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Garo war hero surfaces

- Historians unaware of Monssi Momin’s existence

Tura, Feb. 10: Historians in Meghalaya are clueless about Monssi Momin, a War World II hero, who died fighting in France.

Pro vice-chancellor of ICFAI University in Meghalaya, Milton Sangma, a noted educationist and historian, was unaware of Monssi Momin’s existence as a “war hero” till he stumbled upon a cenotaph.

“I have researched on the Garos who were recruited by the British as labourers during World War I. I have not found any document which says that Monssi Momin was a British soldier,” said Sangma.

Having documented a book on the Garo Labour Corps who died during World War I in France, Sangma says a cenotaph built in their memory stands tall in Tura in West Garo Hills district.

Monssi Momin’s name is listed as a labourer in the cenotaph.

Momin’s niece, Wilminis Momin, 65, who lives in Nisangram in North Garo Hills district said, “My brother Sonalson Momin told me about my uncle and his deeds. British officials came to our village during our childhood days to hand over a medal.”

“We have never seen our uncle Monssi Momin but have heard that he was recruited by the British as a labourer and taken to France. Later he was absorbed into the British Army,” Wilminis said.

Monssi Momin’s relatives waited for his return for a decade after World War I. It was only during the 1950s that British officials visited Nisangram to hand over the medal which read, “He died for freedom and honour”.

Wilminis even claimed that almost everyone from Nisangram, who had gone to France, returned after the war was over, except Monssi Momin.

However, government records available states that Monssi Momin was a labourer, who was assumed dead. There is no record that states that Momin was a soldier.

A retired government servant, Tisdali B. Sangma, when asked about Monssi Momin said, “We have never known about this man as a soldier. I feel that effort should be made to document Monssi Momin and his works. It demonstrates the contribution of Garos in World War I and their heroic deeds.”

In 1917, the Garos were recruited to work as labourers in France. These labourers made roads and removed goods during the war. Around 1,000 men were recruited in the 69th Garo Labour Corps. However, only 500 were declared fit, of whom 456 could reach France.

Garo Labour Corps Day is celebrated every year to make people aware of the history of the Garos, who displayed their courage and bravery during World War I and got international recognition. The recruits won acclaim of the Allied commanders in France. In May 1918, they returned to their homeland. They reached Tura on July 16, 1918 amid wild jubilation and an ecstatic welcome from family and friends.

During the voyage many of them died of sea-sickness. Of the 456 who reached France, 120 returned to Tura. However, records available say that only 58 of them died.

The Garo labourers were part of the war for almost two years. Their main work was to load and unload logs of wood and wooden planks and dig trenches and build barricades.