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?
Ian Buckley

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I was aware of the Gurkhas & their reputation for service, loyalty & bravery from my time in the WRAC TA. It wasn't until I went to Sandhurst two years ago for the ACF IOT course that I met any Gurkha soldiers. I found them very professional & charming. We were then hit by the pandemic & I saw the Gurkhas testing people & giving vaccine jabs in this country. When I read about the effects of Covid in Nepal I felt such sympathy for these men who were giving jabs here whilst their own families were dying in Nepal as the country couldn't afford the vaccines. I felt I had to do something. I can't influence this Government myself but I can give something to try to help even a little. I have also been telling family, friends & colleagues in the hope that they may also give to the GWT. I feel that we owe the Ghurkas so much for their amazing loyalty to this country & their 13 VCs that it's the least we should be doing for them.
Helen Forster
Gurkhas have been an important part of my family’s life. Their training depot had been moved to Sungei Patani in Northern Malaya, a few miles from Sungei Toh Pawang estate, after Indian Independence in 1947, when the Brigade was split between the Indian and British armies. The depot received the young men who had passed the extremely competitive selection process and turned them into soldiers. St Philip and St James’ church, which we attended every Sunday evening, was next to the depot and our services took place to the background of young recruits running, marching or just chatting. The first school I attended was an Army infants’ school next to the parade ground, and lessons echoed to shouted drill instructions. Gurkhas occupy a special place in the British Army and wider society. Nepal has never been part of the British Empire, and its citizens who chose to join the British Army did so without their families. Until recently they used to return to Nepal at the end of their service as honoured pensioners. Now they have been given the right to settle in the UK, as is right, but their service to Britain has always been given freely and voluntarily. This has been the case since they were first invited to do so at the end of a battle with the British Indian Army in the mid-19th C. In the disaster of Singapore in 1941 the Gurkhas were the only part of the Indian Army contingent not to suffer wholesale desertions, and they suffered badly at the hands of the Japanese army. In the Malayan Emergency they constituted a high proportion of the Commonwealth forces and proved very skilled at jungle warfare, particularly ambushes, which would be set for hours at a time, requiring soldiers to lie still and silent for all that time. They were fearless and lethal in close quarters combat, using their traditional kukri weapon- half knife, half machete. The knowledge that a Gurkha battalion was in the area was by 1955 a powerful incentive to defect for the sometimes demoralised MRLA fighters. As local Europeans our family would always be invited to the two parades which marked the end of the training for Gurkha recruits at the Depot. These were Beating the Retreat and the Passing out Parade. Beating the Retreat is a traditional British Army ritual, commemorating the days when a regiment’s standard was paraded in front of it at sunset so that the soldiers could see it before nightfall. The recruits would parade in their companies behind their British officers in white uniforms and the Depot band, including bagpipes (the Gurkhas had been taught to play the pipes by the Highlanders they had first fought against) as the sun went down. The next morning, invited guests took their seats at dawn for the Passing out Parade and the recruits would march out of the dawning sunrise, using the Light Infantry quick march they have always used as British troops, and march past a senior officer who had been invited to take the salute. This was the climax of their training and a huge moment for their British officers, this morning dressed in khaki drill shirts and enormous shorts. Legend had it that the shorts would be starched and ironed the previous evening by their batmen and placed standing in the corner of the officer’s bedroom. He would then step into them the following morn. As the British Army has contracted, the numbers of Gurkhas have diminished, until now there are only two infantry battalions, together with signals, logistics and engineers units. Still the passion and commitment of these soldiers burns as brightly as ever, and the competition to get into the British Army is as tough as ever. Today, recruit selection in Nepal is held jointly with the Singapore Police Force, whose Gurkha Contingent performs guard functions and acts as an emergency reserve in case of civil unrest. And as the British Army has struggled to recruit even the limited number of soldiers it now needs; a third battalion of Gurkhas has been raised. It was our privilege as a family in 1996 to welcome three young Gurkha soldiers to our house for lunch when they were stationed as part of a reinforcement Company filling manpower gaps in a British regiment stationed near our home. Immaculately dressed, polite and cheerful, they made a fuss of our young children and gave Tom (aged 6) a present of a kukri, the curved knife/machete which is their symbol. He was well impressed, and for a long time there were carefully controlled viewings and handlings of the kukri, along the lines of their demonstrations. They taught him their war-cry, too: “Ayo Gurkhali!”- The Gurkhas are coming.
Roland Crooke