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The number of people on Sampan’s World War 2 battlefield tour of North East India is capped to ensure that this remains an intimate and hands-on experience for our guests. We are happy to consider the specialist interest of our guests and see how we can tailor our itinerary to ensure that they find what they are looking for on this journey.
This is the best WW2 battlefields tour of India. Unlike traditional battlefield tours, Sampan’s Forgotten War Tour is not a hop-on hop-off coach trip. We will explore the stories of civilians caught up in war: the Nagas, the Kukis, the Manipuris. This journey allows our guests to dive into the contemporary lives of the people that call these battlefields home today. We will look at the Naga experience post-independence with the Kohima Educational Society in Kohima. In addition to Rob, this tour is led by expert, specialist guides in each location. Hotels full of character; superb, local food throughout.
During WW2, in 1941 the Japanese Imperial Army invaded British Burma. This forced the Allies into their longest ever retreat, over the border and into India. Looking to capitalize on the advantage, in 1944 the Japanese began their “march on Delhi”. However, in the Naga Hills they were stopped in their tracks by General Bill Slim’s reorganized Fourteenth Army.
At the village of Kohima, was a small military depot and the bungalow of the British District Commissioner. Here the newly-raised Assam Regiment was stationed, alongside just one battalion of the Royal West Kents. From the 4th April 1944, these men faced an onslaught from the entirety of the Japanese 31st Division. At times the Allies were fighting under a ratio of almost 10:1. Over the next few weeks Kohima Ridge was turned into a hellscape reminiscent of WW1. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued and grenades were lobbed from end-to-end of the DC’s tennis court.
Eventually the Japanese were pushed back. This was the turning point of the Burma Campaign. Kohima ultimately led to the Allies pursuing the Japanese all the way to Rangoon. On Sampan’s World War 2 battlefield tour of North East India, Rob will take us by foot on a battlefield tour of Kohima – now a bustling town. He will give us a blow-by-blow account of the battle. He will also demonstrate why his case for Kohima won a National Army Museum 2013 debate for “Britain’s Greatest Battle”. We will end at the Second World War Cemetery Kohima. Here the white lines of the tennis court are marked into the perfectly clipped lawn. This is the most beautiful of the war cemeteries of North East India.
Unlike other India Second World War tours, after visiting Kohima, Sampan will take you up into the Naga Hills. We will travel to the remote towns of Jessami and Kharasom. It was at Kharasom that 100 men of the Assam Regiment fought a battalion of up to 600 Japanese soldiers. Here, Captain Jock Young led the defence of the small garrison for four days. Until eventually he gave the order for him men to return to Kohima.
In his book Japan’s Last Bid for Victory, Rob picks up the story. Young remained “in his post […] while his men slipped out through gaps in the perimeter until his position was swamped the next morning by men of at least one Japanese battalion, this extraordinarily brave young officer firing Bren gun and throwing grenades to the last.”
Fifty six men reached Kohima two days later. Captain Young was last seen stacking grenades and a Tommy-gun magazine in his bunker. Later, the local Nagas told the British that the Japanese had been moved by Young’s bravery. They had shaved his head in the tradition of fallen heroes and buried him with full military honours.
On Sampan’s World War 2 battlefield tour of North East India, you will both visit the site of Young’s heroic last stand, as well as stay overnight in Jessami. Spend time with the Naga people of Jessami and hear how they remember WW2. We will also hear about their hopes as their government enacts India’s “Look East” policy.
From Nagaland, unlike other North East India battlefield tours, we travel up to the hill station of Shillong, former capital of Assam. During the Second World War, Shillong was the R&R base for soldiers on leave. It was also where the Assam Regiment was hastily raised in 1941. The Assam Regiment HQ, still in Shillong, has invited us in on an exclusive tour of their barracks.
Eventually, on this World War 2 battlefield tour of North East India, we will return to Kolkata. Here our battlefields tour itinerary takes a turn towards more distant history. We will explore the genesis of the British Raj. In Kolkata we dive into the story of the East India Company, the Bengal Renaissance and the birth of Indian nationalism though figures like Rabindranath Tagore and Subhas Chandra Bose.
On our last two nights we kick back in the lap of luxury at the glorious Glenburn Penthouse. Enjoy Glenburn’s signature “G&Tea”, dipping your toes in the pool and looking out over the Maidan and Victoria Memorial. In collaboration with Sampan, Glenburn has created a Bengali-tasting menu on our final night together. Glenburn was recently named in the top 50 places to eat in India by Condé Nast Traveller – so we are in good hands!
Rob Lyman is the world authority on the Battle of Kohima. After finishing a twenty-year career in the British Army in 2001 he has published widely on the Second World War and specifically on the Burma Campaign. He is Bill Slim’s military biographer, wrote Osprey’s definitive account of the Battle of Kohima in 2010, and in 2021 published A War of Empires looking at the clash between Imperial Japan and the British Empire in Burma and India. There is no other person you’d rather have guiding a Kohima battlefields tour!
Rob has worked with Sampan since 2020, on both our Second World War tour of North East India and on our virtual tours. You can read an interview with Rob Lyman here. And here he writes about how India remembers WW2 today in Unherd.
Our Forgotten War Tours in India incorporate the work of the Kohima Educational Trust & Society.
The Kohima Educational Trust & Society (KET/KES) was founded 60 years after the Battle of Kohima by veterans of the battle as a debt of honour to the Nagas in order to provide educational assistance to the young people of today, many of them descendants of those who had so ably assisted the British and Indian forces.
In collaboration with the Kohima Educational Society (KES), a charity formed in response to the formation of the Kohima Educational Trust, many projects are achieved, principally the making of several hundred scholarship awards every year.
KET runs regular webinars looking at the history. Here is the recording of one about the two Victoria Cross recipients at the Battle of Kohima.
A few years ago Sampan teamed up with the film-makers Grammar Productions and the charity Help for Forgotten Allies as they created a documentary about the lost heroes of the Burma Campaign. You can watch a trailer for Forgotten Allies here.
Sampan creates handcrafted journeys through Myanmar and India. If you would prefer a private, tailor-made journey, please contact us.
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