Sixty-three years after having their martyrdom etched in bronze, Corporal Henry Vincent Farley and 16 others of the Loyal (North Lancashire) Regiment will don new headstones – laminated printouts couriered from London.
They had no choice; a bunch of metal thieves made off with their bronze epitaphs at the World War II cemetery in Kohoma, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has, however, attributed the laminated markers to “headstone removed for renovation”.
But while the CWGC has played down the tombstone theft, the police in this Nagaland capital have been desperately trying to nab the felons who struck twice since May to remove the 17 bronze nameplates. “We have raided scrap dealers without results yet,” said a senior police officer.
Bronze has a scrap value of over Rs 300 per kilo, and each of the 17 epitaphs weighed close to 5 kg. With copper content of 88-90 per cent, is commonly used in the bearings of small electric motors besides springs, electrical connectors, bushings and automobile transmission pilot bearings.
CWGC’s Imphal-based regional manager Salew Pfotte had inspected the War Memorial here and sent his report to London underscoring the need for security to protect the last remains of 1,421 soldiers. Of these soldiers who died fighting the Japanese in 1944 – the Northeast was the only theatre of World War II in the Indian subcontinent – 1,070 were British and 330 Indians. The rest were Burmese, Canadians and Australians.
“We are yet to get a response from headquarters vis-à-vis employing security guards. Maybe, we will if the miscreants target the graves again,” Pfotte told HT
. CWGC, it is learnt, is wary of adding to its annual expenditure on maintaining five war graves in the Northeast for an estimated Rs 20 lakh annually.
Other than the Kohima War Cemetery, there are two in Imphal – one for British soldiers and one for Indians – and one each in Guwahati and oil town Digboi in eastern Assam. These employ 20 people, most of them being gardeners.
“The cemetery is increasingly becoming a haunt of miscreants, and the onus is on the government to ensure no one disturbs the dead,” said Kohima War Cemetery manager Lhouvizosier Sekhose. “After all, this and the other war graves sustain niche tourism.”
Every year, Britons, Canadians and Australians – Japanese too – spend a fortune to pay homage to the departed soldiers. An eight-day circuit dubbed War Memorial Tourism entails visits to all the five war graves.