VETERANS gathered at York Minster to commemorate one of the most hard-fought and important victories of the Second World War.

About 20 ex-servicemen, in their 80s or 90s, remembered those who lost their lives in the Battle of Kohima 68 years ago.

The veterans, with relatives and current members of the armed forces, attended a service in the Minster yesterday before laying wreaths in the Minster gardens on the Kohima memorial.

A minute’s silence was also held before veterans gathered on the Minster steps for photographs with military chiefs and the civic party.

They remembered fallen comrades who died in the 1944 battle, which proved to be a turning point in the Burma Campaign but which claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 British and Indian soldiers.

John Skene, 93, who served in the First Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, said: “I’m glad to still be able to attend and remember those people we knew.

“We fought hard to keep the Japanese out of India, and it was a struggle but we all rose to it.”

Robert Peacock, 94, of the Lancashire Fusiliers, also fought in Burma.

He said: “I have come for many years now. There used to be about ten coach loads of us, but now there are less and less of us.”

Fought from April 4 to June 22, 1944, the battle was the greatest defeat of the Japanese Imperial forces by the British and Indian Army.

Robert Cook, curator of the 2nd Division Kohima Museum Trust, said: “The Kohima Memorial Service is a great tribute to the defenders of Kohima. They stood firm against almost overwhelming odds, forcing back the Japanese invasion of India. Without their efforts and bravery our lives today would be very different.”

Lieutenant Colonel Colin Vaudin, Commanding Officer 2 Signal Regiment at Royal Corps of Signals, helped organise the service with 15 (North East) Brigade, who are based in York.

“Some of our regiment are heading out to Afghanistan in a few months so I think it is important to hold memorial services like this so we can link past to present,” he said.