The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book - 'Naga Path', by Ursula Graham Bower, published John Murray 1950

caption: Chapter twenty-nine. Crisis
caption: watch and ward
medium: books
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: Our orders were to hang on as long as we could and watch the roads for the enemy advance. As soon as contact was made we should warn Haflong, and then get out as quickly as we could. We took stock in the light of these instructions.
text: No one had bargained for such a sudden swamping as had in fact taken place. There had been no time to organize a screen between the Barak and Jiri, as set out in the original scheme, and as was urgently necessary to our position. From our doorstep onward there lay an awful blank, a complete obscurity, where we had no contacts and could learn nothing. With our front line where it was, in the Haijaichak pass, we could hope at the outside for an hour's warning. We were far more likely to have no warning at all. There was no field-telephone and no W/T.
text: We first of all laid on a chain of beacons, supplemented by runners, from the front line to Laisong and on to Haflong. If they went up, it meant contact with the enemy. Haflong had some bad moments with spring grass-fires.
text: We ourselves lived like gazelle with lions about, ready to leave at once with the utmost speed. If we went to pick tomatoes, we took our tommy-guns, and worked glancing alternately at beacons and exit. At night we left the camp, and slept out in the thick, low scrub to the north, in shelters hollowed out below foliage-level. One man was left as sentry (211) in the camp, to fire a shot and bolt if the Japs appeared, and the rest slept in holes in the jungle warren. We honey-combed the scrub with tunnels and little chambers beaten and cut out, and every night changed round from one group to another, so that no outsider ever knew where exactly in the wide spread of bushes we were hidden. There were cattle-trails, pig-paths, game-runs, our own tunnels - every shape and condition of bolt-hole - so that the chances of trapping us all were few. We had food-caches buried along our probable route out, one on our likely road, and the other in the ravines behind Impoi, the best spot to lie up if for a time we had to.
text: To me, the worst thing of all was the horrible feeling of treachery in the familiar. To creep back to the camp of a morning, scouting to see if it had been occupied during the night - the old, friendly camp a potential enemy; all those green tunnels of roads, where I had walked and where the dogs had run, known to the last twig - tunnels where we now went in single file, scouts out, expecting ambushes, looking ahead for danger.
text: Then there was Watch and Ward. Frankly, I never expected it to hold. The men had not been trained for active service. They were flung at it overnight, willy-nilly, without preparation, weapons or support. Had they broken and gone to their homes, nobody could have blamed them; it was never intended that they should face this.
text: At the height of the crisis, all my personal staff came and asked for leave, and, thinking this was the finish, I let them all go. But within twenty-four hours they were all back.
text: Later I noticed that Namkia no longer wore his old and valuable 'deo-moni' beads. On inquiry, it appeared that the men had all gone home at that time, made their wills, arranged for their families' keep, and, believing that we couldn't survive, had returned to meet the end with us. Their heirloom necklaces had been left to their sons; they now wore only their beads for burial.
text: (212) " After all," said Namkia, when he saw me staring at him, " which was the better thing ? To desert and live, and hear our children curse us for the shame we put on them; or to die with you, and leave them proud of us for ever ? "