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The Gurkhas- Bravest of Brave
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
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.