The British outpost at Kohima, Burma had been cut off from outside support since late on the 5th April. Surrounded and completely outnumbered by the Japanese 31st Division the small force manning the improvised defences had held out against repeated infantry attacks and constant sniping and mortar fire. Finally the relief force broke through on the 18th and the Kohima area held by the British, which had shrunk dramatically in the previous days, was no longer isolated.
The British opened an artillery barrage as they broke through. Nevertheless the Japanese still had a strong position and were able to overlook much of the British held territory. There was virtually no area that did not remain under fire.
Private H.F. Norman was part of a group of fourteen men detailed to help with the evacuation of the wounded men. However the area was still under sniper fire, and later came under mortar fire:
At 09.30 hours Corporal Judges and his section consisting of Privates Johnson,Thrussel and myself, as well as Corporal Veal’s section, went onto the road to help evacuate the wounded Indians, BORs, walking and stretcher cases. It was my job to look at the stretcher cases. If they were dead I had to send the Indian stretcher bearers round the back of the feature where they put the bodies in a heap to be buried later.
At 11.00 hours Japanese shells started exploding among us and it was terrible to hear the screams of the injured. Corporal Judges and a large number of the walking wounded were killed. Captain Topham [who, as previously recorded, had been wounded on Garrison Hill and evacuated to the ADS on 10 April] was seriously injured [again, and later died in hospital].
I saw trunks without legs and arms and bodies with heads blown off. I ran off the road up onto the hill and the shells seemed to be following me. Soon four tanks appeared on the road, ﬁred at the Japanese gun that was shelling us and destroyed it.
We ventured onto the road again and continued the evacuation. At 16.00 hours we were shelled again but this time nobody was injured.We finished at 18.00 hours. We buried Corporal Judges ourselves and then returned to our positions.
Norman was one of just three out of the fourteen who survived the day unscathed.
Although the siege had been lifted the battle was very far from over. Major Boshell, ‘B’ Company, 1st Royal Berkshires describes the situation that he now faced:
To begin with I took over an area overlooking the Tennis Court… The lie of the land made impossible to move by day because of Japanese snipers. We were in Kohima for three weeks. We were attacked every single night… They came in waves, it was like a pigeon shoot.
Most nights they overran part of the battalion position, so we had to mount counter-attacks… Water was short and restricted to about one pint per man per day. So we stopped shaving. Air supply was the key, but the steep terrain and narrow ridges meant that some of the drops went to the Japs. My company went into Kohima over 100 strong and came out at about 60