This review was written by Amanda Shapland, granddaughter of Brigadier Shapland, Commander of 6th Brigade, part of the 2nd Division at Kohima.
The road to Kohima sets out to give a voice to the Naga people who were unwittingly and unwillingly transported into a war that was none of their making. The Battle of Kohima raged from April to June1944 when the British troops vanquished the larger Japanese army who fled back to Burma. This bloody and difficult battle, voted in 2013 as the greatest British battle, was fought over steep jungle hills in terrible conditions of monsoon and deprivation.
The Naga’s familiarity with this unforgiving terrain gave the British an advantage when the Naga sided with them as porters, stretcher bearers, translators, fighters and guides. But this was bought at a cost to the Nagas and their involvement is given in extraordinary detail following scholarly research by Chasie and Fecitt. The book is split into two parts. Charles Chasie, a renowned writer on Naga affairs gives the cultural background, a historical construct and the Naga experience during and after the battle.
Chasie found that many were ‘already old and many were infirm’ when interviewers arrived to listen and record the stories of veterans. So, this is a timely book to capture memories of the battle and how the Naga rebuilt their lives and villages in the years after the conflict.
Harry Fecitt, a former British Army officer, writes from the military angle, explaining the events and how the Naga participated as soldiers. Fecitt writes that it is his wish for the book to be available to all schools and colleges in Nagaland ‘so that the memory of what the Naga people endured during World War II and of what Naga heroes and heroines accomplished will never be forgotten’. Chasie and Fecitt have certainly accomplished a book that will ensure that the Naga legacy in the battle will not be forgotten.
The book will fascinate anyone who has an interest in the Battke of Kohima or anthropology. Indeed, anyone who has a wider interest in how a people came to be involved in a conflict that caused such devastation, responding with resilience and fortitude. But the book does not shy away from describing the difficulties that the Naga faced afterwards with their own fight to seek independence and their feelings of betrayal by the British.
Perhaps the quote given by Fecitt from General W.J. Slim, Commander of the British 14th Army, who said that ‘their active help to us was beyond value or praise’ sums up the debt that the British owe to the Naga. Does the book let us hear about the Battle of Kohima from the Naga viewpoint? Yes it does, with great enthusiasm and a broad sweep of narratives that helps us to understand how the Naga responded to the terrible outside threat to their lives. I have no hesitation in highly recommending this very fine book.