We are very sad to announce the death of Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) Keith Old. He was a trustee of the Kohima Museum for a number of years and was assistant curator and treasurer. Our condolences to Keith’s family.
On February 4th 1944, in the Arakan region of north-west Burma, the Japanese 55th Division swept around the left flank of 7th Indian Division, using stealth, speed and cover of darkness to achieve complete surprise. As their HQ was overrun, scattered troops fell back to their Admin Box, where 7th Division’s administrative staff were based. The Box was surrounded by Japanese troops and Tokyo media proclaimed:
“New British 14th Army Destroyed in One Thrust”.
Surrounded on all sides by jungle-clad hills, Admin Box was entirely exposed to enemy snipers and mortars. Attacks came at night and on one night Japanese troops broke into the Field Ambulance and massacred doctors & patients. For ten days, the Box was bombed and strafed by enemy aircraft, until spitfires flying from India established air superiority; after that, rations & ammunition were supplied to the Box by parachute.
On February 24th, the siege was lifted by 5th Indian Division, fighting their way through from the west. Indian & British casualties were estimated at 2,000, including 500 dead; 5,000 Japanese dead were counted in the jungle around the Box.
General Slim wrote:
“For the first time, a British [and Indian] force had met, held & decisively defeated a major Japanese attack… It was a victory about which there could be no argument, and its effect, not only on the troops engaged but on the whole Fourteenth Army, was immense.
The legend of Japanese invincibility in the jungle … was smashed.“
Slim also said “it was the first occasion in this war in which a British force had withstood the full weight of a major Japanese offensive, held it, broken it, smashed it into little pieces and pursued it.
It was the turning point in the Burma Campaign.”
Indeed, after Admin Box the Japanese were never to win another major victory.
Bob White, latest addition to the curator team, has taken over administration of the museum’s website.
Until recently, the Kohima Museum in York concentrated almost completely on the British 2nd Infantry Division and the part this division played in the Burma Campaign. The artefacts and other items collected have reflected this and over the years many objects have been turned down as being outside this boundary.
With the shrinking number of veterans and the increasing number of family members wishing to learn more of the battles that their grandfathers, fathers and uncles fought in, it was decided that the scope of the Kohima collection should be broadened to encompass all of the Burma Campaign. This would also provide a growing centre for learning and research in the north of the country.
It was also realised that this small unfunded museum was the ONLY museum in the whole of the UK that provided a window to the longest running campaign of WW2. The remainder of the many thousands of men and woman who served in India and Burma and their families can come to the Kohima Museum in York to discover just what the men wore and what weapons they used. They can also see details of the Japanese forces who they fought so desperately to defeat.
There is a small but growing section of the display area devoted to the legendary Chindits plus a display highlighting the vital and crucial part played by the Allied Air Forces.
Talk of new displays cannot pass without mention of the Naga Hill tribes of North East India. The outcome of the Battle for Kohima might have turned out different had it not been for the total support given by the men women and even children of these tribes.
The Kohima Museum of the Burma Campaign is in the final stages of getting approval for a new Charter from the Charities Commission.
Everybody quotes the famous Kohima Epitaph, but very few know the exact origin. It has been very often wrongly attributed to Leonidas, King of Sparta who fought to the death to defend the pass against Xerxes and the Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.) .
In fact, it was the poet Simonides of Ceos (Kios) (586 – 468 B.C.), who immortalised it as: “Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by,That faithful to their precepts here we lie.”.
During the Spanish civil war, curiously enough, it was the same thought “to hold the pass to death”, which influenced the Spanish Republicans in their famous “no pasarán” (they will not pass) fierce defence of Teruel.
The sentiment in the epitaphs is certainly Spartan in tone and the writers were influenced by their classical education. The first of them was written by J. M. Edmonds for a graveyard in France, circa 1916 during the First World War: When you go home tell them of us, and say ‘For your to-morrows these gave their to-day’
The original version of the Kohima Epitaph which is inscribed on the monument was unveiled at Kohima in November 1944.
The author was Major John Etty-Leal, the G.S.O. II of the 2nd Division. He was a classical scholar and had imperfectly remembered what J.M. Edmonds had written. His version reads:
“When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our to-day”.
The Minster Lodge of the York Freemasons have very generously donated £200 to the museum for the purpose of refurbishing a display cabinet to house a new display for Major General John Malcolm Lawrence Grover CB MC*.
General Grover was the General Officer Commanding, the British 2nd Infantry Division and other formations from the Indian Army during his successful execution of the Battle of Kohima and for control of the Kohima Imphal Road against the 31st Division of the Japanese Imperial Army.
Members of the Minster Lodge gathered to take part in a guided tour of Historic Imphal Barracks conducted by Brian Ward TD followed by a presentation of the Battle and tour of the Museum conducted by the Curator Bob Cook.
The Worshipful Master of the Lodge – Mr Bob Burrows then presented a cheque to Bob Cook for the Grover display which now hold a plaque to commemorate the event.
If the public won’t come to the Museum…the Museum must then go to the Public. On Armed Forces Day this year the Kohima Museum Mobile Display was deployed to York City Centre. Several hundred members of the public processed through the display and were treated to a very comprehensive interpretation of this almost forgotten battle from the almost forgotten Burma Campaign.
A significant number of members of the public engaged with museum curator Bob Cook and assistant curator Brian Ward TD. Ted Robinson, our museum assistant kept tally with his clicker and all agreed that the awareness of Kohima, Burma and the 14th Army were substantially enhanced
The Doncaster Branch of the REME Association attended the Museum on a trip organised by WO1 (ASM) Bob Strachan. Some members of the Branch, together with their partners, received a presentation about the Battle of Kohima, & then explored the museum, before joining WO1 Strachan in the WO’s & Sgt’s Mess for lunch
Doncaster Branch members of the REME Association with their Ladies
WO1 (ASM) Bob Strachan is on the right
Just the guys this time with Curator Bob Cook on the left
Museum Staff attend Book launch
In early November 2011 the curator of the museum (Bob Cook) and his assistant (Brian Ward) were invited to attend the launch of the latest book on the Burma Campaign.
“Japan’s Final Bid for Victory” was written by well-known author and military historian Rob Lyman. Rob, a retired army officer, is also Chairman of the Kohima Educational Trust, a charity set up by Veterans of the Battle of Kohima to sponsor poor but gifted children of the Naga tribes, who would otherwise have no opportunity for further education. This, in some small way, serves to repay the Naga tribesmen and women for the great and valuable assistance they tendered to the British and Indian troops during the Battle for Kohima and subsequent actions.
Also attending the launch was Mrs Akiko Macdonald, Chairwoman of the Burma Campaign Society. The BCS continues to foster Anglo- Japanese goodwill and cooperation through the mediums of education and communication.
Mrs Macdonald’s father was a lieutenant veterinary surgeon serving with the 31st Division of the Japanese Imperial Army.