I worked in Nepal for UNICEF from 1982-89. During that time there were districts in Nepal which were the most dangerous place on earth for mothers to give birth. The largest single killer of children in Nepal was diarrhoea related deaths. Information about the lifesaving drink Oral Rehydration was virtually unknown. UNICEF's communications section made a bold move to work with retiring Gurkha soldiers to help in spreading awareness about Nun Chini Pani. With only 600 doctors in a country where 400,000 faith healers were dealing with the majority of health issues in the hills. Every day during monsoon mothers took their children who had diarrhoea to faith healers and were given advice to withhold liquid. As a result thousands of children died. Unicef needed a fresh approach to this problem which included reaching out to faith healers. We decided to involve retiring Gurkha soldiers. (The full story is available in the link below.) I remember the first time I went to the Gurkha camp in Darhan. I was very nervous to speak to these retired servicemen who were used to some of the best medical facilities throughout their time in military service. I was invited to talk to them on their retirement by Brigadier Miles Hunt Davis… about how retirees could approaching faith healers in their village when the got home. Their challenge was to convince the faith healers to give the proper advice and show them how to mix a life saving drink called Oral Rehydration Solution ORS. During my first ever talk I explained the scale of the problem in trying to reach 400,000 faith healers who were giving the wrong information, often ten times a day to different to mothers they encountered . There was a short silence at the end of my talk and I looked across the room of faces. Suddenly one stood up and pointed to the soldier next to him pronouncing that this man was a faith healer. And then others stood up, like in the movie Spartacus shouting, ‘Im a faith healer’ . The room contained five faith healers who had been through their military service within the Gurkhas. The whole room then stood up and said they would help explain this problem in their villages when they returned. The families of faith healers passed on their tradition and some had helped others throughout out their service. These men however were also converts to the medical science being offered to help assist children in this crisis The Times Newspaper UK printed a story about this effort using photos of Gurkha with our teaching flip-chart. We printed small memory cards for the faith healers showing how to mix ORS. And I know to this day no faith healer ever destroyed this card because we printed their god Durga on the back. I mention this story because it is a little known aspect of the retired Gurkha's in Nepal. How in the space of three years they helped UNICEF to bring down the infant mortality rate by 52%. A fuller description of this story is available on my website link. I retired as Head of Graphics and Animation from UNICEF HQ New York and now live in Edinburgh. Yours sincerely
I served briefly (7 days!) with the Gurkhas in Hong Kong in the late 80's. I was working in HK and joined the Royal Hong Kong Regiment ("The Volunteers"), which was part of the Gurkha brigade in the territory. In my first year in HK I missed the week long camp up at the border. So I chose to do my 'border duty' with the Gurkhas over Christmas '89. I spent a week at an OP with 3 Gurkhas watching the border and trying to catch IIs (illegal immigrants). Putting aside the tedium and the squalid conditions we were living in, my 7 days up at the border was one of the most memorable weeks of my life. I got to know one of the Gurkhas really well. His English was very good and we talked at length day after day. He told me about his aspirations and ambitions as a soldier and what his hopes for his future were. He was really interested in what I did for a job and where I came from and my background. We even had an evening of sharing jokes. He didn't find any of mine funny and I didn't understand any of his jokes, apart from one; "What do you call a Gurkha with no brain?...Sir!" He told me about his life as a single guy in HK. I had not appreciated the amount of racism the soldiers had to put up with. Being a Brit I had few problems or issues with the local Chinese. However, the Gurkhas were routinely ignored, and/or abused by the local Chinese, which I always thought rather bizarre. The British military, and the Gurkhas in particular, were the reason HK was protected from the communist nutters across the border, but the local Hongkongers looked down on the Gurkhas, much as they did the Filipino domestic helpers who cared for their children and cleaned their homes. Everyday we ate Gurkha curry. I was OK with the food. A full(ish) English for breakfast and a curry for lunch and dinner. The only issue I had was with the huge green chilli, which was just too hot for me. I used to offer it up and the guys took it in turns to take it off my hands. I was popular at the OP just for that reason alone. I recall Christmas day when the CO came round the OPs and served the curry dressed as Santa. He didn't quite know what to make of me, not being an officer, but kindly offered me an extra mince pie. My OP team members received their festive pies with such gratitude from the CO, but as soon as he drove off they gave them all to me, with something of a look of disgust and amazement that I would want them. Before HK, I lived in London and served with X Para TA unit. It took me a while to do drill without slamming my foot down. I just could not get used to the way the Gurkhas did their drill. But no doubt about it they were very fit. I chatted once with a cook, whilst waiting for breakfast. He was a bit 'chubby' by his own admission. And because his mates had started calling him names, and the CO had mentioned his waistline, he was doing a daily 10k run before starting on breakfast. I was gobsmacked, but he felt it was nothing special and he was happy to do it! We had one serious II incident when we caught a couple of guys who had come over the border illegally. I arrived on the scene after they had been caught and secured. (I could not move as fast as my mates at the OP!). I could see, just from that one incident, the way the Gurkhas switched on in an instant and did their job with ruthless efficiency. I would not, in any way, want to cross these guys. Lastly, I recall having to go to the main OP and Comms room to pass a message to a Gurkha officer. As I walked into the main room, where I guess there were about 10-12 Gurkhas, they all shot up from their chairs and stood to attention. Having been Para TA I was used to being ignored, or at best, insulted by other regular soldiers. I stood there not quite knowing what to do. They obviously assumed I was an officer and so I mumbled the words, "I'm, I'm.... not an officer". One of the Gurkha officers laughed and after a moment or two, after things had been explained, they all sat down. I visited the room the next day and exactly the same thing happened, only this time I immediately barked "not an officer". Still I suppose better safe than sorry from their viewpoint. Over the following years I encountered the Gurkhas from time to time as they came to assist with the various HK Regiment camps and exercises. All it did was drive home to me what an almost total waste of time it was serving with "The Volunteers" and how impressive the Gurkhas were. I have a really positive impression of them all. Friendly, eager to help, polite, respectful and not afraid of a bit of graft. Long after "The Volunteers" disbanded in the run up to the handover, I heard a BFBS HK radio piece about the Gurkha drawdown from HK. I did, at the time, wonder if that was the beginning of the end for the Gurkhas in the British Army. I am so glad that is not the case. I hear they have even been recruiting in larger numbers in recent years, which is great news. I am proud to have served, even briefly, with this magnificent unit. Second only, of course, to the Paras😉
My uncle, John Stacey Bolton served in the Gurkhas for most of his military career. In WW2 at Monte Cassino where he was awarded his DSO and latterly in 1/10 PMO Gurkha Rifles. When he returned to England from Johore Bahru in 1953 his comrades presented him with a kukri which I have inherited. He often spoke of his fondness for the Gurkha people and of the happy as well as the fraught times under fire that he spent with them.
I was 18 when I was called up to do my national service on the 1st September 1955. I was to report to the 67 Training Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, Hadrians Camp, Carlisle, Cumberland. After intensive training for six weeks, I was given a short leave before being posted to Malaya with the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own) Regiment, leaving Southampton on board the SS Asturias troop ship, stopping off at Port Said down the Suez Canal, Sri Lanka and on to Singapore, a journey of just over 3 weeks. I was to travel by train across the causeway to Johor Bahru, Malaya, with folks I had met on the ship. After being told of the dangers of terrorist attack, we were issued with Bren Guns. It was then that I realised I was in a War Zone. We were then transported to armoured vehicles to Seremban, this was to be our base camp. From here we would carry out bank searches, road patrols, jungle ambushes and escort food convoys to various villages. It was at these jungle detachment camps that we served alongside the Gurkhas - the 17th Gurkha Division. These trackers were brilliant and would pinpoint the ambush points where the C.Ts would lie (Chinese Terrorists). At these various sites we would lay in ambush, with Gurkhas sometimes two or three days (and nights) at a time. This was where the 3 weeks Jungle Training that we did on arrival to Malaya would come in handy! Most days we would meet up with the Gurkhas in camp or during road patrols or rough treks through the jungle. Part of my service in Malaya was driving a Saracen Armoured personal carrier, escorting food convoys to the various villages. The war, which lasted some 7 years, was coming to an end but there was still fear of being shot at or ambushed by the few remaining 'communists'. The Gurkhas had been involved since day one and became very popular with us British 'Tommies' during this time. They would, at times, relieve us of Guard duties, that made them really good friends and comrades and were the Bravest of the Brave and in my mind, I will never forget them, or my time in Malaya. I was due back with the regiment after nine months in Malaya and left on board the Empire Fowey from Singapore stopping off at Colombo and Zanzibar, from Colombo right in to another War Zone where President Nasser was sinking all ships passing through the canal and completely blocking the canal. Our ship with 3 regiments on board pulled into the Bitter lake off the Suez for 3 days ready to go to war. Fortunately, we sailed before fighting broke out, but it was very worrying at the time. However, as the canal was blocked we had a detour of 8 thousand miles, taking us from Zanzibar to Cape Town, South Africa, where we were held a 'Heroes Welcome' as we were the first troop ship to dock there since the Second World War, and were treated like kings by a South African family who picked us up from the docks and treated us to a journey to the top of Table Mountain and other sites around the city. Then on to Dakar, French West Africa, before arriving back in to the UK. I was then transferred into The Royal Dragoons Regiment and stationed at Bovington Camp, Dorset, and had tank driving lessons on Salisbury Plain. The colonel granted me compassionate leave to get married. After one weeks leave (honeymoon) I returned to barracks, only to find I had been posted to Germany, Celle, near Hanover, where I passed my driving test with a civilian instructor on a Saracen Armoured car and went on to drive many miles during 'SCEMES' in the German Forrests. After what seemed an eternity, I was posted back to the UK and finished my time back in Cumberland after taking a Nuclear Invasion course (what to do in the event of a nuclear attack). I was beginning to think I had gone off the radar. I don't think I could have packed any more into the two years that I served in the army (then 5 years in the reserve). I am still married to the same girl I married in 1957, Betty, my wife, who is 84 this year and I was 83 this March. I have good memories of the army, especially my time in the jungles of Malaya with the Gurkhas.
My father, Sgt George Brown (1552009), kept diaries of his war years and wrote a book called "The Moulton Image". A lot of things were as he remembered them, especially his time in the desert, where he said there were no dates, just day and night and he had a desert rat friend called Monty. Dad had a gun team and they were doing a 'Strategic Withdrawal' to El-Adem near Tobruk and there were some heavy Ack Ack guns already there and fifteen bofors. Dad's was a bofors, he took position, their gun was to fire warning shots, for the rest of the guns to go in to action. There was a half moon shining and he doubled the guard. All was well until 01.00 when the guard reported vehicles coming up to them. Gun teams were in position and he heard number 4 pull the hand operating lever to the rear catch and a round pressed on the loading tray. The hand operating lever was replaced and reposted 'HELD'. He waited until the vehicles were 100 yards away, all infantry trucks, then they stopped. His gun team were swearing at him for the delay. They had a little terrier dog called spot, who knew the sounds of aircraft, and when German, he would bark like mad and run to the gun pit. But if it was ours he would just wag his tail furiously and that was what he was doing. My father said "hold your fire and I will crawl out to hear them talking. I will give my gun if they aren't English". He heard an order given in English and challenged him to come to him and be recognised. He said "who are you?" to which the answer was "what the bloody hell has it got to do with you". Then he said "we have come through the desert from Benghazi, all our officers have been killed and it has left me as sergeant with two hundred Gurkhas". When my father told him about all the guns that were trained on him, he said you have saved us all from being killed and the lads will be in your debt forever". They then stayed with them and the sergeant explained it to my father's officer who said to him "Sergeant Brown you put the whole exercise last night in jeopardy, it was fool hardy what you did". But he had the satisfaction of two hundred brave lads being saved to fight another day, thanks to a little dog's intuition. Dad wrote his book in long hand, recorded it on a tape and then my daughter printed it out for him on her computer and got it made in to a book. He then died in 2010 at the age of 95.
Whilst serving at RAF Kuching in 1964 - one of my duties was to receive, store and distribute parachutes to No 3AASO RCT detachment based adjacent to me. Their direct advice on the handling of these items was necessary to ensure their correct function in use. As a result of this I was invited to take part in an operation to deliver food and supplies to Gurkha patrols operating in the interior of Sarawak. My introduction to this trip was to observe a number of live chickens awaiting airlift - attached to the makeshift air terminal by parachute cord and painted different colours by unit for which they were destined. When the departure time came, they were put in crates for loading. On arrival at the dz, the Hastings aircraft had to fly at low level to avoid ground fire, help the accuracy of the drop and avoid the supplies being lost or delivered to the other side!. The parachutes used were water soluble if dropped into a river. Both myself and the young army men taking part - were secured in the aircraft by a single waist strap each. It is at this point that I must express my admiration for the flying skills of the RAF crew, sometimes flying so close to the ground almost on a wing tip - to allow the army dispatcher to launch himself (cool as you like and with the help of his oppos holding his ankles) halfway out of the aircraft to talk down the drop to the pilot with the rest of us holding on for life. At the same time the Ghurkas on the ground had to recover their supplies and vacate the area quickly. I was very pleased to have met some of the air despatch men very briefly on Swindon station a year. I hope that this gives some idea of the shared experience that binds us together.