By W Johnstone-Kent
The Story of Lt. Jock Young
The battle for Kohima was won by a handful of men, about 1,500, the Royal West Kents, The Assam Regiment and a few hundred “odds and sods”...
The “Last Man, Last Round” order was only given twice in WWII - at Dunkirk and at Kohima. That order was cancelled but owing to the wireless breakdown it was never received.. Lieutenant ‘Jock’ Young was in command of ‘A’ Company of the Assam Regiment. The position he had taken up was just north of the small village of Kharasom. It commanded a clear view of much of the surrounding country. He had a good supply of water; but not within his perimeter. From here he could cover the track which led to Jessami and the track from Ukhrul which joined it. Lt Young was, therefore, well placed to watch both routes.
The little strong point was well stocked with rations, water and ammunition and surrounded by barbed wire. He had been re-enforced by another platoon so the garrison numbered 120 men. Lt Young was the only British Officer, so he must have felt pretty lonely, as his only link was a field telephone.
At dawn on 27 March 1944 Lt Young’s patrol from Ukhrul came in and reported a large Japanese column was approaching along the track. The garrison took post and remained silent. In the early morning light the enemy moved along the track to Kharasom. As they came abreast of him Lt Young gave the order to open fire. The silence of the jungle was shattered by the Brens and rifle burst. Taken aback the Japanese stood bewildered at this onslaught, then broke away into the undergrowth leaving the track littered with bodies.
Lt Young reported this to his headquarters by telephone and very shortly after this the line was cut; and now he was cutoff from the rest of the world. His guideline was the order to fight to the last man.
As the sun came up the Japanese rallied and attacked under mortar fire. They were driven off with loss; Lt Young lost his second-in-command. Three times they attacked before dusk, but still no Japanese penetrated the defenses. This went on for three days and nights. It was apparent to Lt Young that his men were exhausted, and he didn’t think they could withstand any more onslaughts. The water reserve was diminishing. On the fourth day, the 31st of March, his attention was called to a new development on the track from the South. There beyond the ashes of the village was a solid mass of Japanese soldiers coming towards them with elephants, mules and carts. This was another battalion. Lt Young knew they would certainly soon join in the battle against him, and his little redoubt be overwhelmed.
What possible good would it do to stay where he was? Alone in the jungle, remote, he had no-one to turn to. All his instincts told him the right thing to do was to withdraw and save his Company. Lt Young called his commanders together during a heavy bombardment by the enemy artillery and mortars, an thanked them for the way they had fought. He told them the end had now come; they were to disengage, make for the river and withdraw to Kohima. He ended by saying “I, however, shall stay here” There was a silence, then one of the subadars asked “Why will you not come with us, Sahib?”
“Because”, Lt Young replied “my orders were to fight to the last man. I shall obey those orders, and I shall be the last man.”, and after an uncomfortable pause, “Nor would it be right for me to leave the wounded alone.” Lt Young’s’ company started quietly to withdraw.
The last scene they saw was Lt Young, standing on the firestep of his bunker, stacking tommy-gun magazines on the parapet, stacking quantities of hand grenades around him, and passing a Bren gun to the wounded sepoy. Japanese machine guns opened up relentlessly, then all was silent.