The battle that time forgot

They came from the south. Quietly. Hundreds of them. Japanese soldiers who marched for days. Till they reached Maibam Lokpaching or the Red Hill (as the British called it) under the cover of darkness. It was May 20, 1944. The hill lay in their path, resting like a humped camel. Unbeknown to the Japanese, on the other side of the hill the 17th division of the British Indian Army had established its headquarters. Both sides caught each other unawares and, for the next nine days, the Red Hill was to witness some of the fiercest fighting either of the forces had ever seen.

As the sun rose over the hill the morning of the tenth day, just 40 of the 500 Japanese 'white tigers' had survived, only to beat a hasty retreat. Dozens lay dead on the other side too.

A Japanese memorial of grey stone and an ill-kept garden are what mark the fighting today. Another smaller shrine dedicated to the battle stands at the bottom of the Red Hill that some say the Japanese built in 1977—the only Japanese memorials of WWII in India. The men who died fighting for the British are buried in the Imphal War Cemetery at Dewlahland and the Indian Army War Cemetery at Hatta, in the city.

The anonymity surrounding this chapter of World War II is now set to end. In April this year, the victories over the Japanese in Imphal and another in Kohima were together voted 'Britain's Greatest Battle' in a contest by the UK National Army Museum. A select audience of more than 100 voted overwhelmingly for the victories ahead of D-Day and Normandy (1944), Waterloo (1815), Rorke's Drift (during the Zulu War,1879), and Aliwal (during the First Sikh War, 1846).

Historians made their case for the battles to the audience over a 40-minute presentation. The case for Imphal and Kohima was made by Dr Robert Lyman, an author and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

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