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James Thomas Walker

James Thomas WalkerGunner James Thomas Walker, 1120401, 99th (The Royal Bucks. Yeomanry) Field Regt, Royal Artillery.

James T. Walker was born in the Summer of 1920, the son of William Walker and his wife Doris Lorena Walker (nee Field), of 21, Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett, who had married in 1919 in Harrogate. James was the eldest child. There were at least four siblings: Frederick, born 1922; Doreen, born 1924 and died 1924; Doreen, born 1931; William B., born 1934 and Lorena Walker, born 1938.

The "Ossett Observer" had this obituary for Gunner James T. Walker:1

"Death From Wounds In Burma - Gunner James Thomas Walker - Recently we announced the death from multiple shell wounds in Burma, of Gunner James Thomas Walker (23), Royal Artillery (Field). He was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. William Walker, 21 Cross Ryecroft Street, Ossett, and was an old scholar of Holy Trinity, being afterwards employed as a spinner at Messrs. Charles Robinson's, Batley, until he joined the Forces in March 1941. He left England two years ago and had been in much of the fighting in Burma. He was formerly a sergeant-instructor in physical training to the Church Lads' Brigade at Holy Trinity. His brother, Trooper Fred Walker is serving with the Royal Armoured Corps in Normandy.

An order of the day, issued to all ranks of the Manipur Front by the Supreme Allied Commander, and a copy of which was handed to Gunner Walker and sent to his parents, gives some idea of the conditions with which our troops have been confronted in Burma. It says: ' I congratulate you on re-opening the vital Dimitur - Imphal road. Not since they overran the Far East two years ago have the Japanese launched so heavy and desperate an attack against us, but this time you not only held them, but turned to the attack and inflicted defeat which the enemy will not forget. They wanted to invade India, cut of lines of supply to China and to General Stilwell's American, British and Chinese Forces, and thus to stop their advance in North Burma. Your victory has prevented this. You have flown and marched and fought and battered your way forward through terrible monsoon conditions. Only those who have seen the terrific nature of the country under these conditions will be able to appreciate your achievements, and particularly those of the infantry. To the south and east of Imphal other Japanese forces are still fighting on. Give them no rest: drive them out as you did the remainder.'

A C.L.B. memorial service will be held at Holy Trinity Church for Private Walker tomorrow (Sunday) evening at 6:30."

Gunner Walker died on the 19th of July 1944 aged 23 years and is buried at grave reference 1 D 4 in the Imphal Cemetery, Burma. Imphal, the capital of Manipur State, is in Northeast India and borders on upper Burma (Myanmar). The cemetery lies 10 km from the airport on the Imphal-Dimapur road (National Highway 39) in Dewlahland, Kabo Leikai.

Early in 1942, as the Japanese approached Rangoon, a very large proportion of its Indian population fled from the city to India, many of them to Upper Burma and so by Chindwin tracks to Assam. In May of that year, Commonwealth forces followed the same route on their retreat to India. In their wake came still more civilian refugees, many of whom died on the arduous journey under ceaseless heavy rain, without transport and food. Of the 400,000 civilians who fled to India about 140,000 passed through Imphal into Assam.

The defence of India and the retention of a position from which Burma could be re-entered now became of primary importance. The 23rd Indian Division was formed in Manipur State, new airfields were constructed there, and army and air force reinforcements arrived. Eventually there was a considerable concentration of Commonwealth fighting forces in the Imphal area and from November 1944 onwards, No. 38 General Hospital was posted there.

Strategically well placed for attacks on the lines of communication by railway, road and river which were vital for the maintenance of all Allied operations in Burma, Imphal with its airfields was a main objective when the Japanese made their thrust towards India in the spring of 1944. There was severe fighting in the surrounding hills and on the outskirts of the plain and the Japanese succeeded in cutting a long section of the Imphal-Kohima road and holding it for over three months. The Fourteenth Army held on grimly, inflicting heavy punishment on the Japanese. Of all the battles on this frontier of India the siege of Imphal and its relief in the summer of 1944 rank next in importance to the Battle of Kohima.

There were originally some 950 burials in Imphal War Cemetery, but after hostilities had ceased, the Army Graves Service brought in graves from two smaller cemeteries in Imphal and from isolated positions in the surrounding region. The cemetery now contains 1,600 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War.2

References:

1. "Ossett Observer", Saturday, August 19th 1944.

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site