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We are indebted to Derek Lawbuary who has been able to find out the origins of the Kohima Epitaph:-

The Kohima 2nd Division Memorial is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on behalf of the 2nd Infantry Division. The memorial remembers the Allied dead who repulsed the Japanese 15th Army, a force of 100,000 men, who had invaded India in March 1944 in Operation U-Go. Kohima, the capital of Nagaland was a vital to control of the area and in fierce fighting the Japanese finally withdrew from the area in June of that year.

The Memorial itself consists of a large monolith of Naga stone such as is used to mark the graves of dead Nagas. The stone is set upright on a dressed stone pedestal, the overall height being 15 feet. A small cross is carved at the top of the monolith and below this a bronze panel is inset. The panel bears the inscription


"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, 
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"


The words are attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875 -1958), an  English Classicist, who had put them together among a collection of 12 epitaphs for World War One, in 1916.

According to the Burma Star Association the words were used for the Kohima Memorial as a suggestion by Major John Etty-Leal, the GSO II of the 2nd Division, another classical scholar.

The verse is thought to have been inspired by the Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos (556-468 BC) who wrote after the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC:


"Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by,
That faithful to their precepts here we lie."

 

The lines from the famous Kohima Epitaph
Some additional background about the epitaph,
it's origins and the Kohima Battle history.

When you go home, Tell them of us, and say, For their tomorrow, We gave our today

This famous epitaph is found on numerous Veteran Memorials and Monuments throughout the world. It is also found on many internet websites for veterans ranging from India, Australia, UK, United States and very likely on non-English veteran websites as well.

In nearly all instances the words cite the origin as being from the Kohima Epitaph. Although that memorial is the most well known, the lines pre-date the inscription on that WWII memorial.

I have assembled some of the material from my internet search below. Several of which cite John Maxwell Edmonds as the original author of those lines.

I have presented material here from a few internet sources. Again, for the reason that sources on the web often blink off and are lost. The copied versions are presented here solely for informational and educational purpose with no intent to plagiarize.

It is my opinion that the lines of that epitaph are some of the most moving lines written about veterans. They state very succintly what it is that each veteran gave to his fellow citizens, i.e.    all of their tomorrows.

It also seems fitting that Mr. Edmonds, who wrote those famous lines, should be cited as the author.

(Note, that in many of the quotes the epitaph reads "your tomorrow" vs "their tomorrow".   It is thought that Edmonds' original poem used "their". Any authoritative reference to clarify that point would also be appreciated.)

Please notify me of any other relevant sources to Mr. Edmonds' penning of these now famous lines.
Send info here

Thank you

Sid Harrison
18 March 2001
 



Our thanks to David Lock for this photograph showing the wording of the Kohima Epitaph in the Kohima War Cemetery

MORE LINKS

 


 

Doing a search for more internet references:

Using a good search engine you can plug in various key-words or phrases and find many of the pages that mention the "Kohima Epitaph" or John Maxwell Edmonds.

Here are just a few:

 



RefSource - 1

 

The following was copied from http://www.cbiinfo.com/bstar.htm

The Kohima Epitaph

In March 1944, the Japanese 31st Division moved northwestward in Burma, swept through the Naga hills, invaded India, and fell upon Imphal and Kohima. Confidently the Japanese planned to press toward the India Plains. The Allies in the CBI Theater faced a disaster of monumental proportions unless the enemy was stopped.

A crucial battle ensued at Kohima where some 2,500 British Empire troops came under siege. They fought a formidable Japanese force numbering 15,000 soldiers supported by 10,000 ammunition laden oxen. For weeks the belligerents sparred in bloody artillery duels interrupted only by hand to hand skirmishes and bayonet attacks. Finally, after 64 days, amid terrible losses on both sides, the Japanese were beaten back. They withdrew from Kohima. Japanís dominance in northern Burma had begun its crumble.

Understandingly, the determination and gallantry shown by allied troops in the Kohima siege was quick to become the subject of poem, song, and legend. Today in the Kohima cemetery, among the 1,378 grave markers, is the famous Kohima Memorial with its historic inscription:

"When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For their tomorrow
We gave our today"

Kohima Epitaph

 



RefSource - 2

 

The following was copied from http://www.veteransmuseum.com/html/start.html

(Kohima Epitaph)
Poem by John Maxwell Edmonds,1875-1958. Printed in The Times of London, 6 February 1918.



RefSource - 3

 

The following was copied from http://www.mgateway.com/merrow/memorial.htm relating to those lines:

When you go home tell them of us and say,

For their tomorrow we gave our today.

(Slightly edited version)

(These words) inscribed on a memorial at Kohima and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) confirmed this, stating that the words are on the 2nd Division Memorial. Kohima War Cemetery is built over the old tennis court (the markings are still preserved by the CWGC) belonging to the District Commissioner before the war. The Japanese advance was halted at this very tennis court.

These lines originate from J. Maxwell Edmondsí Inscriptions suggested for war memorials published in the 1920s. Edmonds was a classical scholar and may have had at the back of his mind the epitaph upon the Spartans at Thermopylae, composed by the contemporary poet Simonides:

Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by

That faithful to their precepts here we lie.

 


 

RefSource - 4

The following was copied from http://www.1uptravel.com/states/nagaland/placestovisit.html

Kohima

The Second World War Cemetery

Cemeteries are, generally gloomy places. Kohima's second world war cemetery, however, is not such a place. No place so beautifully situated, so superbly maintained, and dedicated to the memories of those who sacrificed their fives regardless of race, nationality or religion can be gloomy.

The Kohima war cemetery is serene and beautiful. Roses bloom in season, the grass is always billiard-table smooth and two tall crosses stand at the lowest and highest points of the cemetery overlooking Kohima. between them, and stretching all the way across this gently rising hill in the centre of the town, are stone markers with shining bronze plaques. Each commemorates the name of a single man who gave his fife for freedom. At the base of the. upper cross there is an inscription which says : "Here, around the tennis court of the deputy commissioner the men who fought in the battle of Kohima in which they and their comrades finally halted the invasion of India by the forces of Japan in Aprd 1944".

To one side of this memorial cross, and often missed by visitors, there is a tree with a small plaque on it. The plaque says: This flowering cherry tree is of historical interest.

The original tree was used as a sniper's post by the Japanese and was destroyed in the fighting which raged round the tennis court and marked the limit of the Japanese advance into India. The present tree is from a branch from the old one. And at the base of the lowest cross, an inscription reads When you go home Tell them of us and say For your tomorrow We gave our today.

 



Additional Edmonds References:

 

The following are the results of internet searches for J.M. Edmonds.
They cite several of his academic works. Mainly translations of ancient documents.
S.Harrison



Theocritus. "The Women at the Adonis Festival" Idyll XV. The Greek Bucolic Poets. Trans. J.M. Edmonds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950 (The Loeb Classical Library).

 

The Greek bucolic poets. [Rev.] ed. Translated by J.M. Edmonds. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970,c1928. xxviii, 526 p. Annotated no. 645 English and Greek on opposing pages.

The Idylls. Translated by J. M. Edmonds. In The Loeb Classical Library The Greek Bucolic Poets. 1912. Reprint. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938.

Epigrams, translated by J. M. Edmonds, rev. John M. Cooper


 

 
 

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