Distant Drums


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The Kohima Epitaph is dedicated to the memory of the 10,000 Allied soldiers who died fighting the Battle of Kohima in the summer of 1944. It is built & maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission & is among the best in the world.  Located on the slopes of Garrison Hill the cemetery overlooks the hustle & bustle of a crowded town & is both a prominent landmark & tourist destination. There are row upon row of neatly laid out graves in a landscape of pine trees, grassy slopes, butterflies & flowers. Except for Sunday it remains open everyday from 8am – 5pm.

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I am at the gates on a rain drenched day patiently waiting for the cemetery to open.The caretaker arrives like clockwork & soon I have the place entirely to myself – for a couple of hours at least. Like most cemeteries it exudes an air of quiet peace & repose. The Pines stand tall & give off a scent with the wafting of the breeze. Lone sentinels. With the rain & mist rolling in from the surrounding hills it is beautiful beyond compare.

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It takes almost 3 hours pausing & walking past each & every grave. Wish I had done a head count. There are 1480 graves I am told but cannot be certain. (It is 1420 according to Wikipedia) Except for a single one belonging to a young woman, a nurse, the rest are all soldiers. Each one killed in his prime. Each very young. Very very young. Far too young.

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The Roll of Honor proudly proclaims the regiment & names of those who were cremated. There are several marked graves in memory of the unknown soldier, both Indian & Foreign.

“A soldier of the Indian Army 1939 – 1945 is honoured here”

Or

“A soldier of 1939 – 1945. Known unto God”

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The tombstones convey feelings of pride & simple grief at the loss of a loved one. Most of the inscriptions are personal, some religious, “Rock of Ages. Cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee”

Others patriotic, inspiring, poetic & stoic.

Dickens is the most quoted with “ greater love hath no man than this – His life for his country “

And the hugely popular  “ At the setting of the sun & in the morning. We will remember them”

There is Shakespeare too:  “after life’s fitful fever he sleeps well”

Also the deeply poignant “O, for the touch of a vanished hand & the sound of a voice that is still”

But strangest by far surely was: “Ever remembered by his devoted wife VI & relatives. Gods will be done”
(I reread this several times to be sure I had read right. Or was there a hidden message that I had missed?)

My personal favorite however,is: “ In a short time he lived a long time”
Short & crisp. Like a life well lived


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7 thoughts on “Distant Drums

  1. Sudha, there is a similar cemetery in Digboi, for Second World War soldiers. Every nov. a representative from Common Wealth Organisation comes to lay a wreath. The function is jointly hosted by tea garden association and 2 div. and like you noticed most of them died very young, far too young.

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