Like those of other formations engaged in the fighting in South East Asia in the latter years of WW2, the men of the 2nd British Infantry Division (the Crossed Keys Div.), took pride in their Crossed Keys symbol, worn proudly on their bush hats during the entire campaign, they also took pride in their achievements, which drove many to record their experiences in verse.
This volume of 132 poems has been compiled for the most part from the content of memorabilia donated to the Kohima Museum by veterans, and in some cases, their descendants, of the 2nd Division, written before, during and after the Battle of Kohima. Each one reflects the feelings of the soldiers as they at times struggled to come to terms with the slaughter, chaos and mayhem that would have ensued after the kind of savage hand-to-hand fighting that was a common aspect of combat against the ferocious Japanese soldier. Some poems have been written by young men who fell in service to their country so far from home and whose remains lie forever in a foreign land, to be remembered with honour in perpetuity.
Other poems have been written by old men who survived the maelstrom of war and who took up the pen to clear their minds of the memories that flood back in their twilight years – but – they were young men once.
Wikipedia defines a ‘War Poet’ as a poet who participates in a war and writes about his experiences, or a non-combatant who writes poems about war.
None of the men who wrote the poems in this book could be classed as well known in the sense of Sasson, Owen or Brooke from WW1. In fact those men were already poets but who also happened to be soldiers because of the war.
The poems in this book were written by ordinary men who, in the main, were soldiers of the British 2nd Infantry Division. But for the war, they may never have donned a uniform. As part of the 2nd Division, they went to stand firm against an implacable foe in the most difficult terrain, enduring the most dreadful weather conditions; they wrote about their experiences either at the time or in later life. And in so doing they earned for themselves the right to be referred to as Soldier Poets.
For the purist, many of these poems would not be considered poems at all but merely ‘doggerel’ or at best, verse. But to the men who wrote them, they represented the honour and respect in memory of their mates who fell beside them in the vicious hand to hand combat, or who were blown to bloody pieces by the bomb and grenade, during the fighting at Kohima and in Burma.
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