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 Your 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."
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. Circa WWI by John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958).
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.
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".
18 March 2001