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The Gurkhas- Bravest of Brave
“As I write these last words, my opinion returns to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once more I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your fires, on forced march or in the trenches, now shivering with wet and cold, now scorched by a pitiless and burning sun. Uncomplaining you endure hunger and thirst and wounds; and at the last your unwavering lines disappear into the smoke and wrath of battle. Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you".
The words of Professor Sir Ralph Turner, MC, who served with the 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles in the First World War
Introduction of Gurkhas:
Rare is the person today who has not heard of the Gurkha soldiers, the brave troops from Nepal's isolated hills who bolster the forces of the British and Indian armies. Famed for their tenacity and loyalty in warfare since the late 18th Century, these Kukri-wielding soldiers underscored their fame by playing a key role in the 1982 Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) crisis.
Origin of Gurkhas
Nepal is the motherland of world famous Gurkhas and the country of great Himalayas. The original definition of the Gurkhas or Gorkhali (Nepali Terms), literally meaning 'defender of cows', was a man of Mongolian stock from the ancient principality of Gorkha about fifty miles to the west of Kathmandu, whose ruler, Prithivi Narayan Shah, formed the Gorkhali army, for the first time By the help of the brave Gorkhalis from Gorkha, King Prithvi Narayan Shah succeeded in uniting modern Nepal into one Kingdom around 1768-69 AD.
The war against the British in 1814 and separate action against Tibet, early 18th century, the Gorkhalis Army was enveloped in a long-drawn battle with mercantile British East India Company. It was the Anglo-Nepal war that first thrust the myth and legend of Gurkha bravery into Western minds. In that conflict, British in India first experienced the effectiveness, stubbornness, loyalty valor and indomitable bravery of Gurkhas. Impressed by what they had seen, the British East India Company began recruiting Gurkhas into their service. The British did not formalize Gurkha recruitment until 1886, but by the time India already had eight Gurkha Rifles units. Most of the men were drawn from the Magars, Gurungs tribes, but others came from the Rais, Limbus and Sunuwars of the eastern hills and from the Khasas of the west. Over the next 50 years, the Gurkhas fought all over south Asia, From Afghanistan to Malaya, and even as far as African Somaliland in 1903.
The First World War:
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 beckoned the Gurkhas to new destinations. With the advent of the First World War, Gurkhas were called on in even greater numbers. More than 114,000 Gurkhas were called into active service in Givenchy, Ypres, Gallipoli, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Suez, Persia and Afghanistan. Another 200,000 men were mobilized in the Indian Army. A battalion of the 8thGR (8th Gurkha Rifle, name of battalion) distinguished itself at Loos in Flanders, fighting nearly to the last man. The 6th Gurkhas won fame in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign when they threw the Turks back in their sector. They were the only allied troops to reach and hold the hillcrest line, looking down on the straits, which were the force’s ultimate objective. Two Gurkhas - Kulbir Thapa (France 1915) and Karna Bahadur Rana (Palestine, 1918) were awarded the Victoria Cross for their Gallantry.
The Second World War:
In the Second World War, Gurkha strength was expanded to 45 battalions. Soldiers saw action in Iraq, Persia, Cyprus, Tunisia, Italy, Greece, Burma, Malaya and Indonesia.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Gurkhas again came to Britain’s aid. Some 112,000 men served in 45 battalions in battles in Italy, Greece, Tunisia, Persia, Iraq, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma (Myanmar). Ten Victoria Crosses were awarded to Gurkhas. In addition, the Nepalese government gave money to buy military equipment to help those made homeless in London by the Blitz. The strength of the relationship between the Nepalese and the British forces was illustrated in 1940 after the fall of France, when British requested permission to recruit a further 20 battalions, The Nepalese Prime Minister replied: “Does a friend desert a friend in time of need? If you win, we win with you. If you lose we lose with you.”
Two years after the Second World War ended, with the granting of independence to India, the Gurkhas regiments were divided. Six of the ten regiments became the Indian Gurkhas Rifles; the four (2ndGR, 6thGR, 7thGR and 10GR) remaining the British Brigade of Gurkhas. In India the troops plunged immediately into the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir; later came the Sino-Indian war (China-India) or 1962 and further battles between India and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.
The British Brigade served in Malaya (Malaysia), Indonesia, Brunei and Cyprus. Another Victoria Cross, (the 13th) was awarded to Lance Corporal Ram Bahadur Limbu for heroism in the face of overwhelming odds in Sarawak in 1965.
The Gurkhas’ action in the Falkland Island added another chapter to their legend. Perhaps the Gurkhas was raised by the Argentine press, which belittled them as a cross between dwarfs and mountain goats. Argentine troops guarding Port Stanley may have heard rumor about Khukuri decapitations of troop opposing the Gurkhas in other campaigns. For as the Gurkhas advanced on Argentina positions, the South America troops "tuned and field." according to a British news paper report. The BBC reported that "The Argentines dropped theirs rifles and abandoned mortars and machine guns".
In the end…
Gurkha soldiers are recruited as teenagers of 17 or 18 from their villages. There is recruiting depot at Pokhara in west central Nepal. Strict medical tests limit enlistment; those who succeed are provided with uniforms and good food, and are flown to UK or Brunei for 10 months of schooling and basic training. Then they have their first home leave, and their villages invariably treat them as heroes.
Gurkhas today main posts in UK, India, Singapore and Brunei. Many Nepalese spend their entire working careers in the Gurkhas. It is a position of great status, and an important earner of foreign exchange for the country.
The Gurkhas have loyally fought in nearly all of the world's major wars for 186 years and have earned Britain's highest service honors. They have won 13 Victoria Crosses, along with other important military awards, more than any other single troop in the army. No country has produced soldiers of such renown as the Gurkhas. The appellation of Gurkhas - By now the other name for Valor, courage, Steadfastness, Loyalty, Neutrality and Impartiality come from the Gorkha, a small hilly town located in west central Nepal.