Monday, 12 October 2015

Ursula Graham Bower - only woman guerrilla commando world war II and Naga tribes

  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 o 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 ship 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. 

.en.wikipedia.org
Above image:poster commemorating the joint war effort-British Empire and Commonwealth, 1939.......

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.

Ref:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursula_Graham_Bower

              (corrections made: 09 December, 2016)