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Remembering the great souls
When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our today.
The history of 20th century India talks about the freedom struggle and India’s independence. India has a larger contribution in world history as well. A good number of books narrate the story of bloodshed in the World Wars. The war cemeteries, memorials and museums built in the memory of people who sacrificed their lives in the wars give us the visual evidence.
My recent travel to the historic place of Digboi in Assam marked a special visit to the Digboi War Cemetery for around 200 soldiers who lost their lives during World War II. The cemetery contains 197 Commonwealth and three non-Commonwealth burials, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
History tells that during the war, Digboi, being in the north-eastern corner of Assam near the Burmese border, was an operational area of the Burma campaign.
The road to Ledo in Digboi used to be a line of communication and a military hospital was established there. Digboi War Cemetery was established for the hospital and the line of communication.
The present-day Digboi War Cemetery is a beautifully maintained site on the road to the Pengaree Tea Estate.
The epitaphs on the headstones reveal that the soldiers were mostly around 15-30 years of age at the time of their death.
Another significant war cemetery in Assam belonging to the World War II period is the Guwahati War Cemetery. As per the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it contains 486 Commonwealth servicemen of the war buried or commemorated, including some Chinese graves.
Moreover, in other northeastern states like Nagaland and Manipur, there are war cemeteries containing hundreds of burials of the World War II. Belonging to World War I, the Shillong Memorial, as per the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, commemorates 95 men of the Assam Rifles and the Assam Military Police who died in three minor campaigns on the north-east frontier, and in Burma.
If one looks back to India’s participation in the great wars, although the northeastern India or mainland India had less significant battles within its geographical boundary, the contribution of Indian soldiers is commendable. Millions of Indian soldiers mainly died far in Europe and Africa, away from their homeland.
Moreover, with the aim of gaining India’s independence, many Indian soldiers fought under the banner of the Indian National Army led by Subhash Chandra Bose with the Axis partners against the British in 1943. It is indeed that if Indians had not participated in the wars, the entire geography which exists today might have been a completely different one.
Well, all we can do now to remember and glorify their contribution is by paying homage at their cemeteries and memorials.
Like every year, this year too, a remembrance day was observed in Digboi War
Cemetery by the Indian Oil Corporation in the memory of those valiant soldiers who
laid their lives during the world’s deadliest conflict in history.
Prayer verses from Holy texts — the Gita, the Quran Sharif, the Guru Granth Sahib and the Bible — were read to remember the great souls.
(Contributed by Karun Lama)