Aizawl, June 3: A government hospital in North Vanlaiphai, a village in eastern Mizoram near the Myanmar border, has withstood the test of time, including Japanese air strikes during World War II.
Legend has it that the heritage hospital is also a silent witness to an attempt on the life of Lt Gen. Sir William Slim, a British officer commanding Burma Corps.
As the hospital celebrated its 100th birthday today, the memories of the upheaval it had gone through came flooding back to a few surviving witnesses.
“There was a thunderous sound in the sky and six Japanese jet fighters appeared from nowhere. Heavy objects fell from the sky and exploded,” an 87-year-old villager recollected. The date was March 28, 1944.
Though the entire village suffered from the Japanese aerial attack, the hospital and its adjacent quarters bore the heaviest brunt, according to R.L. Buatsaiha, 66-year-old retired headmaster of a government school in the village, who interviewed witnessed and documented the incident that failed to figure in history books.
Buatsaiha interviewed a number of people, most of whom have now passed away.
“Six bombs were dropped, which meant that each jet fighter dropped a bomb each. The fighter aircraft also swept the village with machine guns,” Buatsaiha says.
“Smoke billowed, darkening the sky. The villagers ran helter-skelter while many prayed to God for help,” he adds.
Miraculously, except for a few persons who suffered injuries and a pig that died, not a single person died in the attack despite the fact that there were five patients on hospital beds at the time of the attack, he said.
The hospital’s quarters were damaged beyond repair. Luckily, the doctor was on a holiday at that time, otherwise, he would surely have died, says Buatsaiha.
Till recently, the ground near the hospital had craters following the bombings. It was later discovered that the hospital bore no Red Cross mark. “But, the craters have now been filled by the owners of the land. The bullet holes in the hospital and the doctor’s quarters are the only remaining testimony to the forgotten attack during World War II,” Buatsaiha says.
Even though no one knew the motive behind the Japanese surprise attacks, it was believed that Lt Gen. Slim was the target. But no one knew if the British army officer was actually in the village at the time. All that the villagers knew was that a British army official was staying at the inspection bungalow near the village.
“Located near the Indo-Myanmar border, North Vanlaiphai was a strategic place for the British army. It had an inspection bungalow and British soldiers occasionally camped in the village. This was enough reason for the advancing Japanese to attack,” he says.
North Vanlaiphai branch of the Young Mizo Association has preserved the craters and bullet marks. Even though the hospital, commissioned in 1913, had completed 100 years last year, the celebration was postponed because of the Assembly elections.
It is one of the few surviving buildings built by the British and it has been declared a heritage building by the Mizoram government.
The grand centenary celebration, organised by the village council of North Vanlaiphai today, was graced by chief minister Lal Thanhawla. He said it was a matter of great pride that the centenary of a British-era hospital was being celebrated and congratulated the people of the village. Health minister Lal Thanzara, who attended the function as chief guest, promised that the hospital would be upgraded with modern technology without infringing on its heritage value.