War  |  Memory  |  Gratitude

Road of Bones: Fergal Keane's perspectives on the battle of Kohima

Road of Bones: Fergal Keane's perspectives on the battle of Kohima

 

The Kohima Educational Trust is delighted to present this talk by Fergal Keane, introduced by Dr Robert Lyman with Michael Shipster, son of Kohima veteran John Shipster on Thursday 30th May at 8pm.

Fergal Keane OBE is one of the BBC's most distinguished correspondents, having worked for the corporation in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Asia, the Balkans and most recently broadcasting from Jerusalem. He has been awarded a BAFTA and has been named reporter of the year on television and radio, winning honours from the Royal Television Society and the Sony Radio Awards.

Fergal Keane’s talk was especially prepared for the Kohima 80th  Anniversary weekend of events which took place at the National Army Museum in April 2024. It was the first time in several years that he had given a lecture about the Siege of Kohima since his book on the subject was published and we are delighted to be able to share the talk as part of our 80th Anniversary webinar programme.

Fergal’s talk will be introduced live by Dr Robert Lyman and Michael Shipster. When conducting research for his book, Fergal travelled to Kohima with Michael, a former diplomat to India.  He also met and interviewed Michael's father, Kohima veteran John Shipster, who, in May 1944, reached Kohima as part of the relieving force. Michael tells us:

"Just 22, John Shipster was commanding an infantry company in the Punjab Regiment, part of Slim’s 14th Army; a seasoned veteran of heavy fighting in Burma, in which half his battalion had been casualties and he had been wounded.

"The scene that greeted him at Kohima was one of utter devastation. The trees were gaunt skeletons, the ground torn up by shellfire and littered with unburied dead bodies. The stench was appalling. The once-pristine gardens now resembled an apocalyptic scene from the Somme. Though the garrison was relieved, the Japanese were far from beaten and it took a further two months of bloody fighting to drive them out of Nagaland and into Burma."

The recording is now available to watch below:

 

Further reading: "Kohima Remembered" - an article by Michael Shipster:

Kohima Remembered by Michael Shipster

 

Speakers: 

 

Fergal Keane - Fergal Keane OBE was born in London and educated in Ireland. He is one of the BBC's most distinguished correspondents, having worked for the corporation in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Asia, the Balkans and most recently broadcasting from Jerusalem. He has been awarded a BAFTA and has been named reporter of the year on television and radio, winning honours from the Royal Television Society and the Sony Radio Awards.  His book "Road of Bones: The Epic Siege of Kohima 1944" is available to purchase on our website shop

 

Dr Robert Lyman - Military Historian, Author and Trustee of KET  Born in New Zealand in January 1963 and educated in Australia, Robert Lyman was, for twenty years, an officer in the British Army. Educated at Scotch College, Melbourne he was commissioned into the Light Infantry from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in April 1982. In addition to a business career he is an author and military historian, publishing books in particular on the war in the Far East. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Robert is married to Hannah, has two sons, and lives in Berkshire. For information about Robert's publications please visit his website: robertlyman.com

 

Michael Shipster CMG OBE - Michael Shipster is the son of John Shipster DSO CBE, a British veteran of the wars in Burma and Korea; and a Dutch mother, Corrie Arends, whose family lived under German occupation in Eindhoven 1940-44.

On graduating in 1972 from Oxford University, he worked as an economist in newly independent Botswana.  In 1977 Michael joined the British Foreign Office, where his overseas postings included the Soviet Union, India, South Africa, and the United States.  Following 9/11 he was appointed London-based Director for the Middle East and Africa. 

After retirement from the FCO, Michael joined Rolls-Royce plc as International Director.  He now runs his own company advising British charities on international issues and government relations. 

Michael tells us about his father:

"My father John Shipster reached Kohima as part of the relieving force in May 1944. Just 22, he was commanding an infantry company in the Punjab Regiment, part of Slim’s 14th Army; a seasoned veteran of heavy fighting in Burma, in which half his battalion had been casualties. He himself had been severely wounded, and afterwards was awarded the DSO.

"Recovered from his wounds, he was now back in action. The scene that greeted him was one of utter devastation. The trees were gaunt skeletons, the ground torn up by shellfire and littered with unburied dead bodies. The stench was appalling. The once-pristine gardens now resembled an apocalyptic scene from the Somme. Though the garrison was relieved, the Japanese were far from beaten and it took a further two months of bloody fighting to drive them out of Nagaland and into Burma."

 

Sylvia May - CEO of The Kohima Educational Trust Sylvia May was born in New Jersey, USA in 1957. Her parents moved to England in 1963. Educated at High Wycombe School for Girls, she decided to pursue a career in the world of books. Sylvia worked for HarperCollins for 37 years, the last eleven of which she headed up their UK-based International Sales team. Sylvia May is the daughter of the late Gordon Graham, Founder and President of the Kohima Educational Trust. She is proud that her father has inspired many people to share his vision to commemorate those who fought and died in Kohima, and the wonderful Naga people who have done so much for the British in the past. She first visited India in 1994 with her husband Robert, and has returned on numerous occasions, staying in Kohima several times. In 2000, they followed the WWII route of the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, her father’s regiment. The regiment’s first main engagement in this theatre of war was at Zubza shortly before the Battle of Kohima.

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