapore and much of Burma - all
And next it expected a victorious
breakthrough into India, provoking a revolt against colonial rule.
The invasion would have seen an advance of
100,000 troops. The plan was first to seize the British defences at Imphal and
Kohima and then head on another 30 miles to straddle the Bengal-Assam railway.
The Japanese managed to isolate the hill on
which Kohima stood - and laid it under a murderous barrage.
Only 1,500 men were furiously fending off the
Japanese 31st division, which numbered 12,000 men.
Two weeks were spent under siege, with the
only supplies arriving by air as the ground occupied by the British shrank until
they were confined to the top of one hill.
Finally, the British 2nd division,
spearheaded by the 2nd Durham Light Infantry, got through to find a scene of
devastation - no building was left undamaged and the dead lay unburied.
They relieved the survivors on April 20, but
there was no let-up in the Japanese onslaught. They needed the lofty ground to
be sure of controlling the road which ran around the base.
Two days later the Imperial forces launched
an all-out attack to capture the town.
Both sides suffered heavily, but the Durhams
held their positions.
After that unsuccessful blitz the bitter
fighting went on until the Japanese withdrew in early June. The fighting had
lasted 64 days.
On top of being a battle which turned the
course of the war in Asia, sparking the Japanese withdrawal, Kohima is notable
for the fact that compared with the weight of the Japanese forces, there was
only a handful of British holding them back. It has brought comparisons to the
Zulu charge at Rourke's Drift.
Kohima claimed around 30,000 Japanese lives,
while British and Indian losses came to 5,500. From one 2DLI company of 136 men,
only 60 remained.
The 50th anniversary of the battle is being
marked with the publication of a booklet, Forgotten No More.
Written by Steve Shannon, of the DLI museum,
it is to be published by Durham County Council.
The charred landscape of Kohima after the Japanese forces had finally
Tom Hope (second from left, with hands on hips) and stretcher bearers from
the 2nd Battalion DLI at Kohima in 1944.