John Dee Shapland was born in 1897 in Budleigh Salterton, Devon.
In 1914 he trained at the Royal Military Academy, serving as Second Lieutenant with the Royal Garrison Artillery, 20th Heavy Battery.
John was posted to France in August 1915 to join the British Expeditionary Force, proceeding with his unit to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to Salonika in December of that year. While serving with the British Salonika Army, John was appointed Acting Captain, commanding 192nd Heavy Battery at intervals until posted to GHQ of the British Salonika Force in Constantinople, January 1919, as Staff Captain until October 1920. John was twice Mentioned in Dispatches (1917/1918) and awarded an MC (1918).
In-between the wars, John married Lily Carden Dee Shapland (1920) and had a son, John, in 1926 and twin girls, Pamela and Prudence, in 1930. In 1935 he was promoted to Major.
During the Second World War, John had several home appointments, and from October 1941 he served as Commander Royal Artillery (Acting Brigadier) of 2nd Infantry Division.
In 1943 he was posted overseas to Burma/India as commander of 6th Infantry Brigade with 2nd Division. One of John’s major engagements with 2nd Division was at the Battle of Kohima, capital of present-day Nagaland in northeast India.
On 4th April 1944 the Japanese 31st Division attacked Kohima, a strategic point situated on the Imphal – Kohima road. 1,500 British and Indian troops and 1,000 non-combatants of Kohima Garrison found themselves facing 15,000 Japanese and were quickly driven to a defensive perimeter centred on Garrison Hill overlooking Kohima.
The ensuing battle is regarded as one of the bloodiest engagements of the Second World War due to the ferocity of the fighting, most of which was close combat. On 28th May during continued efforts to break the Japanese defences, John received a gunshot wound to his neck. Despite his injury, he carried on fighting until ordered to retire by Commanding Officer Major General Grover.
Relief came in mid-April with the arrival of 2nd Division which had raced 2,000 miles to support the besieged garrison. The Battle of Kohima concluded in Allied victory on 22nd June and proved to be a turning point in the Burma Campaign. For his bravery in action, John was awarded a DSO.
On his return to Britain in January 1946, John took a post as Deputy Director for Resources and Acquisitions with the War Office, and in 1948 he received a CB. His final appointment was as Major General in charge of Administration in Germany for the British Army of the Rhine, 1948 – 1951.
In 2015 the Archive received a donation of material related to John Shapland which comprises of his service record, volumes of operational accounts for the 33rd Indian Corps’ action in Burma 1st April 1943 – 28th May 1945, assorted documents, maps, and photographs. Of particular interest are John’s original photos of Kohima.
For further information on the Battle of Kohima and the Naga people, see https://kohimaeducationaltrust.org.