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