Naga Queen

She came from an exclusive English girls’ school. She traveled and fell in love with the hills on the border of India. Her excellent education and manners destined her to become a guerrilla leader there. She trained British troops in WWII and the Japanese set a price on her head. Her Name was Ursula Graham Bower, also known as the Jungle Queen.

The Roedean School in Brighton is the English girls' school. They state on their homepage that they believe in turning out self-assured pupils. In the case of Ursula Graham Bower, it seems to have worked extraordinarily well. She had traveled to India in 1937; her mother hoped she would meet an eligible husband there. Instead, she fell in love with the Naga Hills situated on India’s border to Burma.

She made a study of the Naga tribes that inhabit these hills and had never quite accepted British rule. as a result, they rebelled from time to time. The organization of the tribes relied on total loyalty to each other on personal and a general level. The warrior tribesmen wore the scalps of their enemies as battle trophies. While conducting her studies, Ursula Graham Bower dispensed medicine to the tribes. During a famine that struck the area prior to World War II, she organised help from the central government in Delhi. In return, she was not only accepted by the tribes, but worshiped as the incarnation of a goddess.

In 1942, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma had fallen to the Japanese. Guerrilla troop V Force came into being; it consisted of British officers leading local tribesmen in patrolling the borders. Ursula Graham Bower was an early recruit to the force but as a woman only ad interim until an officer could be found to replace her. She formed a band of 150 Naga warriors. With them, she patrolled the dense jungle hills separating Burma from India. Nothing much happened in 1942 or 1943, and she remained the officer responsible for her area.

In March 1944, Ursula was informed that a band of 50 Japanese had been repored in her part of the hills. It was her responsibility to stop them from reaching the nearby railway. The Naga tribesmen asked her for leave to return to their villages. She understood their priority in defending their villages and granted them leave not really expecting them back. But they returned within the day. They had gone home to make their wills and to leave their ceremonial necklaces with their families. Now they were ready to die with her in battle.

The threat did not materialize on this occasion, but she and her men had to deal with the fall-out of the Japanese army on the move: Looters. Only now did her men received rifles from the British. To that point, they had used muzzle-loading guns. Ursula Graham Bower even got a radio transmitter. They trailed and searched the jungle for scouts, for looters, and for shot down allied air-men. It was the American pilots who nicknamed her the Jungle Queen.

Headquarters now sent her officers for instruction on jungle warfare. The officers later recalled how they had been totally fascinated by her. Like the Naga warriors, they would have followed her to kick the gates of hell. They called her the Naga Queen. Her story is told in: Road Of Bones: The Epic Siege of Kohima 1944. The Epic Story Of The Last Great Stand Of Empire by Fergal Keane was published by Harper Press. The book covers a period of the Second World War we tend to forget and brings back its heroes a heroine forgotten in Europe. The book is fascinating to read and never boring. If you love adventure stories, here is a history lesson to go for.