|Ursula Graham Bower (1941-1988) www.india-north-east.com|
There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
During the World War II Britain's supremacy was in threat and with the fall of French forces against Italy, Nazi forces and had an upper hand in the European theater. In SE Asia, the Japanese had a run on the British forces and the Japanese were at the door step of British India on NE corner in Assam bordering Burma. The British troops comprising mostly Indians succeeded in preventing further incursion along the Burmese-Assam border. In the remote jungle of Assam, they were amply supported by one courageous British woman and her band of trained Naga tribes who stood the ground like a huge road block and saved the face of Britain, which otherwise would have been the fall
|Battle of Kohima March July 1944:Garrison Hill-key British defenses en.wikipedia.org|
of Britain and her crown country - India. The heroic saga of Ursula Violet Graham Bower, an Anthropologist and guerrilla commander in the jungles of Assam during the tumultuous period, is well etched in the history of British empire. It was one of daring and extraordinary adventure by a spirited English woman under the most difficult and trying circumstances during the last phase of World War II. Further, in the entire history of the British Army, perhaps, she happened to be the only civilian woman who saw action in the war zone. Like many war heroes, unfortunately, her gritty exploits and heroism along with the Naga tribes, who were once notorious headhunters in the world, faded into insignificance. This is really a sad story and I wish the British government had built a memorial where Ursula was born.
In 1937 Ursula, daughter of a military officer from Wiltshire, England went to Manipur in the extreme northeastern corner of India along the border with Burma (now Arunachal Pradesh) where she lived among the Naga tribes. She had a good rapport with the hill tribe with whom she had lived for about 5 years and gained considerable knowledge about their culture, life style, etc. She took photographs of the Naga people including Zami tribes. To them she was a messiah, who saved hundreds of people from death from famine and diseases.
|Imphal and Kohima, NE India Campaign.en.wikipedia.org|
After the beginning of of World War II, Ursula joined the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India)—WAC(I) and had adequate training in guerrilla warfare
British declaration of war on Germany on 3 Sept. 1939 automatically committed India. On instructions from the British military in March 1942, she recruited a team of Naga volunteers to be jungle scouts. In August, 1942, Colonel Rawdon Wright of the Assam Rifles years before, gave Bower valuable military assistance. Bower was able to gain weapons and supplies for her secret operations. She then assigned Nagas to the task of gathering intelligence on the movements of Japanese in the border areas. She was aided by a Naga named Namkia who served as her assistant and bodyguard. Barring dangerous mosquitoes, rugged terrain, high slippery cliffs and fatigue due to inadequate food resulting from rationing, she led the Nagas through the jungles. More over, Assam is one of the wettest areas in the world and she moved around the difficult terrains in the face heavy downpour and torrential storms.
With the fall of Malaya, Singapore and Burma in SE Asia in February 1942, the Japanese had a run on the British empire in SE Asia and for Churchill it was an ignominious defeat and "largest capitulation" in British history. The British prestige took a severe beating and the British administration's morale was very low. Though the Indian troop fought well, the entire Indian leaders and people of India were terribly angry over Churchill's irresponsible and arrogant attitude towards urgent needs of India. During the Bengal famine in 1843 when people were emancipated and dying in pain, Churchill, a well-known India baiter, never allowed relief ships of food grains into India on grounds of war and further made a carping remark by asking: "Why, if the famine was so horrible, Gandhi had not yet died of starvation?". Despite Churchill's immature and disgusting posture towards India, Indians fought with distinction throughout the world, including in the European theaters of Germany and Italy, the north African deserts, in the West African campaign, in the South Asian regions, defending India against the Japanese and other forces. Ursula, as a volunteer for the British India troop was assisting the ''V force'' operating across the border with Burma. Ursula posted many Nagas near the trails to watch the movements of Japanese. She led an army of 150 Nagas, equipped with ancient muzzle guns to defend the incursions. Japanese incursions into India did not occur until early 1944. Between 1942 and 1944 she guarded the Jungles of Assam like an angel, ever vigilant, ready to drive the enemy out. The Japanese were near-by and they had to safeguard the railways 20 miles from this place. It was an important supply line and any blockade would cause disaster. At night it was unsafe for Ursula to stay in the jungle. The Nagas dug holes and hid in them carefully, crept along the pig path single-file adequately spaced. In case of an ambush, those in the behind will escape. The Nagas also used some code to forewarn the approach of enemies.
Japanese had a plan to enter NE India from two fronts - Imphal or Kohima. The Battle of Kohima was the turning point of the Japanese U Go offensive into India in April, 1944 in the Second World War. In this sea-saw battle, the siege of Imphal was relived and the British and Indian troops successfully drove the Japanese from Kohima. During the war, Bower and Nagas rescued numerous airmen who had been shot down, escaped soldiers, evacuees et al. She and her Naga tribes, along with the British army, gave stiff resistance and ambushed the invading Japanese army which at last became decimated and dying in thousands. Only one third of about 80,000 Japanese army men returned, rest perished in the jungles of Assam. The two garrisons at Imphal and Kohima played a key role with backing from Ursula and her Naga tribes in the interior parts of Assam.
In recognition of her courage and assistance to the British India military, she was awarded an MBE and the Lawrence of Arabia medal. Americans dubbed he as "Jungle Queen''. She was also featured in the Time Magazine.
(corrections made: 09 December, 2016)