Beckenham Second World War hero remembered

PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 April 2019

Comrades pay their respects at John Harman's grave. Picture: CWGC

Comrades pay their respects at John Harman's grave. Picture: CWGC

© IWM (IND 4886)

A Beckenham soldier who fell at Britain’s greatest battle is being highlighted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at its 75th anniversary arrives.

April 3 to 7 marks the time the Battles of Imphal and Kohima raged.

The result is said to have been a key turning point of the Second World War.

The Graves Commission said: “We want to highlight the human stories behind the battle and this includes the remarkable story of Lance Corporal John Pennington Harman from Beckenham. His story is heart-breaking.”

On Friday, a special ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Kohima War Cemetery marked 75 years since the Japanese invasion of India was repelled.

One remarkable story is that of Lance Corporal John Pennington Harman, from Beckenham, who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross, after being struck down in one of the bloodiest and lesser known battles of the Second World War.

The Commission’s team of historians pieced together his life and last moments.

John Pennington Harman was born on July 20, 1914, the eldest child of millionaire businessman Martin Coles Harman. In 1925, his father - an avid nature lover - bought Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. In November 1941, John was called up for service and in early 1943 he was sent to India, eventually serving with the 4th Battalion of the Queen’s Own West Kent Regiment.

In 1944, he was part of the Kohima Garrison when the Japanese attacked. Showing unbelievable bravery, John led a platoon during the desperate fighting and twice went out alone to attack enemy positions.

The second time he was badly wounded, and lay dying in no-man’s land.

His company commander, Major Easten, braved enemy fire to bring him in. He called for stretcher bearers, but John said “Don’t bother Sir….I got the lot. It was worth it,” and died in Easten’s arms. John was 29 years old.

For his actions during the Battle of Kohima, John was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His father collected the VC from Buckingham Palace and carried the medal with him for the rest of his life.

The London Gazette in June 1944 wrote: “The enemy had established a machine-gun post within 50 yards of his position which became a serious menace to the remainder of his company. Unable to bring the fire of his section on to the post, Lance Corporal Harman went forward by himself and annihilated the post, returning with the enemy machine-gun. The next morning, having first recovered a forward position, he again charged an enemy post alone, shooting four and bayonetting one, thereby wiping out the post. As he returned Lance Corporal Harman received a burst of machine-gun fire in his side and died shortly after reaching our lines.”

John is one of 1,300 servicemen buried in Kohima War Cemetery and his grave is marked with the words “Of Lundy, The Earth is the Lord’s.”

He was one 8,000 Commonwealth Service personnel to die during the Battles of Imphal and Kohima.

Max Dutton, assistant historian at CWGC, said: “Behind every one of our headstones or names a memorial to the missing, is a human story just waiting to be told.

“Our Legacy of Liberation Campaign will remind people of the human cost of the Second World War, the sheer diversity of those who took part and the global nature of that sacrifice and remembrance today.”

“We hope their stories will inspire people to find out more about John and his comrades commemorated by the CWGC and visit their graves and memorials.

“Anyone interested in learning more about the personal stories can read the personal stories of the men involved on CWGC’s website or listen to our Legacy of Liberation podcast.”

The commission said throughout the year they will be highlighting the stories of those who died in their bids to liberate themselves and occupied lands during some of the key turning points of the Second World War.

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