She came from an exclusive girls’ school to fall in love with the hills on the border of India and become a guerrilla leader there. She trained British troops and the Japanese set a price on her head. Her Name was Ursula Graham Bower.
The Roedean School in Brighton states on its homepage that they believe in turning out self-assured pupils. In the case of Ursula that seems to have worked extraordinarily well. Ursula had travelled to India in 1937 where her mother hoped she would meet an eligible husband. Instead, she fell for the Naga Hills on India’s border to Burma.
She made a study of the Naga tribes inhabiting the Hills which had never quite accepted British sovereignty and rebelled from time to time. The tribesmen wore the scalps of their enemies as battle trophies and were fiercely loyal to each other. Ursula, besides her studies, dispensed medicine to them and during the famine that struck the area prior to the war organised government help for them. In return, she was not only accepted by the tribes, but worshipped as the incarnation of a goddess.
1942, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma had fallen to the Japanese. Guerrilla troop V Force came into being; British officers who led local tribesmen in patrolling the border. Ursula was an early recruit to the force but only ad interim until an officer could be found to replace her. She formed a band of 150 Naga warriors patrolling with her the dense jungle hills between Burma and India. Nothing came to pass in 1942 or 1943, and Ursula was still not replaced.
In March 1944, Ursula was informed that a band of 50 Japanese were in her part of the hills. She was responsible for stopping them from reaching the nearby railway. The Naga at that point asked leave of her to return to their village. She understood their intention to defend their village and granted them leave. But they returned within the day, having gone home to make their wills and to leave their ceremonial necklaces with their families. They were now ready to die with her in battle.
The threat at this time did not materialise on this occasion, but she and her men had to deal with the fall-out of the Japanese army on the move: Looters. Finally, her men received rifles from the British having used muzzle-loading guns up to this point, and she got a radio transmitter. They trailed the jungle for scouts, for looters, and for shot down allied air-men. American pilots nicknamed her the Jungle Queen.
Headquarters sent officers to her for instruction on jungle warfare. The officers later recalled how they had been utterly fascinated by her. They would have followed her into battle and into death if necessary. They called her the Naga Queen. Her story is told in: Road Of Bones: The 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. The book makes good reading and is never boring. If you love adventure, here is a history lesson to go for.