Manipur observes the 70th anniversary of Battle of Imphal (WW-II), 1944

By Dr. Syed Ahmed for,

Imphal: Manipur is observing the 70th anniversary of Battle of Imphal, one of the most historic battles of the Second World War (WW-II) fought in 1944. The inaugural ceremony of the 3-month commemoration of the Battle of Imphal was held on March 23, 2014 at Manipur Film Development Corporation (MFDC) Auditorium at Imphal. The anniversary programmes will continue till June 28. Various programmes will be held at the sites where Allied forces and Japanese soldiers fought fierce battles.

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The inaugural ceremony, organized by Manipur Tourism Festival (MTF) and WW-II Imphal Campaign Foundation in association with the Government of Manipur, was graced by Chief Secretary P.C. Lawmkunga as Chief Guest, JapanÕs Ambassador to India His Excellency Takeshi Yagi, Additional Chief Secretary R.R. Rashmi, Principal Secretary (Tourism) Dr. Rajesh Kumar and Commissioner (Arts & Culture) R.K. Nimai as the Guests of Honour. President of Manipur Tourism Forum (MTF) Dr. Th. Dhabali presided the function.

Ambassador Takeshi Yagi watching the relics of WW II.

Addressing the gathering, Japanese Ambassador Takeshi Yagi said the Battle of Imphal was the fiercest battle fought between the armies of Britain and Japan during the WW-II. As a result this small State is one of the historical places for both the countries. Although the Battle of Imphal took place 70 years back, the event remains un-forgettable to people of Japan, he added.

Takeshi Yagi further said organizing such an event will strengthen the relationship between the India and Japan. Relation between India and Japan has been improving after 70 years of the outbreak of the WW-II. Japan was reborn as a vibrant country after the WW-II. Ever since, Japan has been one of the most prosperous countries in Asia, which gave the people a peaceful and prosperous life, he added. He appealed the people of Manipur to protect and preserve the war memorials and peace pillars built in the State.

Chief Secretary Lamwkunga said Imphal was one of the most historic theatres of the WW-II which put Imphal in the tourism map of the world. He assured that from next year the events of the Battle of Imphal will be show-cased in the Sangai Festival, the annual tourism festival organized by the State Government. ÒWe will try to make the people of the State aware of the significance of this battle,Ó he added.

In his speech, President of MTF Dr. Th. Dhabali stated the purpose of commemorating the Battle of Imphal. He said the forum is organizing the anniversary at 14 different programs at 14 different historic war sites in Manipur in order to draw the attention of the masses and propagate the message of peace across the world. The historic Battle of Imphal was fought 2 months longer than the battle fought in Kohima from March to July in 1944. The battle involved around 2 lakh soldiers including pilots of both allied and Japanese forces. It was one of the historic battles of the WW-II, Mr. Dhabali said.

Commissioner Dr. R.K. Nimai said the Battle of Imphal was one of the ÒfiercestÓ battles of WW-II. The battle claimed numerous lives besides destroying many properties, but it changes the lives of people of this small State. The only and existing Tulihal Airport at Imphal and the 210 km Imphal-Moreh Highway were built during WW-II, he added.

Display of the relics of WW-II, photo exhibition and screening of short films marked the inaugural function.

Later, Takeshi Yagi visited some of the war memorials and battlefields in Manipur and expressed his appreciation to the government for maintaining them. He offered floral tributes to the Japanese soldiers killed during the Imphal campaign at the Japanese War Memorial at Maibamlotpa Ching.

In the Battle of Imphal, which was fought from March to July in 1944 between the British-led Allies and the Japanese and the Indian National Army (INA), over 2 lakh Japanese, Britons, Indians, Gurkhas and men from several other nations clashed in the hills and valleys of Manipur. Some of the important battles fought at Imphal were Battle of Sangshak, Battle of Kameng, Battle of Kanglatombi, Battle of Nungshigum, Battle of Tengnoupal, Battle of Torbung, Battle of Motbung, Battle of Bishenpur and the fighting on the Silchar Track.

On 20 April 2013 the combined battle of Imphal/Kohima was named as BritainÕs Greatest Battle by the National Army Museum of the United Kingdom. Peter Heehs in his History Today describes the significance of the Battle of Imphal thus: ÒImphal was one of the greatest Allied victories of the war, a turning point as significant in Asia as El Alamein and Stalingrad had been in Africa and Europe.Ó

It was at Imphal/Kohima that Allied forces halted the Japanese march across Asia. More than 30,000 Japanese soldiers died due to fighting or disease in the greatest defeat on land in JapanÕs history. The vast majority of casualties on both sides occurred during the Battle of Imphal.

The Battle of Imphal is also significant from a national perspective. Indian soldiers fought on both sides: together with the Japanese as part of Netaji Subhash Chandra BoseÕs INA and with the British as part of the British-Indian Army. The area surrounding the Moreh Road is the only place in India where more than 6,000 men of the INAÕs 1st Division was deployed and fought during the War. The INA flag was also hoisted for the first time in the country at Moirang on April 14, 1944. Today Moirang has the INA Memorial, which included a statue of Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose.

The Battle of Imphal in particular and the WW-II in general was also a momentous period for Manipur and its people. There was destruction and fighting on an unprecedented scale across Manipur. Thousands of people were displaced. For the first time Manipur witnessed the gathering of different nationalities and people from around the country and the world. Six airfields were constructed in the Imphal Valley during the war, which included Koirengai Airfield, Wangjing Airfield, Pallel Airfield, Sapam Airfield, Kangla Airfield, and Tulihal Airfield.

Manipur has 2 WW-II cemeteries – Imphal Indian Army War Cemetery at Hafiz Hatta and Imphal War Cemetery at Dewlaland. Imphal Indian Army War Cemetery at Hafiz Hatta is home to the graves of Muslim soldiers of the British Indian Army and a Cremation Memorial, which marks the cremation of Hindu and Sikh soldiers. Imphal War Cemetery at Dewlaland is home to the graves of Commonwealth soldiers, including Britons, Canadians, Australians, Burmese, Indians and East and West Africans.

[Photos by e-pao]