Remarks made by Gordon Graham at the Buckingham Palace Reception, given by HRH The Duke of York, November 2012

Nagaland Children

Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of my comrades here and of the thousands who fought at Kohima, especially those who lie in the cemetery there, whom you honoured by laying a wreath a few months ago, we would like to thank you for inviting this group of old codgers for such a gracious occasion. Without you, we would never have seen Buckingham Palace.

We don’t know who inspired the idea that you should go to Kohima, but we give credit to Her Majesty the Queen, whose Jubilee you were helping to celebrate. Please give your Mum our respects and a special message from us: So far as we are concerned, she is still a young thing and her best years are ahead.

An occasion like this is unavoidably about memory. It is generally believed that memory declines with age. Well, we have good news for you young folk. It gets better – provided you are trying to remember what happened seventy years ago. What happened thirty seconds ago is another matter.

But memory is not enough. What matters more is the action we take in response to memory. This question occupied the minds of the veterans of the 2nd Division in 2004 after they held their last march-past at York Minster on the 60th anniversary of the battle. Then we thought of the Nagas who had been our allies, and we decided to form a charitable trust to aid the education of their descendants. The first Naga to whom we wrote about this idea wrote back: ‘You have not forgotten us.’

The only constructive use of the past is to inspire the present to improve the future. That thought is symbolically represented by these two photographs in the Trust’s current Newsletter. Below, the last commanding general of the 2nd Division walks alone in the Kohima war cemetery.

He was the last because the Division, formed by Wellington 203 years ago, was disbanded this year. At the top are some Naga children, whose grandfathers, perhaps great grandfathers, with three of whom you are seen chatting, fought alongside British troops in 1944. The lower picture symbolises the past, the one at the top the future. Our job is to link them.

The Kohima epitaph on the 2nd Division memorial is quoted at many remembrance services:

When you go home
Tell them of us; and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

Those of us who came home have now had our tomorrows and are proud to hand over the mission inspired by our memories to the next generation, of which you, sir, are a shining example.

Gordon Graham
President, Kohima Educational Trust

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