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Kohima War Cemetery included in CWGC’s 5 sites in the world with unusual features

tennis court kohima war cemetery

DIMAPUR, JANUARY 16: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has listed 5 sites in the world with unusual features, one being the Kohima War Cemetery.
The CWGC says the Kohima War Cemetery has a feature that is possibly not shared by any other cemetery in the word: a tennis court.
“Each of our cemeteries tells its own story. As you walk through and read the names, dates and regiments on our headstones you can build an understanding of what happened to the men and women commemorated there”, the CWGC website says, adding, “But you can also gather clues about the history of the world wars by looking at the physical features of a cemetery.
Kohima War Cemetery is a memorial dedicated to soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the Allied Forces, who died in the Second World War at Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, in April 1944. The soldiers died on the battleground of Garrison Hill in the tennis court area of the Deputy Commissioner’s residence.
According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which maintains this cemetery among many others in the world, there are 1,420 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War at this cemetery, and a memorial to an additional 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who were cremated in accordance with their faith.
“In 1944, following hard fighting in the Burmese jungle, the Japanese forces in the region pushed across the Chindwin River and into India. In their path was the Fourteenth Army, made up of forces from across the Commonwealth. This invasion hinged upon two key points, Imphal and Kohima. Defeat for the Fourteenth Army here meant that the Japanese could strike further into India”, the CWGC wrote.
The town of Kohima was of key strategic importance, at the highest point of the pass through the jungle mountains to the city of Dimapur. If Dimapur fell, then the defenders at Imphal would be cut off without supplies.
On April 3, a Japanese force of 15,000 attacked Kohima and its 2,500 strong garrison. The ridges at Kohima lead to two weeks of difficult, bloody fighting as the defending forces were pushed back to the former house of the British Deputy Commissioner.
“The surviving defenders, encamped around the garden tennis court, prepared for their final stand. As the Japanese forces prepared to attack, they were attacked in turn by the lead tanks of a relief force, saving the garrison and pushing the attackers back”, the website said.
“Despite this setback, the Japanese force continued to fight for Kohima before they were finally forced to withdraw in May. Those who had fallen in the defence of Kohima were buried on the battlefield, which later became a permanent CWGC cemetery, with further burials from the surrounding areas”, it said.
Colin St. Clair Oakes, who designed the cemetery, incorporated the tennis court into the design, and it remains today, to commemorate the men who died in defence of the town.
In an interaction with The New Indian Express, Lhouvi Mezhur Sekhose, who is the Manager of the cemetery, said the tennis court is no longer in use but maintained. It still has the turf and the line-markings, he said.
“So many human lives were lost around the tennis court that the CWGC doesn’t want people to play tennis there anymore”, Sekhose, whose family has been associated with the cemetery’s management for decades, said.
His grandfather had been associated with the cemetery since its inception in 1946. His father too had been associated with it for many years.
The cemetery is entirely maintained by the CWGC. Its officials, who are based in the UK, come and do the inspection from time to time, Sekhose added.
The World War I “Crater Cemeteries” – Zivy Crater and Litchfield Crater – in the Pas de Calais region of France and the Nicosia (Waynes Keep) Cemetery or the “cemetery in no man’s land” in Cyprus, besides “The Eye Hospital” at Giza are among the other unusual sites listed by the CWGC.
(Page News Service with inputs from TNIE)