Army Veterans Honoured by Duke of York
3:45pm 22nd May 2013
His Royal Highness the Duke of York joined veterans of the Battle of Kohima in York for their annual memorial service and wreath-laying at York Minster and in Dean’s Gardens.
The service to commemorate what the late Earl Mountbatten described as 'probably one of the greatest battles in history’ commemorates the battle of Kohima in North East India which was fought from 4 April to 22 June 1944. Nearly 4,000 British and Indian soldiers lost their lives when Allied Forces halted the advance of the Japanese army in Asia. This battle was ultimately to prove to be the turning point of the Burma Campaign.
Sea Cadets from TS York lined the steps to York Minster as their Admiral, His Royal Highness the Duke of York entered the west door. This is the first time that the 14 - 17 year olds have taken part in the memorial service. They also formed a guard of honour to the Chapter House when the Duke met the veterans after the service.
The ceremony was conducted by the Rev Jonathan Gough, the Deputy Assistant Chaplain General, 15 (North East) Brigade. Following the service, the Duke met the surviving veterans, their families and local Sea Cadets before joining them in Dean’s Gardens adjacent to York Minster for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Kohima Memorial.
Those that fell in battle 69 years ago were remembered by a minute's silence and a bugler from the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band sounded the "Last Post" and "Reveille".
In 1944 two Japanese divisions were ordered to encircle and destroy the British and Indian forces on the Imphal Plain while the third was to cut the main supply route to Dimapur at the remote hill station of Kohima.
Kohima was almost like a transit camp with about 1,500 combatant troops. These were mainly about 420 officers and men from the 4th Battalion Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment who, together with the remainder of their brigade, had been airlifted out from the Arakan to meet the threat.
The Japanese arrived in the Kohima area on the 4t April and by the following day were fully engaged with the garrison. Slowly, day by day the defenders were driven into their final defensive position – the Deputy Commissioner’s tennis court and his bungalow.
In the meantime, the British 2nd Division was some 2000 miles away in the south west of India. the Division was rushed across India by road, rail and air.
In Kohima itself, the Garrison was holding on, but was very nearly at the limit of its endurance. There was no time to form a proper divisional concentration at Dimapur and so as units of the 2nd Division arrived, they went straight into action, piecemeal.
On 12 April 1944, 1st battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, with artillery and tank support, attacked and destroyed the Japanese position near the thirty-seventh milestone. 2nd Division’s operations to relieve the siege went on rapidly and on Tuesday 18 April 1944, they were successful.
However, the Japanese still held most of Kohima, and their positions, dug deep into commanding hillsides with interlocking support, were very strong. The fighting went on for a further 7 weeks before the Japanese were finally forced to withdraw from the field.
Approximately 1500 men of the British and Indian Armies stood against some 13,500 soldiers of the Japanese 31st Division and held them for 14 days of continuous hand to hand battle during the Siege of Kohima until relieved by the men of the British 2nd Division It has been said that the fighting between 4th April 1944 and 22nd June 1944 was the fiercest fighting by a British force of arms in the whole of the Second World War. The Battle ground was also likened to the Somme of First World War because of its utter desolation.
Those that fell at the Battle of Kohima will be remembered as wreaths are laid by HRH Duke of York and Brigadier Greville Bibby, the senior Commander for the Army in Yorkshire and the North East.
The veterans and their families will then attend a reception at Imphal Barracks and have the opportunity to browse in its Kohima Museum which houses many photos, letters and memorabilia from the period.
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