Family of WWI Labour Corps hero meets war researcher seeking details of graves recovered

1953

IMPHAL October 28: Three generations of a family met independent war researcher and co-founder of the 2nd World War Imphal Campaign Foundation Yumnam Rajeshwor Singh seeking details of a forefather who never returned after being sent to France as labour corps during the WWI in 1917.

85-year old Sonereng Shinglai of Tangkhul Hundung Khunou Village, accompanied by his sons and grandsons today came and met Rajeshwor in Imphal in the hope of getting some details of his uncle (L) Putangleng Shinglai who was among the 2000 recruits from the State to go to France as Labour Corps during the WWI and never returned.

A visibly emotional Sonereng said he felt the urged to meet the researcher after one of his grandson, `Henry`™ read in the news about the discovery of graves of Manipuris in France.

He said according to his elders, R Ruichumhao, the first Christian convert of the State had come to their village to recruit men for the labour corps and recruited (L) Putangleng Singlai and another villager.

He said village elders had also told him that the other villager came back alone which left Putangleng`™s wife Singlai who is Sonerang`™s mother widowed without a child after only two months of marriage.

As they had been married for only two months and the young Singlai was without a child, the clan decided that it would be best for Putangleng`™s younger brother Sainangkao Shinglai to marry her instead of sending her home, he said.

From the marriage, Singlai bore a daughter and three sons among whom Sonereng is the youngest.

An emotional Sonereng also expressed his desire to visit the grave atleast once and lay floral tribute and offer a prayer for the departed soul.

But this is not within the financial capacity of our poor family he said appealing to the State government to help his family visit the grave as an acknowledgement of the contribution of his uncle (L) Putangleng Shinglai.

Speaking of his meeting with Rajeshwore, Sonereng said `He was kind enough to arrange a picture and the details of Putangleng`™s grave through his contacts in France.`

`We are grateful to him for his voluntary service and hope the government would support such endeavours so that many more families would be able to trace their ancestors.`

Speaking to a group of media persons inside the DIPR complex where the meeting happened, Rajeshwore said he was able to garner some information including a picture of Putangleng`™s grave with his epitaph, location information and visiting information of the St Sever Cemetery in France which has 3082 Commonwealth burials from the First World War.

In the early 1917, the then Political Agent Lt Col HWG Cole and the Raja of Manipur had issued an official order for requisition of 2000 recruits to go to France as Labour Corps, following which 2000 persons assembled in Imphal and formed the Manipur labour Corps, he said.

They were transported to Europe by ship from Bombay and worked in France for about one year and six months as labourers in the battlefields, he said.

As non-combatants, they were deployed for various errands like transporting arms, building temporary camps, running errands, taking messages etc, apart from their assigned work of digging trenches and cleaning the camps among other things, he added.

Many were killed in various theatres of war in Europe. However due to low rank of Labour Corps, the records of their deaths were not properly maintained, he added.

In fact no historians have come forward with the figure of survivals and death from this participation till date, he observed.

`Through my individual attempt I have found 87 graves of Manipuris who were buried in various parts of Europe and Middle East namely France, Italy, Egypt and Yemen. I have their grave reference, name of the cemeteries and the country they are located in.`

`Among them I have gathered some additional information of 20 persons. However it will be difficult to trace all these families on my own.`

`The government should archive these sacrifices and registered their names as part of our History. As for this recent recovery the government can assist in mobilizing mass public campaign to locate the families of these people,` he appealed.

`It is almost a century now and none of their families have ever laid a flower in their graves. I am trying to collect pictures the graves and additional information of those 2000 brave hearts who were sent to Europe to assist the British in the First World War.`

`Following the sacrifice of these 2000 Manipuris, King Churachand was awarded the prestigious KCSI,CBE by the British government.`

`We ought to atleast remember these brave hearts in our History books,` he observed.

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