11th February 2015

On Selling Soap: the original Appeal

A glimpse of the past…

Our Trustee, Brigadier (Retd) John Anderson, recently discovered an article he wrote back in 1971. John was a young British Gurkha Officer, working on a relatively new initiative to provide welfare support for Gurkha veterans… The Gurkha Welfare Trust was born.

On Selling Soap


Captain J A Anderson 6GR

At a County Show somewhere in England.  There is a crowd gathered around the Gurkha Welfare Appeal trailer in front of which pipers are playing.  Some of the people in the crowd have noticed that one of the soldiers is wearing a Victoria Cross and are excitedly pointing this out to their neighbours.  The pipers stop playing and before the crowd can move they are being harangued in a manner reminiscent of the faith healers of yore:

Ladies and gentlemen, before you go let me tell you something about what I think are the finest soldiers in the world.  These men, men like Rambahadur Limbu VC” (considerable reaction and straining of necks from the crowd) “and their fathers and grandfathers have served you for over 150 years…..”

This morning we tried to inveigle a prosperous looking country gentleman into our stand.  With a brusque “I haven’t the time to waste” he stalked off.  However, he had not reckoned on eleven-year-old Miss Fraser (grand-daughter of the late Field Marshal Lord Slim) who said in a stage whisper: “Forty-three thousand Gurkha casualties for people like him, and he hasn’t the time to spare!”  We got his donation.

Now these men have won 26 Victoria Crosses in your service, but what is more to the point they have suffered forty-three thousand casualties fighting in your wars.  They have helped you, we are now asking for you to help them…..”

We have had several moving incidents here.  An old age pensioner, jacket threadbare and hands trembling, insisted on writing us a cheque for £10.  As he proudly stated, his grandson had served with the Gurkhas in Malaya. And again: an old lady arriving at the Stand and asking to be told about the Appeal, about Gurkhas – and leaving in tears.

The Greenjacket Sky-Diving Team won the Free Fall Competition at a show.  They collected their prize money, turned left, marched straight to the Appeal Trailer, gave us their winnings, and fell out.

“But let me tell you why we need your help – the Brigade of Gurkhas themselves have always looked after their retired soldiers, we have been able to give enough money to supply welfare needs.  Yet now with the rundown of the British Army we have more ex-soldiers to look after, and less serving soldiers to supply the cash.  You will naturally ask why we need to run a welfare scheme.  Nepal, where our soldiers come from, is nothing like this country – it is a hard mountainous land, where if your crops are washed away by floods or landslides, you starve; if you are ill, you probably die; if your house catches fire you watch it burn and are homeless.  There is no such thing as dole or the National Health Service in Nepal.  The Nepalese Government does all it can, yet in a country where the means of transportation is your feet, this is not an easy task.

“Now, we try to do all we can.  We make gifts of money to those ex-soldiers who suffer hardship, who lose their homes, crops or health.  We have medical pack holders and welfare officers scattered throughout the hills of Nepal, yet this support costs money…..”

And the classic incident when we were helping the WRAC collect money for the Army Benevolent Fund and they were helping us collect for the Gurkha Welfare Appeal.  At first all went well, the WRAC girls and the Gurkhas were numbered off, they fell in with their opposite number, were issued with flags and collecting boxes, and away they went.  The second day was different – cries of “Please can I go with him” or “I want to go with so-and-so” filled the air.  Eventually they left, including one obviously popular soldier with a smooth line and an MM surrounded by at least five girls!  It was just as well that the Show only lasted two days!

“Now, we are trying to raise one million pounds, to set up a fund to ensure that we will be able to continue to help Gurkha ex-servicemen and their families. We ourselves have raised a quarter of a million: Malaya, Singapore and Brunei have run appeals for us, Hong Kong is about to.  We want you to help us to get the rest.  Please come forward, buy something from us, or just put money in the boxes.  But please help us.”

I was once accused by an irate Officer of the Brigade of “selling the Appeal as if it were soap.”  Unfortunately he was probably right, but these days it is the only way to sell anything, be it soap or soldiers.  Little did Rambahadur VC realise that his magnificent act of courage would end up making him the star attraction of the Gurkha Welfare Appeal.  However, the Appeal owes its considerable success in this very competitive field to people like Rambahadur, and to countless Gurkha soldiers like him who have served this country with such loyalty.

Ghurka 200

Gurkhas have now served the British Crown for an incredible 200 years. Visit the Bicentenary website for info on events and an interactive timeline on Gurkha history.

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