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 Ladies were given a personal welcome by the Curator and then received a short presentation of the Battle of Kohima, after which they were invited to explore 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
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 the 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 which they tendered without question 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.
A dozen Year 10 pupils from Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College in Bradford have visited a World War II museum in York to discover more about their ancestors.
The Kohima Museum, based in Imphal Barracks, Fulford, York commemorates the deeds and actions of the British 2nd Division from 1942 – 1946 paying particular attention to the Siege and Battle of Kohima. It hosts a vast selection of memorabilia from the event including war diaries, uniforms, medals, maps, charts, ground photographs and weapons.
The students witnessed the visual differences in warfare between 1942 and 2012 by examining different artefacts, and speaking to Gurkha soldiers from 2 Signal Regiment about their modern day experiences. They also had the opportunity to model military dress from the different periods, and discover what life was like for an every day soldier by marching across the barracks to the Kohima Restaurant to sample what the military of today eat in the battle field.
WO2 Shamim Ahmed from the Royal Logistics Corps, who hosted the visit said:
“It’s very important for these teenagers to find out more about their shared history, especially their military history where some of their Great Grandfathers would have taken part in the Battle of Kohima, preventing the Japanese invasion into India. They need to realise that although we live in England, their ancestors equally took part in the battles of the Second World War along with other countries.
“Hopefully visiting the Barracks has opened their eyes up to the possibility of an Army career too, and given them an experience they haven’t had before.”
The school visit was co-ordinated as part of the Prince of Wales’ Mosaic Mentoring programme, which inspires young people from deprived communities to realise their talents and potential. The programme links young people with inspirational role models to boost their confidence, self-efficacy and long-term employability.
Teacher Gerard Liston, from Laisterdyke College explained:
““Working with employer guests like the Army adds a lot to students’ opportunities for learning, giving them a taste of life beyond school. The visit to the Museum and Army Barracks has been excellent creating a great incentive, and a super variety of experiences that would not normally be open to school children.”
Pupil Sarah Wright (15) from Bradford said:
“The visit’s been really good, I’ve really enjoyed myself. The artefacts that were on display in the museum were interesting and I didn’t think they would have things that old on an Army Camp. The marching was really fun too, but a bit tiring!”
Pupil Awais Ahmed (14) said:
“I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know before, especially about Army life with how the soldiers feel and the gear they have to wear. You can see how much their kit has improved; I was shocked at what they wore back in World War Two. It seemed really light and not as strong as what they wear now.”
The College then went on to visit the “We Were There” exhibition at Kala Sangam, Bradford which highlights the contribution made by the people of Asia, Africa and the West Indies to the defence of Britain going back 250 years.