The Trees are All Young on Garrison Hill
A Personal Memoir featuring the Battle of Kohima
Gordon Graham

All to often, accounts of battles in which one was involved leave one protesting, 'But it wasn't like that!' The chapters of Gordon Graham's memoir which deal with the part played by the 1st Battalion Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in the Battle of Kohima and the subsequent advance into Burma not only tells how it was, but also conveys the authentic atmosphere. Reading it sixty years later, I vividly recall those stirring days when the formidable Japanese 31st Division erupted into Assam and laid siege to the little town in the Naga Hills where was fought what one Japanese combatant called 'that great, bitter battle'.

The 1st Cameron Highlanders had spent the previous two years in India, training for combined operations. As Gordon describes, officers on Indian rates of pay were well off and enjoyed a certain amount of social acceptance from the British community. The soldiers, on the other hand, were paid a pittance, and as in Kipling's day, were ignored. The result was that the soldiers – mainly conscripts of some education – loathed the country and the expatriate British, and despised the natives. That the 2nd Division, of which the Camerons were part, was to fight so well at Kohima, under-gunned and unsupported as it was for the first few weeks, stems from what Gordon believes was 'the innate decency, discipline, pride of regiment, and comradeship' of the soldiers. He is right.

To me at any rate, Gordon epitomised the 'Happy Warrior'. He writes of the 'relish for war' that he discerned when taking over a position from the Sikhs of the 1st Patiala Infantry on the Shenam defences after we reached Imphal. Looking back, I would now say the same of Gordon. He certainly gave me the impression that he was enjoying the war. It was only on reading his manuscript that I realised that he himself had suffered the earlier loss of his brother, and at the height of the Kohima battle, of his father. Of this, he gave no outward sign whatsoever. And only on reading his story did I appreciate the deep affection and warm regard he had for the men under his command – and indeed, for all of us.

Endowed with personal courage above the average, he had the gift of making those around him feel brave too. He was also highly competent; things always went better when Gordon was around Gordon Graham was, in fact, a born soldier, although to be candid I do not think he could have put up with life in the regular army for long. The Cameron Highlanders treasured too many, to use his words, 'arcane rituals'.

His daughter Sylvia's account of the pilgrimage that she under took with her husband Robert to follow in the footsteps of he father and the Cameron Highlanders from Kohima in Assam to Mount Popa in central Burma sets this memoir apart. They under took the journey in their own time and at their own expense, 'heart drawn to see where great things were suffered and done for them'.* They clearly have the same zest for a challenge as Gordon. The reception they received from the Naga community confirmed it welcome for the Kohima Educational Trust, to which Gordon has generously assigned the copyright and all profits from this book. Thus those of us who fought at Kohima can partly discharge some of the debt we owe to this outstanding race.

The Naga friend to whom Gordon first wrote about the idea of the Trust said in his response, 'You have not forgotten us,' illustrating how war and memory – a theme Gordon explores in his story – can give a positive meaning to a violent past.

Lt Col David Murray
Oxton, Berwickshire, July 2005

*In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass: bodies disappear: but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision shall pass into their souls.

Gettysburg Oration 1889

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The Trees are all Young

The Trees Are All Young on Garrison Hill
A Personal Memoir featuring the Battle of Kohima

Illustrated with maps and photos, including a select bibliography and index

All royalties go to the Kohima Educational Trust


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