One Wearside man recalls horrors of brutal battle.
Echo, Friday, May 6, 1994
"A LOT of good lads got killed. It was a horrific battle," recalls Tom Hope, a veteran of the Kohima campaign.
At the time the Japanese made their advance, Private Hope was stationed near what was then Portuguese Goa, on the west coast of India, for jungle training.
When they got the word, the DLI streamed across the country with the other battalions which formed the 2nd British Division.
Their job was to relieve the garrison and hold off the enemy advance.
"We went in and got them out and opened the road, but then we were stuck on the hill," Tom said.
" If we'd lost it, the Japanese would have been down into India. It was the turning point of the war.
"It was the first time they'd actually moved back. They'd lost so many men, and their lines of communication were overstretched.
"We couldn't get tanks up there, so it was hand-to-hand and face-to-face.
"They would come charging up the hill, and, of course, it was a great honour for the Japanese to die. That's why our lads got treated rotten.
"And we weren't only fighting the Japanese, but fighting disease - half the battalion came down with malaria," he said.
Tom, who was in India for four years, came down with malaria himself three times. And during the monsoon the soldiers were covered in leeches.
When not in the thick of the fighting, the men suffered pitiful conditions - sitting in dug-outs on raised platforms in six inches of water.
"You had to have sandbags around your ankles because you were up to your knees in mud.
"When you're in the jungle, you can't move - if you do, you're lost. You just have to sit there.
"We didn't know where we were half the time.
"And every movement you hear puts the wind up you. We didn't know whether we were going to live or die.
"They were clever, the Japanese. They spoke English, and they would shout to see if you would shout back at night."
Food consisted of hot biscuits and corned beef. They had to be air-dropped, along with water, which was used only for drinking, not washing.
For his part in the campaign, Tom - who corporal but "wanted to just be one of the lads" - was given the Burma Star, which takes pride of place in his medal collection.
On the DLI's contribution to Kohima, he said: "I think the British chose a good troop there - they fought and they fought and they fought.
"They were all northern lads. They were a very good regiment to be in, believe me."
But there were a lot of casualties. Around 130 members of the DLI died.
"Towards the end, we had a
padre as our senior officer be cause we'd lost so many others.
"And we had four sets of brothers in the DLI and lost one of each.
Tom, who lives in Roker, is proud of the way his battalion changed the face of the war in Asia, but is disappointed chapter of history is lost to many people's minds.
"We Were the forgotten army, definitely forgotten. When you see the armistice parade, you never hear anyone mention Kohima."
Material on this page was submitted by Bernard Hope, the son of Tom Hope, DLI, veteran of Kohima.
as found on www.lightinfantry.org