The Kirkee War Cemetery (KWC) in Khadki (previously Kirkee), which has been given the royal ignore by India’s politicians, was visited by British royalty yesterday. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall marked Remembrance Sunday, paying their respects to 1,668 fallen soldiers – including 151 Indians — who died during the two world wars.
According to officials of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and employees of KWC, they can’t recall such a VVIP visit to this historic place in at least 20 years. The cemetery was created in 1952 to receive world war graves from the western and central parts of India, where their permanent maintenance could not be assured.
The long list has names of martyrs from all Commonwealth countries, including India, who participated in the wars on behalf of the British, and lost their lives. When questioned, CWGC manager Manohar Bahanwal, currently posted in KWC, said, “Indian tri-services officials do visit the place frequently. But, I don’t remember any high-profile Indian politician having visited the site in the last 20 years.”
“I am here since last 15 years but I have never seen such visit by any Indian politician,” head gardener of KWC Anil Mane told MiD DAY. When we asked a similar question to CWGC’s licensed officer Lt Gen (retd) Ravi Eipe, he said, “We can’t draw comparisons, as the culture of both countries is different.”
However, when asked that whether Indians have too little concern about history, he replied, “That’s why they had the British Empire.
An empire needs soldiers and soldiers expect remembrance.” As no Indian bigwig has bothered to show up at KWC in years, Sunday’s visit was a pleasant surprise for the five gardeners, who have the responsibility of maintenance of the war cemetery and memorial, which is spread over five acres. “I remember in 2005 two top ranked Indian Air Force and navy officers had come to the site.
Even then, similar tight security arrangements had been made. But, apart from that, I don’t remember a politician having ever visited here,” said gardener Lokbahadur S Malla, who has been in KWC service for the past eight years. Yesterday’s visit to the cemetery by the royal couple was not a part of the official itinerary, but a personal call to pay homage during Remembrance Week. Charles and Camilla were in KWC for about half an hour, during which they observed some of the graves and laid a wreath at the memorial.
“Even though this is the first visit to KWC by the British Royal Family, UK high commission officials and politicians frequently go to the war cemetery built in Imphal, Kohima, as during the Second World War, many British soldiers lost their lives in the northeast region, while fending off attacks by the Japanese army,” added Lt Gen (retd) Eipe.
The good die young
Duchess of Cornwall Camilla Parker-Bowles was visibly moved by a grave, which marked the final resting place of 15-year-old ‘band boy’ Norman Halliburn, who served with the Green Howards in the Second Battalion during the Second World War.
The message on the grave reads – “So dearly loved, a son and brother, forever in our thought – Mum, Dad and Sisters!”