Sunday, 11 October 2015

Ursula Graham Bower, the jungle queen of Nagaland, British India

Ursula Bower. www.dailymail.co.uk
Ursula Violet Graham Bower, born on May 15, 1914, was a well-known  pioneering Anthropologist and a specialist in guerrilla warfare. She was a woman of extraordinary courage and wisdom and in the second World War defended the Japanese army along with a band of Naga tribes in the jungles of Assam, NE corner of India.
Map of NE India.www.assam.org

Ursula G. Bower.en.wikipedia.org
The daughter of Commander John Graham Bower, RN (1886–1940), Ursula Bower had her schooling at Roedean School;  her family's  financial constraints prevented her from continuing her education and her ambition to study  Anthropology at  Oxford. At the invitation of  one Alexa Macdonald, whom she had met earlier while holidaying at Skye,  she went to India for the first time and  specifically  visited the Naga Hills and Manipur, now in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Both her brother and Alexa were in the service of Govt. of British India.

Enchanted by the beautiful Naga hills and the serene surroundings,  with permission from the British  administration,  she settled down there near the Burmese-Indian border. The hilly tribes of Naga, native to that part of NE India,  attracted her attention and she  began living with them  in Laisong village, which was then known as North Cachar, and documenting their life style, culture,  various skills, etc. The Naga tribe, comprising many groups, was  one of notorious tribes in the world known for bizarre headhunting, but were loyal and dedicated. In the course of her long association with the Nagas (1937–1946), she took more than 1000 photos of  the Zemi Nagas, et al - a documentary  of pictorial album of illustrative work. The Naga tribe at last
had given up their age-old, notorious head-hunting custom because of sustained efforts put in by the Christian evangelists.  

Ursula  helped them cure their physical ailments and when  famine struck the villages, she sought the government help and saved hundreds of people from near death . Thus she slowly won their heart and  had close rapport with the Nagas. The Nagas reposed a lot of faith in her and pushed her to the status of a Demigod. With the start of world war II, Britain and her allies were under strain. Indian army joined the foray on condition that Britain should grant full freedom to India. Hitler's German army and its alley Japan had an upper hand and Britain was not in a comfortable position. In 1942  the Japanese armies invaded Burma and threatened to move  into India. Already Malaya, Singapore and Burma had fallen to the powerful Japanese army in the worst defeat in the history of the British Empire. NE corner of India bordering Burma had to be guarded well. If India fell, it would spell disaster for Britain and her empire. Japanese had a plan to enter India through the west coast off Bombay.  On instructions from the British administration, in early 1942 Ursula formed  a band of scouts made of trained Naga tribes baked by special guerrilla troop called ''V Force''  to comb the thick jungles of Assam for the Japanese army men. An early warning code was in place to warn the British army before hand of Japanese intrusion. Her early childhood training in shooting by her father was quite helpful  when Ursula  led a band of 150 Nagas armed with ancient muzzle-loading guns across some 800 square miles (2,100 km2) of mountainous jungle to defend the Japanese forces that were ready to attack British India on the NE corner.  General Slim recognized the work  she was doing with her  band of Naga tribe in the thick jungles of Assam and supported her with arms and reinforcements. Her band of army was dubbed as 'Bower Force'. Her active role and her knowledge of guerrilla warfare drew the attention of the Japanese who put a price on her head. 

Under her guidance and directions,  armed guards were petrolling the  various trails through which evacuees, deserters, escaped prisoners and bailed-out airmen fled from Burma to India safely. For their parts,  the Naga tribes ambushed the Japanese search parties. Only in early 1944 Japanese invasion took place across the Burmese border area and it was successfully repulsed. Her courageous and  gritty participation to repel the Japanese army men in the thick jungles between 1942 and early 1944 won the admiration the British government, and she, in 1944, received the Lawrence Memorial Medal, named for Lawrence of Arabia for her  work among the Nagas and on on 24 April, 1945 received the title of Member of the Order of the British Empire for her actions in Burma. With no formal training in Anthropology, her monumental work on the Nagas received wide recognition and established her as a leading researcher on par with such stalwarts  and friends as J.P. Mills, Bill Archer and Christoph von  Furer-Haimendorf. She earned a postgraduate diploma in anthropology from the University of London in 1950.
 

Ursula in July, 1945 married Lt. Col Frederick Nicholson Betts (better known as Tim) whom she met when she was a trainee in 'V Force' in Burma during World War II.  After her marriage she was known as U. V. G. Betts. Soon after  her stint in Tibet and later in Kenya, the couple relocated to the Isle of Mull, where they brought up their two daughters, Catriona and Alison Betts, both of whom were educated at Roedean, like their mother, before attending university. 

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