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Brigade of Gurkhas

"Better to die than be a coward" is the motto of the world-famous Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who are an integral part of the British Army. They still carry into battle their traditional weapon - an 18-inch long curved knife known as the kukri. In times past, it was said that once a kukri was drawn in battle, it had to "taste blood" - if not, its owner had to cut himself before returning it to its sheath. Now, the Gurkhas say, it is used mainly for cooking.

Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years. On 01 July 1994, all the antecedent Regiments amalgamated to form the Royal Gurkha Rifles. Gurkhas have made an outstanding contribution to the UK through their years of dedicated service to the Crown and are held in high esteem by the British Army and the public alike. They rightly deserve their reputation as amongst the bravest and most fearless of soldiers. The Government and the British people are hugely proud that Gurkhas continue to serve in the British Army and that today do so.

The major units of the Brigade today are The Royal Gurkha Rifles (two battalions), The Queen's Gurkha Engineers, Queen's Gurkha Signals, and The Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment. In addition there are two independent companies - Gurkha Company (Sittang) at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Gurkha Company (Mandalay) at the Infantry Battle School, Brecon. The Gurkha Company at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, meanwhile, trains the recruits who pass the demanding selection procedure.

Gurkhas are people from Nepal. According to a legend, they got their name from a warrior saint, Guru Gorkhanath, who lived 1200 years ago. He had predicted that his people would become world famous for their bravery. The word Gurkha also comes from the name of a city, Gorkha, in western Nepal. If a son of a Gurkha soldier living in the UK wishes to become a Gurkha he has to return to Nepal and go through all the recruitment process in Nepal.

Britain tried to invade Nepal in 1814 when it was trying to conquer the northern parts of India. The British soldiers had fine rifles whilst the Ghurkas were armed only with their traditional knives called Kukris. But the Nepali soldiers were such courageous and clever fighters that the British soldiers could not defeat them, After six months of fighting, Britain decided to make peace with Nepal.

The British army began to recruit Gurkha soldiers because they wanted them to fight on their side. Since that day, the Ghurkas have fought alongside British troops in every battle across the world. Nepal became a strong ally of Britain. One hundred thousand Gurkhas fought in the First World War. They fought and died in the battlefields of France as well as many other countries.

Again the whole of the Nepali army fought for Britain during the Second World War. There were 250,000 Gurkha in total. The were used by the British to put down revolts in India. Gurkhas fought in Syria, North Africa, Italy, Greece and against the Japanese in Singapore and in the jungles of Burma.

The King of Nepal gave the British government large sums of money for weapons and equipment, as well as money to buy fighter aircraft during the Battle of Britain. Large sums of money were also donated to the Lord Mayor of London to help the people when London was bombed. This was a great sacrifice from a small country which was not as rich as Britain.

Following the partition of India in 1947, an agreement between Nepal, India and Britain meant four Gurkha regiments from the Indian army were transferred to the British Army, eventually becoming the Gurkha Brigade. In the past 50 years, Gurkhas have served in the British army all over the world. There are now about 3500 Gurkhas in the British Army. They are stationed in seven different military bases in the UK. One of these is the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst where the Gurkhas help to train the British soldiers. The Gurkha soldiers are still selected from young men living in the hills of Nepal. They have to pass the toughest tests in the world.

All Gurkhas are recruited together, train together and commissioned together within the Brigade of Gurkhas. Formed units consisting entirely of Gurkhas except for British officers and a few specialists, should be retained as the Brigade of Gurkhas; and Gurkhas should be recruited only to those units. To remain a Gurkha one must pursue careers within the Brigade of Gurkhas. If a Gurkha soldier wishes to seek promotion in another regiment within the British Army he is allowed to after 5 years of service but his Gurkha status would be relinquished. The ranks have always been dominated by four ethnic groups, the Gurungs and Magars from central Nepal, and the Rais and Limbus from the east, who live in hill villages of impoverished hill farmers.

The Tripartite Agreement signed between the UK and Nepal in 1947 continues to provide the basis for the service of Gurkhas in the British Army. This Agreement commits the British Government to treat Gurkhas fairly. Successive British Governments have always sought to do this and meet the aspirations of successive generations of Gurkha soldiers and their families. The origins of today’s Brigade of Gurkhas, which stem from the independence of India in 1947, have meant that before 1 April 2007 Gurkhas served on different terms and conditions of service to other parts of the Army. It is these historic differences which some in the Gurkha community point to today as being unjust.

In 2009 the parties of the Coalition Government supported the historic decision to allow Gurkha veterans the right to settle in the UK. In October 2014 the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Gurkha Welfare published a report into a range of historic grievances held by Gurkha veterans following the establishment of an Inquiry in 2013 which brought to an end a hunger strike by a Gurkha veteran in the UK. The APPG report made a broad range of recommendations in relation to areas such as Gurkha pensions, adult dependents, medical healthcare in Nepal, Gurkha benefits and allowances and Gurkha communities in Britain. The government on 29 January 2015 published its response to that report and whilst not a Select Committee of Parliament the government has met the commitment it made to respond to the Inquiry’s findings along similar lines to that of a Select Committee.

The Gurkha brigade has won 26 Victoria Crosses, which is the highest award for bravery. Of these, 13 Victoria Crosses were awarded to British officers who commanded these brave soldiers and 13 were won by the Gurkha soldiers themselves. That makes the Gurkha Brigade the most decorated regiment in the British Army. In recent times, Royal Gurkha Rifles has played a significant role in operations throughout the world, not least in Afghanistan and in jungle warfare training in Brunei.

The Prince of Wales has made three official visits to Nepal and has been Colonel in Chief of the Royal Gurkha Rifles [RGR] since 1977. This renewed the Royal connection with the Regiment and Gurkhas that began 101 years earlier in 1876 when the then Prince of Wales, his great great grandfather, was the first Colonel-in-Chief.

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Page last modified: 12-04-2017 13:20:54 ZULU