Meet the Battlefield Diggers of the Battle of Imphal
By Halley Nongmaithem
Bringing the focus back on the Battle of Imphal, the Battlefield Diggers led by Rajeshwor Yumnam of Manipur, are paying a fitting tribute to the fallen soldiers of World War II by helping the families find closure with the men who died fighting for their countries.
HISTORY OF THE BATTLE
In the year 1944, from March to July, the Japanese attacked the allied forces in Imphal (Manipur) and Kohima (Nagaland) and this battle, coined as the 'Battle of Imphal', was said to be the greatest battle fought in the history of the British Army.
The twin battles of Imphal and Kohima in World War II was voted as Britain’s greatest battle by a 2013 poll conducted by the British National Army Museum.
It was said the allied forces suffered over 12,603 casualties while the Japanese were said to have suffered 54,879 causalities. Many of them were buried without a name and for many families, there wasn’t closure as of yet.
BATTLEFIELD DIGGERS STEP IN
The works of Rajeshwor Yumnam and his like-minded friends is bringing the focus back on the Battle of Imphal.
Out of sheer passion, this 43-year-old Rajeshwor and his team is digging up relics and continues to keep in touch with those families who were yet to have a closure 76 years later.
The “Battlefield Diggers”, a name coined by Rajeshwor and friends for themselves, are indulged in the exercise of finding the graves of the soldiers killed in action in the Battle of Imphal in the Second World War.
It all started when a local channel in Imphal was telecasting a feature show on the battle, 10 years ago, that had intrigued Rajeshwor to dig deeper.
Finding the exact battlefield also requires a lot of work as it has to match the war diaries and researches and it was exciting, Rajeshwor said.
"There is joy in the process of finding a grave or a relic from the erstwhile battlefield. It requires procedural investigation. There is a need for a map reference and comparison of war diaries to find a grave," he said.
BATTLEFIELD DIGGERS HELP FAMILIES OF FALLEN SOLDIERS FIND CLOSURE
The interest for these war relics is from both sides i.e British and Japanese. Sometimes, the great-grandchildren of the fallen soldiers request him to place flowers on the graves and pay floral tributes on their behalf while some reach out to him for help to find the graves.
Some soldiers who died in Imphal doesn’t have graves and there is a need for excavation of the war site, he said.
“In 2019, we found a mass grave of the Japanese army. The excavation was funded by the Japan Association for Recovery and Repatriation of War Casualties”, says Rajeshwor.
The money spent for excavation or for paying floral tributes, as requested by the families of the fallen soldiers, comes from the pockets of the Battlefield Diggers.
"It is another thing if the families want to build a tombstone," he added.
To avail the families of the soldiers get closure without having to visit Imphal, there is an International photography project wherein the photos of the graves can be downloaded online. The project is funded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, says Rajeshwor.
BATTLEFIELD DIGGERS'S INITIATIVES
Rajeshwor and his friend, Arambam Angamba founded the 'Battle of
Imphal World War II Museum' in 2013 and since, they have been organising Imphal talks, highlighting the history of Manipur.
Rajeshwor is contemplating of starting a YouTube channel which focuses on the excavations conducted by the Battlefield Diggers. He is also looking forward to publishing books on the important battlefields of the Battle of Imphal.
While stating that the Battle of Imphal is a forgotten part of history, Rajeshwor stressed on the need to revive the interest on the subject by including it in the school and college curriculum.
Intellectual discussions and war tourism on the Battle of Imphal need to be conducted from time to time to remind people of an important historical event that decided the fate of both the allied and the axis powers in the great war at Imphal, he added.
The twin battles of Imphal and Kohima ended the ambition of the Japanese expansion into Burma.
The memories of the Battle of Imphal were kept alive. Thanks to Rajeshwor and his friends!