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Flashback June 1994 - Battle of Imphal: 50 Years Later

When you go back home, tell them of us, that for their tomorrow, we gave our today – thus went reverend John Croft, administering the service at the Imphal War Cemetery. A former British Army Major who saw action at Imphal, now well into his seventies, the pitch and conviction in his voice was impressive. He was at Imphal 50 years after one of the most intense conflicts of the Second World War where the Allied forces; British, Indians, Americans and Africans fought against the Japanese, a battle in which no quarter was asked for and none was given.

On that sunny afternoon of the 11th of April, as the buglers sounded the last post and the honour guard reversed arms, the contingent of British war veterans and widows, some with their children, hung their heads even as the flag of the Royal British Legion rested on the ground. Memories of the dear departed filled the air. Battle scenes of comrades in arms, fighting alongside at one moment and dead the next, came across the minds of the old soldiers. Widows who received telegrams from the war office in London with the cryptic message, ‘killed in action’ stood, glued to the ground, eyes transfixed in fond remembrance of the few years they shared as husbands and wives. The entire scenario was one caught in a time warp. It has been a long journey, more in the mind than of physical distance covered said Ms. Lorrain Richards Hamilton. Her father Captain Gerry Richards of the Royal Army Medical Corps fell in the defence of Imphal. Lorrain’s long journey across the seven seas and extended over half a century ended as she sat in the lotus position, in front of her father’s grave, her eyes closed but her mind travelling back on a time machine to be with her father. The chasm which she had to cross was immense for she was an infant when her father fell and 50 years had lapsed before she could visit his last resting place. “My mother wanted to come but she could not make it at all,” said Ms. Lorrain. A cellophane wrapped paper with the sketches of Captain Richards and his wife and farewell messages from their children lay rested on the grave and was soon enveloped by the smoke from incense sticks.

Further down, Cathie Herd stood; eyes moist as she stared at the plate on the gravestone which read, ‘Sgt. W. Herd Royal engineers’. For half a century after she was widowed, she had always wanted to make this pilgrimage and for the first time, her eyes rested on her husband’s grave and it was as if his soul was waiting for this reunion all these years. Peace seems to have descended on the spot which contained the mortal remains of the man killed by a Japanese sniper’s bullet.