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
Some additional background about the epitaph,
it's origins and the Kohima Battle history.
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
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
It also seems fitting that Mr.
Edmonds, who wrote those famous lines, should be cited as the
(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
18 March 2001
Our thanks to David Lock for this photograph showing the
wording of the Kohima Epitaph in the Kohima War Cemetery
RefSource - 1
The following was copied
- Site no longer working
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
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. Japan’s dominance in northern Burma had begun its
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
"When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For their tomorrow
We gave our today"
RefSource - 2
The following was copied
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 (Site no
longer working) relating to those lines:
When you go home tell
them of us and say,
For their tomorrow we
gave our today.
(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 Edmonds’ 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 Second World War
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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