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Graves of WWI heroes from Manipur found in Europe

IMPHAL, (TNN): After almost a century, graves of 87 people from Manipur, who took part in World War I as members of the Labour Corps, have been found in war cemeteries across Europe and Egypt and Yemen.

In April 1917, the Manipur Labour Corps, with a strength of 2,000 people, belonging to Meities and tribal communities from the state, were sent to Europe by sea from Bombay, said eminent World War researcher Yumnam Rajeshwar. They were sent after an agreement was signed between the then Manipuri king, Churachand Singh, and British Political Agent Lt Col HWG Cole, he said.  Satisfied with Singh’s assistance, the British government honoured him with the title of Knight Commander Star of India.

Being non-combatants, they were engaged in transportation of arms and ammunition, digging trenches, cleaning military camps, running errands and construction of temporary camps, Rajeshwar said. The men had stayed for one and half year in France.  Many of the bravehearts died in various battles in Europe and records of the deaths were not maintained properly because of the insignificance of the Labour Corps, said Rajeshwar.  “But I have found 87 graves of Manipuris who were buried in France, Italy, Egypt and Yemen. I have their grave reference, name of the cemetery and the country where they were located,” he said.

Among others, Rajeshwar named 4 Manipur labour corps members from the hill districts. They were Akhil Pukhini (Mao), Salkhukam Kuki, Sangai, and Makhal Tangkhul.  “It is almost a century now. No Manipuri has ever laid a flower on their graves. I am trying my best to collect photos of the graves. As of now, I have collected three grave pictures from France,” Rajeshwar said.

He added that it was time the government took serious note and collect all the data of the 2,000 bravehearts, he said. “At least, we need to remember them and their gallant efforts should be included in education and history books,” Rajeshwar said. He said some of their descendents had been requesting him to gather more details.

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