January 11, 2018
The book by Vicky Thomas, ‘The Naga Queen: Ursula Graham Bower and her Jungle Warriors 1939-45’ tells the story of how Ursula Bower from England visited Nagaland at the invitation of a friend, and on a dispensary tour encountered the Naga people. She was so taken was with their striking dignity, tribal pride and unique culture that she arranged to live among them to write an anthropological study. . Her contributions to the history of Nagaland has been immense.
Here are 5 facts to know about Ursula the ‘Jungle Queen’: The extraordinary story of the Englishwoman who led Naga soldiers in WWII.
#1. Ursula Bower was the daughter of Commander John Graham Bower, RN (1886–1940) and she was born in the year 1914. Ursula Bower did her schooling at Roedean School but due to financial crisis, her family could not afford her school education and achieving her goal of reading Archaeology at Oxford. In the year 1932, her father remarried Barbara Euphan Todd, the creator of the fictional scarecrow Worzel Gummidge.
#2. In the same year 1932, she travelled to Canada. She first visited India, Naga hills and Manipur in 1937 at the invitation of Alexa Macdonald whom she had met while on holiday on Skye. Her mother sent her for a trip so that she would meet a nice husband but instead she fell in love with the Naga tribe and the hills.
#3. Bower returned alone to India in 1939 “to potter about with a few cameras and do a bit of medical work, maybe write a book”. She spent some years as an anthropologist among the Nagas of the Naga Hills. She took more than a thousand photographs documenting the lives of local tribes which were later used in a comparative study.
#4. At the start of World War II she was in London, but planning to return to the Naga Hills. When the opportunity arose, she gained permission from the British administration to live among the Naga people in Laisong village, in what was then known as North Cachar. Here she won the friendship and confidence of the local village headmen, so that when the Japanese armies invaded Burma in 1942 and threatened to move on into India, the British administration asked her to form her local Nagas into a band of scouts to comb the jungle for the Japanese.
#5. Bower mobilised the Nagas against the Japanese forces, placing herself at their head, initially leading 150 Nagas armed only with ancient muzzle-loading guns across some 800 square miles (2,100 km2) of mountainous jungle. General Slim recognised the work she was doing and supported her with arms and reinforcements, giving her her own unit within V Force, nicknamed ‘Bower Force’. Bower’s force of Nagas became so effective that the Japanese put a price on her head. She was the subject of an American comic book entitled Jungle Queen. Her personal weapon of choice was the sten gun, two of which she wore out in action. Trained as a child by her father to shoot, she had no qualms about handling firearms and training her Naga scouts in their use.
Ursula Graham Bower’s remarkable story has been brought back to life in a play.
Picture Courtesy: Scroll.in