A Place to Visit; the War Graves Memorial at Digboi in Eastern India
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A Place to Visit; the War Graves Memorial at Digboi in Eastern India

The Digboi war cemetery is close to Dibrugarh town and a calm rules the place as the cool breeze blows. It’s a tranquill place and visitors can sign in the visitor’s book kept in the cemetery.The Indian army gives great respect to this cemetery and every year on the second Sunday of November is remembered as Remembrance Day. Near and dear ones of the relatives who died visit the grave’ s with floral tributes and wreaths.

Digboi is a place not so well known outside India, but its India’s only oil town and has a chequered history. It’s close to Dibrugarh and is the place where the oldest oil well in the world was drilled.

Digboi continued in its sleepy way with the British engineers playing golf at the 18 hole course and savouring the pristine atmosphere of thick jungles, untouched fauna and wild life. But all this changed in 1940 as war clouds hovered over this part of the world. The villains were the Japanese who had earlier attacked China and now prepared to invade South East Asia and the British colonies of Burma and Singapore.

The axe fell in the winter of 1941 when the Imperial army attacked Singapore. The city was captured in December 1941 and for the first time in a hundred years the British Empire was under threat. The British retreated and Burma was soon lost and Rangoon had fallen to the Nisshoki. In May 1942 the Imperil army had reached Shingbwiyan just 75 miles from Digboi.

The Imperial army wanted to capture Digboi for its oil fields and also to choke the supply line to China, which was kept alive through Digboi which connected to the famous Ledo road that supplied China.

The British began to move back, abandoning posts and defences against the onslaught of the Imperial army. They could not allow Digboi’s oil to fall into the hands of the Japanese and hence in mid 1942 set the Syrium Oil refinery on fire as well as 3000 oil derricks. The Japanese now inched closer to Digboi and captured the Hukong valley.

The allies fortified Digboi and vast numbers of refugees congregated here. They also set up a 200 bed hospital for the war wounded as well a morgue for the dead.

 The British with the help of Indian troops held on tenuously and after 1943 the allies began to regain lost ground. Nearly 72000 soldiers died fighting for the Allied cause.  Many died in the Military hospital and a burial ground for the dead was needed. .  The local administration chose Bapapung area of Digboi. At one time the oldest oil well had been drilled there.

The burial ground chosen was initially for 70 graves, all men who had died at the military hospital at Digboi.

After the war ended in 1945 the Army Graves Service decided to move bodies buried at other nearby places like Tinsukia, Ledo, Jorhat , Panitola and Margherita to the cemetery at Digboi. The idea was it would be better for care and upkeep, if all the graves were at one place. Once these graves were shifted the numbers of graves in the cemetery rose to 200. All were from the commonwealth except one American soldier who the US military shifted from Shingyouiyong war cemetery from Burma. The reason for this is still not clear. Presently there re 200 graves out of which 197 are from the army and the remaining 3 from the Air Corps.

Out of the 200 buried 194 are battle causalities and out of them 145 are Britishers and the balance from India. This cemetery is a beautiful place and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission established in 1917. In 1953 heavy floods damaged the cemetery which had to be moved to a higher ground, to obviate any threat from further floods.

The cemetery has lush well manicured lawns with a hedge all around. Beds of roses and other flowers throng the graves, beautifully pruned and cared for by the care takers.

 A look at the names on the graves will make the heart of a diehard man also melt. Most were young who died in the flower of their lives, fighting so that we could live in ease and comfort. The soldiers were Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus. What camaraderie these men must have had as they died fighting together.

The cemetery is far from the town and a calm rules the place as the cool breeze blows. It’s a tranquill place and visitors can sign in the visitor’s book kept in the cemetery.

The Indian army gives great respect to this cemetery and every year on the second Sunday of November is remembered as Remembrance Day. Near and dear ones of the relatives who died visit the grave’ s with floral tributes and wreaths. The army officers are available to help and a wheel chair for the disabled is available. It’s a poignant moment as the Indian army buglers sound the last post, which resonates through the clean and crisp air.

One can reach Digboi from Dibrugarh which is well connected by rail and air to Calcutta which is the International gateway into India

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