War  |  Memory  |  Gratitude

70 years on York Remembers

by Sylvia May

A High Point of the 70th Anniversary Kohima Memorial Service on 10 July 2014 was the laying of wreaths by each of the 22 veterans who attended the service. Carefully escorted from their front-row seats by soldiers of 2 Signals Regiment, the 22 nonagenarians, some dapper stalwarts, others wheelchair philosophers, laid their individually inscribed wreaths on either side of the 2nd Division memorial plaque, while the 2 Sigs Band played softly ‘The Road to Mandalay’, and Garrison Sergeant Major Brian Kiernan called out their names and regiments as each went forward.

The service had returned to its traditional venue, the Eden Garden in the grounds of the Minster, where, until 2004, the veterans and their families and friends formed the core of the congregation. It was here also, after the service, that the veterans had assembled by regiment for their march past the Minster, where a VIP took their salutes.

This year, alongside the veterans, there was a record attendance of 250, who were not only honouring the memory of the men who fought and died at the battle of Kohima, but were also supporting the Kohima Educational Trust’s mission of gratitude to descendants of the Nagas who fought alongside the British troops. The past is merging with the future.

Appropriately, for the first time, the service was organised by KET, who invited all their supporters, an increasingly diverse cross-section of generous people throughout Britain, to come to the service and to support a stylish subscription dinner on the preceding evening (95 attended), and for the lunch (hosted as usual by 2 Sigs) after the service, which 200 attended, with veterans invited as guests.

Touchingly, many who could not attend sent cheques, swelling KET funds. There were also several cheques presented at the lunch in Imphal barracks – £600 from the New Charter Academy whose young members, inspired by supporter Paul Lomas, had hosted a dinner of Naga cuisine; £800 from the Borneo and Malaya Veterans Association; and £600 from the indefatigable veteran John Skene, raised by raffling a fine bottle of malt whisky, which he provided.

Those who were unable to attend these events are invited to look around the KET website, which includes the account from Nagaland as well as the inspiring address of the Dean of York Minster, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, another high point in the service.

"We found it a very moving time, especially as the veterans went up to lay their wreaths – what incredibly brave men and how their wartime experiences must have changed their lives."
"I felt very privileged and humble to be with the veterans on such a day and had great difficulty keeping my eyes dry." 
"The whole event was beautifully organised. We were very glad that we were there."
"What a wonderful day we had in York and all thanks to KET for organising the event." 
"We very much enjoyed once again meeting up with previous acquaintances and making new friends."

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