Dhaka Monday May 31, 2004. E-mail: starheritage@thedailystar.net




Maynamati war cemetery

Emblem of valour

A long the highway link from Dhaka to Chittagong stands Maynamati, about 144 kilometres from the capital and roughly seven kilometres from Comilla.

Once a hamlet of a few huts, it was converted into a large military camp during the World War II that came as close as Myanmar (Burma) in 1941-1945.

The cemetery, a kilometre down the road leading from Comilla to Sylhet and nine kilometres from the railway station, is a short distance past the Comilla Cantonment Military Hospital.

Several ordnance depots, hospitals, a reinforcement centre and an important airbase of the 14th Army Headquarters were housed in Maynamati. The base was then turned into a burial ground called Maynamati War Cemetery, where many of the burials came from the various hospitals in the area.

Under a canopy of indigenous flowering and evergreen trees such as teak, gold mohur or flamboyant and mountain ebony -- serene, sombre and peaceful -- dominated by a small flat-topped hill, lies the graves of 737 soldiers.

Some graves that could not be maintained in other isolated burial grounds and those from Burma were transferred to the Maynamati cemetery by the Army Graves Service and later by the Imperial War Graves Commission.

The cemetery started by the Army was laid out by the garrison engineer.

Over the large iron gate, embedded in a pale orange brick wall, boldly carved in a combination of copper and bronze reads the name 'Maynamati War Cemetery, Comilla'.

Between the entrance and the hill lie the graves of the Christian soldiers, while the graves of the Muslims are on the far end of the cemetery.

On a terrace about halfway up the hill, facing the entrance stands the Cross of Sacrifice, flanked by two small shelters on either side -- the left overlooking the Muslim graves to a tree-framed view of the countryside beyond. The Cross reminds one of the famous Lenten song "On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame." Yet this Cross stands bold radiating the light of bravery shown by the fallen soldiers.

Towards the farther end of the cemetery on the left are the graves of the Japanese soldiers, while the African graves lie on the left of the Cross just below the foot of the small hill.

Twenty-three unknown soldiers were buried on the right -- between the main entrance and the Cross. Separated from the others, nestled together in a rectangular shape, with seven on three sides and two graves heading the rest, one would never know the names of these young men who untimely sacrificed their lives, either for the allies or the enemies in the name of war.

It would be surprising to know most servicemen who died were between ages 22 and 30, while civilians were around 40.

Each tombstone of marble and mosaic carries the name of the deceased and some information about the origin of the person and the regiment he belonged to.

In some cases, the names of the parents are carved on the stone with grief-filled epitaphs conveying the pain and sorrow parents and kin had to bear losing their loved ones.

'Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so' -- so real are the words of John Donne. But in James Shirley's words: 'Death lays its icy hands on Kings: Sceptre and crown must tumble down and in the dust be equal made with the poor crooked scythe and spade' one sees death is common to all. In this cemetery lie the bodies of British, African, Indian, Australian and Japanese.

Although the lands in Bangladesh occupied as Commonwealth War Cemeteries were assured in perpetuity to the Imperial War Graves Commission, under the British Commonwealth and Empire, by the Government of Bangladesh, local labour difficulties hampered the Commission in their work at the initial stages.

With the initiatives taken by the Commonwealth and the painstaking efforts by those who work with it, the cemetery has flower shrubs between each grave and the sides of the steps that lead to the Cross are flanked by beds of polyantha roses and rhododendron indica clothing the banks on each side. Varieties of flowering and evergreen shrubs in various positions supplement the trees and shrubs along the already flourishing hedge.

The untiring efforts of the five gardeners who work round the clock are seen in this well-preserved, beautifully maintained cemetery that sits in a quiet and picturesque place. It is one of the city's principal tourist attractions.

The cemetery is open to visitors from 9-12 in the morning and 3-5 in the evening.

Let then, 'the actions of the just, smell sweet and blossom in their dust'.

(Some material provided by the Imperial War Graves Commission has been used in this write-up)

Photo & Story: Silverine

(c) The Daily Star, 2004. thedailystar.net