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Mainamati War Cemetery of Comilla: A Tribute to the Martyrs of World War 2

The cemetery contains 736 Commonwealth burials
The cemetery contains 736 Commonwealth burials Photo : Afra Nawmi

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How does one feel if their beloved has died at the age of 18 or 25 in a distant war, far from home? How does it feel to them if their sons, daughters or husbands are buried thousands of miles away from their birthplace? Can anyone honestly imagine? Leaving family and loved ones behind and sleeping in a completely unknown place must be the most brutal truth for one! Such lives are lying in the Mainamati War cemetery of Comilla, Bangladesh. Several young hearts and brave souls have been sleeping the rest of their lives here for the past 80 years.

Thousands of kilometres away from their homelands, they came to South Asia to participate in World War II and sacrificed their lives without anything in return. World War II had left scars on every living creature and element. In every war or battle, a party wins but loses the lives of so many.

Mainamati in Comilla district is renowned for its historical significance. Still, it also holds another historical monument—the Mainamati War Cemetery, the resting place of hundreds of martyrs who fought during World War II.

The Burma (now Myanmar) Campaign of 1945-1946 marked the final phase of the Allied operations in Burma during World War II. This campaign aimed to recapture Burma from Japanese forces, who had occupied the country since 1942. The primary objective was to reopen the land route to China via the Burma Road, crucial for supplying the Chinese war effort against Japan.

Photo credit: Afra Nawmi 

By May 1945, the Allies had successfully recaptured Rangoon (Yangon), Burma's capital and major port, through a combined amphibious and land operation. The campaign continued into early 1946, dealing with remaining Japanese pockets and post-war issues. The successful recapture of Burma was a crucial Allied victory in the Southeast Asian theatre, contributing to Japan's eventual defeat in August 1945 and setting the stage for Burma's independence from British colonial rule in 1948.

To honour the fallen soldiers, nine war cemeteries were established in Myanmar (then Burma), Assam, and Bangladesh to commemorate the 45,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in Burma during World War II. During the Burma Campaign, two Commonwealth War Cemeteries were set up in Bangladesh, one in Comilla and the other in Chittagong.

The cemetery contains 736 Commonwealth burials. It was established and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to honour those who sacrificed their lives. It is situated in the Comilla Cantonment area, 9 km from the city. 
Before the war, Mainamati was a small hamlet. However, during the war, it became the site of a large military camp, which included several ordnance depots and military hospitals.

Photo credit: Afra Nawmi 

Most of the burials in Mainamati War Cemetery were from these hospitals. Graves from isolated areas nearby, and even some from as far away as Burma, were relocated to the cemetery by the Army Graves Service and later by the Commission.

Additionally, it was necessary to transfer graves from small cemeteries in Dhaka, Faridpur, Pakshi, Saidpur, Santahan, and Sirajganj, where maintenance was not feasible.
The cemetery was initiated by the Army and laid out by the garrison engineer. It is characterized by a small flat-topped hill adorned with indigenous flowering and evergreen trees.

The Christian graves are located between the entrance and the mountain, while the Muslim graves are on the far side. Midway up the hill, facing the entrance stands the Cross of Sacrifice. Another portion of the greenery is the Japanese soldier's graves. A shelter on the opposite side overlooks the Muslim graves with a picturesque, tree-framed view of the countryside.

Currently, there are 736 graves, as one grave's remains were repatriated to the United States in 1962, and another one's body could not identified.

Among the 736 soldiers from 13 countries, there were Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and Panjabis, and the rest were Christians by belief.

There are three sailors, 567 soldiers and 166 aeronauts buried. The graves include 357 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 178 from Undivided India, 86 from West Africa, 56 from East Africa, 24 from Japan, 12 from Canada, 12 from Australia, four from New Zealand, three from Rhodesia, one each from South Africa, Burma, Belgium, and Poland.

Every year, numerous local and foreign visitors come to these cemeteries to pay their respects to the soldiers who perished in the war. Every November, High Commissioners and Ambassadors from Commonwealth member countries visit to pay their respects at the war memorials of their respective countries.

Relatives of soldiers also visit to see the graves of their loved ones. The cemetery serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought for freedom and the importance of remembering their contributions to the world.

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