Monday, June 17, 2024

39 Hours Walk recreate withdrawal of Col Brown and his men from Jessami to Kohima

Date:

EKHON | UKHRUL: Eighty years ago, after delaying the Japanese approach to Kohima by a few days, 260 Assam Regiment withdrew from Ukhrul’s Jessami and proceeded towards Kohima and it took a daunting 39 hours to reach. This critical hour of World War 2 was recreated by the grandchildren of the World War veterans with the 39 Hours Walk Campaign on the midnight of April 1st to April 3rd from Jessami to Kohima. Initiated by Carty Charlotte, granddaughter of Lt Col William Felix Brown, popularly known as ‘Bruno Brown’, commanding officer of the First Assam Regiment from January 1942 through the Battles of Kharasom, Jessami and Kohima with an aim to raise awareness of the Battle of Kohima.

On Sunday, the team of 28 British nationalities were accorded with a warm welcome by Jessami village council accompanied by singing and dancing.

Carty Charlotte was accompanied by her three children. Mark Slim, grandson of General William Slim came along with two sons and nephew. Sophie and Jock Walker-Munro, great grandchildren of Ross Howman, founder of the Assam Regiment along with their father Euan. Dr. Robert Lyman, a war historian also joined by his son.

“I do not believe the others have a specific connection to Kohima but have interest and want to support the others on the walk, learn more and travel to this interesting part of the world,” informed Bertie Alexander, MD of Sampan Travel who organized the walk. Dr. Robert Lyman acted as the perfect guide to the team with his elaborate narration of the events that led to the withdrawal of the Assam Regiment from the massive invasion of the Japanese troops.

On Monday, before the Walk, the team visited Jessami War Memorial where Carty Charlotte paid tribute to the soldiers by laying a wreath. Later the team also toured Kharasom village and paid tribute to Capt. Jock Young who died defending the outpost from the invading Japanese troop. These battles were considered a crucial confrontation during World War II where British and Indian forces successfully halted the Japanese advance into India in 1944. The 39 Hours Walk commemorated the casualties and the bravery of the soldiers who are vastly forgotten over the years.

As part of the 80th anniversary of the battle, we are recreating this walk to highlight the achievements of all of the forces who fought at Kohima, and to remember the local Naga people who were so vital in the campaign and in particular the fighting withdrawal of the Assam Regiment back to Jessami shared Charlotte.

Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Lyman who has authored several books on war including “Kohima 1944: The Battle that Saved India” said the soldiers of the Assam Regiment were the first to fight with the Japanese army in Jessami in 1944. Despite a young battalion raised in Shillong in 1941, they were well-trained professionals, and most of these soldiers were Indians, including the Nagas. These soldiers were not defending the Raj and the British army, but they were defending India from the Japanese army. So, this was not the battle fought between the British and Japanese army in India but between Indian and Japanese soldiers fought in India, he added.

The 39 Hours Walk began from the war memorial to the Assam Regiment at Jessami which is the final perimeter of the battle. The walk was recreated exactly at midnight of April 1st where the forces left the perimeter of the defences. From there the walkers descended to the Laniye River, which is over 500m below and crossed over right beside the ruined Bailey bridge where the Japanese had laid an ambush. They then ascended for 60 Kilometres via the villages of Losami and Chizami until they reached Pfutsero at 2,100 metres, the highest point of the walk. From then it was a slow descend past the village of Kikruma and on to Chakhabama. The walkers arrived in Kohima in the evening of 3rd April, just as Lt Col Brown did with 260 of the Assam Regiment 80 years ago. The Walk covered a total distance of 124 kms. Despite exhaustion, they successfully completed the walk.

What Led To This Event 80 Years Ago…
(Words courtesy @39_hours.)

“On March 27th, during the 0600 Stand to at Jessami, Capt. Jock Young called through to Lt Col Brown from Kharasom saying that the Japanese were approaching his positions and that he just opened fire. he said he could see along the tract at a Battalion’s strength of the Japanese pushing forward with mules, elephants and artillery. This was the last communications with Kharasom were cut shortly after. The Assam’s orders, and therefore Young’s orders, were to fight to the last man and the last bullet. Last minute preparations were made at Jessami. A hot meal for many weeks.

On 28th March, the Battle of Jessami began. There was a full ‘stand-to’ in the morning. At first, all was quiet but at 08:55, Major JE Askew informed Battalion HQ that 24 Japanese soldiers with an officer at their head, were marching down the Kharasom track. ‘Hold your fire’ he was told. The villagers recall seeing the advancing soldiers with sunlight glinting off their guns as they approached. The Japanese party, on eventually reaching the barbed wire lain across the road, stopped and bunched around their leader, about 40 yards ahead of 2 of the Assam’s forward Bren guns. The machine guns opened fire, breaking the stillness of the morning and the battle had begun.

Throughout the first night at Jessami, the Japanese hurled themselves forward and their cries of ‘BANZAI’ could be heard over the noise of the machine guns and exploding grenades. The defenders were pressed to the limit but suddenly the attack would fade. The Assam felt this was due to the Japanese being surprised by their rugged defence and not being sure how to react to this. The early dawn brought quiet and documents were recovered from some of the deceased Japanese. Lance-Naik Jogendra Nath and a companion volunteered for the difficult task of taking these back to Kohima which they did successfully by slipping out of the perimeter down the western escarpment. The 29th of March was relatively calm all day until the evening saw fresh reinforcements enter the battle from the Japanese side, pressing the defenders hard once more. In Kharasom, there was heavy and constant fighting. Second-in-command, Sub Rajbongshi was killed early in the battle and his experience was sorely missed by all. The Japanese launched full frontal attacks, but each was repulsed with the enemy suffering heavy losses. However, the strain on the defenders was beginning to tell.

Battles were raging across a long front from Imphal in the south, through Shangshak and then north at Kharasom and Jessami. The defenders were battling hard against a fierce and determined enemy. They were far outnumbered and outgunned. But they fought on delaying the Japanese approach to Kohima by a few precious days.

The fighting in both villages was continuing. The order to fight to the last man had been rescinded but the message had not got through to either Jessami or Kharasom as all communications had been cut by the Japanese. An aircraft was sent to drop the message at Jessami. The message, in clear English, not code, was dropped but on the Japanese side. They set up ambushes along every track from the village knowing what the new orders were, whilst Brown and his men fought on unaware. Lt Corlett, who was at Phek, was ordered with the rest of the garrison there to head back to Kohima. He was certain Jessami did not know their new orders to withdraw into Kohima and asked permission to take a message personally, through enemy held territory to deliver it. He set off with just his revolver. After climbing down and up the mountains in the dark, he arrived at the Jessami perimeter at 22:00 to be fired upon by the Assam as they mistook him for a Japanese soldier. He called out to them to stop firing, which they only did when they heard his lisp and recognised him as one of their own. He delivered the new orders to Brown, who cross-examined him closely. It was too late and dangerous to try to arrange a withdrawal that night so the Assam faced another night of brutal fighting, but with the hope that perhaps they could get out alive after all.”

(The writer can be reached at jenny.thingshung@gmail.com)

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