My title echoes an epitaph written by John Maxwell Edmonds honouring those who died during the Siege of Imphal in World War II.
My father, born into the Lancashire Fusiliers in India and commissioned into the Indian Grenadiers, first saw action as a reinforcement to 152 Battalion, Indian Parachute Regiment and 50th Parachute Brigade at the hill village of Sangshak, Burma (near the Indian/Burmese border and about thirty miles from the Imphal Plain), in March 1944.
He and his fellow subalterns marched to the 14th Army's operational base at Imphal, colloquially known as the gateway to Burma. Conversely, and to an invader, it was a gateway to India. Stopping the Japanese getting through the gate became known as the Siege of Imphal. Though this epic battle is unknown to many, if the 14th Army hadn't prevailed the Japanese forces would have marched on Delhi and changed the course of the war.
In their favour.
The Seige of Imphal lasted from March to June 1944, and as far as I can work out from articles my father left, he was involved in heavy fighting at Sangshak. The Indian Parachute Regiment delayed the Japanese advance just long enough to enable British reinforcements to organize themselves at Imphal and stop the invaders. Five Victoria Crosses were won during the siege, 53,000 Japanese soldiers were killed and the myth of Japan's invincibility shattered.
Now I will hand you over to my father's words, an eyewitness to the evacuation of Sangshak in late March 1944:
"The new acting CO called company commanders to an 'orders group' at his command post and outlined the position:
" 'Tomorrow we will all die. The Japanese will not expect an attack, so we will attack tonight. Wounded will be left with a rifle and two bullets each'
"I said goodbye to my wounded Muslims. They were philosophical - 'Kismet hai! (it is fate).' They were consoled by the thought of being comforted by the houri who would pleasure them in the seventh heaven of the Koranic paradise.
"They knew what would happen to them, and it did. Twenty-five men were all I had left from 140 fine soldiers.
"Under cover of darkness we slithered out of our trenches, easily avoided the Japanese and 'advanced towards Japan' then circled around to reach Imphal. The enemy was keeping a close watch upon the direct route ... and those who followed it lost more men. Finally all twenty-six of us reached Imphal. A senior officer ticked me off for not taking the direct route. My reply was not well received:
" 'Twenty-six of us started and we have all reached Imphal ready to fight again.'
"Never will I fathom the military mind."
(John Andrew Christie, Indian Grenadiers)
It may seem a long way from an obscure outpost of Empire seventy years ago to events in Paris only days ago; but knowing how many brave Muslims fought and died for Britain in appalling conditions at Imphal, you can perhaps imagine the depths of my disgust to read that a bigoted beautician from Bicester has just tried to ban Muslims from her beauty parlour.
That was bad enough, but sometimes a single comment can put matters totally beyond the pale, for in the comments section attached to that other blog came this crude and vile quote regarding Muslims:
"There's no place for them in this country soon we get rid the better there like a plague of rats destroying everything."
The author of this statement appears to have served in, and may still work for, the British Army.
My father once told me that when a man starts talking quietly, he is at his most dangerous.
Let me say this quietly:
I will shortly be speaking to senior Army officers.
I will pass them a copy of this comment, and the author's name.
Kismet hai. I do not wish that man a pleasant fate.
"The British, Indian and Ghurkha soldiers stood up to the heavy and incessant strain, largely due to the high standards of leadership, the mutual confidence and friendship between all races and creeds in the Indian divisions, the magnificent work of the medical authorities - and by no means least, to their innate sense of humour in the most adverse circumstances."
(Lt.-General Sir Geoffrey Evans, commanding 5th Indian Division, Siege of Imphal)
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau and The Legend of John Macnab. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.Suggest a correction