Pranab Mukherjee pays respect to Indian soldiers of WW II

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Pranab Mukherjee

New Delhi: Indian President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday paid homage to the soldiers, including many Indians, killed during World War-II while fighting along with the British forces and laid to rest at Bomana cemetery in Papua New Guinea.

The President, the supreme commander of Indian armed forces, walked up to a pillar erected in memory of the troops and placed a wreath there.

This was the second engagement of  Mukherjee, who arrived here yesterday on the first ever state visit from India to this largest island in the Pacific.

Immediately after meeting the Governor General of Papua New Guinea (PNG) Sir Michael Ogio, President drove to the war cemetery, located 20-km from here.

As he placed the wreath, a Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) sounded the “Last Post,” signifying the end of the troops’ journey in life. A minutes’ silence was observed in their memory after which Mukherjee took a look at the cemetery.

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The cemetery contains 3,824 Commonwealth burials of the second World War out of which 699 of them unidentified. Around 250 of the unidentified soldiers are from undivided India who were fighting along with the British and allied forces.

Indian High Commissioner to PNG Nagendra Kumar Saxena, who took over the office in October last year, has been extensively working on the role of Indians during the World War and other areas of the PNG.

During the banquet hosted by the Ogio in honour of the President last night, the Governor General also said the linkages between the two countries go back to the second World War in which Indian servicemen, some 615 brave sons who were part of the British Army and Allied Forces, fought and died in PNG.

“Their mortal remains lie buried in war cemeteries throughout the country,” he said.

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The troops were fighting the Japanese forces who had landed at Lae and Salamaua in March 1942 with Port Moresby as their chief objective.
They decided to attack by sea and assembled an amphibious expedition for the purpose, which set out early in May, but were intercepted and heavily defeated by American air and naval forces in the Coral Sea and what remained of the Japanese expedition returned to Rabaul.

After this defeat they decided to advance on Port Moresby overland and the attack was launched from Buna and Gona in September 1942.

Those who died in the fighting in Papua and Bougainville are buried in Port Moresby Bomana War Cemetery and their graves brought in by the Australian Army Graves Service from burial grounds in the areas where the fighting had taken place.

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The unidentified soldiers of the United Kingdom forces were all from the Royal Artillery, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. They died in captivity and were buried on the island of Bailale in the Solomons. These men were later re-buried in a temporary war cemetery at Torokina on Bougainville Island before being transferred to their permanent resting place at Port Moresby.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of troops from Commonwealth nations who died in the two world wars, for building and maintaining memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown and for providing records and registers of these burials and commemorations, totalling 1.7 million and found in most countries across the world.

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