Just beside the Navagraha crematorium at Guwahati’s Silpukhuri area, one of the prime locations of the city, there is a living testimony to World War II, which was the bloodiest as well as the largest war that involved virtually every part of the world, making one to delve into the history.
Spread over 1.95 acres of land, the Gauhati War Cemetery was built during World War II by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which was formed in 1917 and initially known as Imperial War Graves Commission, for burial of soldiers killed in the battle in Burma and Manipur. No battles took place in and around Guwahati.
An official of the war cemetery said the graveyards were scattered at various locations initially and later those were brought to the cemetery after it was established so that those can be maintained in an orderlymanner.
The soldiers from various military hospitals posted in the region were initially buried in the cemetery. Later, other graves were brought in by the Army Graves Service from Amari Bari Military Cemetery, Sylhet Military Cemetery, Mohachara Cemetery, Nowgong Civil Cemetery and Gauhati Civil Cemetery. For the same reason, further graves were brought to the cemetery from isolated sites in the Lushai Hills and from civil cemeteries in Badarpur, Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Dhubri, Dibrugarh, Dinjan, Katapahar, Lebong, Lumding, Shillong and Silchar, in 1952.
The cemetery, which was the only one in India to accommodate Japanese soldiers’ graves till 2012 when their remains were taken back to their home country, is one among the 10 Commonwealth War Graves and has a total of 510 graves. It is one of the two war cemeteries in Assam. The second cemetery is at Digboi with 200 graves.
The authorities said there are now 485 Commonwealth servicemen of World War II buried or commemorated in this cemetery while 25 of the burials are unidentified. The cemetery also contains 24 Chinese war graves, and two non-war graves. The martyrs are from India, UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. The cemetery was set up by converting a part of the land of the graveyard of the Guwahati Baptist Church, earlier known as Baptist Church of Assam which was established in 1845, located near Navagraha crematorium. The around 6 bighas of land were designated as graveyards for the Baptists in the region with the arrival of the American missionaries in 1839.
The war cemetery official said, “Hardly any history researcher or anyone with interest in history visits the cemetery. Most of the visitors are locals who visit just to chill. The relatives of a few soldiers, who were buried here, sometimes visit from the United Kingdom.” The official added that one can find many untold stories if anyone delves into the history of the burials here. “The northeast had a significant role during World War II as the Allies had used Guwahati to set up military camps etc, the record of which can be found in various old books of that time,” the official added.
The war cemetery is being maintained directly by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The commission members — the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India — extend monetary contribution to the commission for its operation and maintenance of war cemeteries.