Roughly 19,000 Gurkha soldiers have died during the many wars they’ve fought at Britain’s side. Many thousands more have been wounded, and more still have returned to a life of hardship in Nepal. Here are 11 reasons to remind you just why the Gurkhas deserve our support…
1. We’ve been allies for a very long time!
In fact, our relationship with the Gurkhas goes back over 200 years.
Back then, their fighting skills and courage were just as impressive. When the British East India Company tried to expand its territory into Nepal, they were so impressed with the Gurkhas they fought against that they began to recruit them in 1815. It was the start of a long and close allegiance.
2. “Never had country more faithful friends”
As well as being among our oldest allies, the Gurkhas have never failed to come through for Britain. In 1857, they proved their loyalty during the Indian Mutiny when they held a key British position for three months against the attacks of the Mutineers. They did so despite suffering 327 casualties out of just 490 men.
Since then, they’ve kept a reputation for utmost loyalty to their comrades. It led Sir Ralph Turner, a former Gurkha officer, to write the famous quote: “Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you”.
3. The First World War
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the entire Nepalese Army was placed at the disposal of the British Crown and more than 90,000 Gurkhas enlisted. Over 6,300 of them would die in action.
They served in Asia, the Middle East and in Europe, earning a reputation for valour. A battalion of the 8th Gurkha Rifles distinguished itself at Loos in Flanders, fighting nearly to the last man. In the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, the 6th Gurkhas also gained fame as the only Allied troops to throw back the Turks in their sector.
4. The VCs speak for themselves
In 1911, Gurkha soldiers first became eligible for the Victoria Cross – Britain’s highest honour for valour. It didn’t take long for the first Gurkha to receive the medal. On 25 September 1915, Rifleman Kulbir Thapa carried three wounded comrades from no man’s land back to safety, in broad daylight and under intense enemy fire. It was the first time Kulbir had ever been in action.
Since then, Nepali Gurkhas have gone on to earn a total of 13 VCs and thousands of other medals in recognition of extraordinary acts of bravery.
5. Gurkhas never leave a man behind
As Kulbir Thapa VC proved, the Gurkhas are masters of rescue. It’s a constant theme throughout many of the stories we hear from people who served with them.
Take the example of Major Ralph Kaplan of the US Air Force. Ralph was a long-term supporter of the Trust and sent us his story explaining just why he was so keen to help those who had once saved his life.
6. The Second World War
When war broke out again in 1939, the Gurkhas came to Britain’s aid once more. Nearly 140,000 men served in battles across the world, including the Western Desert, Italy, Greece, Malaya, Singapore and Burma. Over 9,000 would die fighting for freedom.
The strength of the relationship between the Nepali and the British forces was illustrated in 1940 after the fall of France, when Britain requested permission to recruit additional Gurkha 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.”
7. Gurkhas are true men of action
As well as their loyalty and courage, Gurkhas are renowned for their skill on the field of battle. To this day, they dominate the Army shooting competitions.
Take the example of Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung, who in 1945 single-handedly took out five entrenched Japanese positions under heavy fire. To cap it off, he assaulted the last position with only his kukri and a couple of smoke grenades, having run out of ammunition for his gun. He duly received a VC for his efforts.
8. They are masters of jungle warfare
During WW2, the Gurkhas in Burma – particularly those with the Chindits – developed a strong reputation as experts in jungle warfare. Following the war, they cemented this status during long conflicts in Malaya & Borneo, where they provided the lion’s share of the British Army’s contribution.
Today, a Gurkha battalion of The Royal Gurkha Rifles based in Brunei continues to train British soldiers in jungle warfare capabilities.
9. The medals keep coming
The last Gurkha VC may have been won by Captain Rambahadur Limbu in 1965, but the medals haven’t stopped there. In recent years, those who have been recognised for their courage include Lance Corporal Tuljung Gurung MC and Sergeant Dipprasad Pun CGC.
Dipprasad (pictured) single-handedly defended his compound against multiple insurgents, finally resorting to beating one back with a machine gun tripod as the fighting got too close – a true demonstration of Gurkha grit.
10. Service carries on to this day
In more recent years, Gurkhas have served everywhere from Bosnia to the Falklands and Iraq to Afghanistan – where 15 of them were killed. In fact, soldiers from the 2nd battalion of The Royal Gurkha Rifles are currently deployed in Kabul on Op TORAL, a mission focused on protecting NATO personnel in the city.
Brigadier Ian Thomas OBE, Commander of the Kabul Security Force, said: “Kabul remains a very dangerous environment. The threat level here is critical which means an attack from the enemy is imminent and therefore our soldiers do a very important job protecting the advisors.”
11. Don’t just take our word for it
At the Trust, we constantly hear stories from those who served with the Gurkhas. Without fail, they talk of Gurkha courage and prowess, of gratitude from those the Gurkhas helped and of the reassurance young soldiers felt when the Gurkhas were around.
Gurkhas earned the admiration of many high-ranking officers too, including legendary Field Marshals Slim and Montgomery. In June 1970, they led The Gurkha Welfare Trust’s first appeal to the British public, saying of the Gurkhas:
“By their courage and endurance they have made a magnificent contribution to the success of British arms. Their good comradeship has always been a source of strength to our own soldiers. We believe that everyone in this country owes them a great debt for their loyal and devoted service in numerous campaigns over many years.”