Here at the former Royal Victoria Military hospital at Netley, near Southampton, we have numerous stories of the Gurkhas who were brought here as patients in the First World War. By the end of the summer of 1914, the shortage of space at Netley had become so acute that the Red Cross built a whole new camp of wooden huts behind the main hospital, where Nurse L Ethel Nazer, was waiting to receive the first batch of patients in November 1914. Ironically, these buildings, constructed so hastily from kits and frames, proved to be very much more comfortable and fit for purpose than the wards in the main building, being light, airy and well-ventilated…. Warmed by slow-combustion stoves… well supplied with water, with admirable sanitary arrangements. She described meeting Gurkhas among the diverse group of British and Indian soldiers: Five out of the last twenty were hand and arm wounds and these walked in; the other fifteen were all heavy stretcher cases; some had six or eight wounds from shrapnel and three were badly frost-bitten; one has since died, another developed tetanus and several amputations have had to be done; all the wounds are horribly septic on arrival but it is surprising how quickly they clean up with regular dressing and attention.. Rifleman Papal Singh Thapal was badly wounded and evacuated to Netley, where he died on the 27th November. But the religion of the Gurkhas demanded cremation, at a spot where the ashes would finally float to the sacred Ganges. As a result, his body was cremated on the 29th November by a small brook, which would run into Southampton water, then into the Oceans and, finally, to the Ganges. Perhaps Johnny Adams had helped. Papal Singh’s comrade in the 2nd Battalion, Riflemen Thula Ram Pun was wounded and brought to Netley with Tel Bahadut Thepa, also in the 2nd Battalion, when Thula Ram died on the 5th December and Tel died two days later. They were both cremated on the 9th December. Umbahadur Pun died on the 29th December, and was cremated on the last day of 1914, while Harak Bahadur died on the 6th January, and was cremated two days later. The Evening Despatch newspaper carried a wonderful story in January 1915, where we meet our friend, Nurse L Ethel Nazer again, who had a special place in her heart for a Gurkha who had been blinded but who became the life and soul of her ward: The other evening, when I came back from tea, I found the patients in roars of laughter. Gundar Singh was out of bed performing a ‘pay day’ to the other men. I ordered him back to bed, and he immediately stood to attention and saluted. “Saleem Sister Sahib, pay sister Sahib 500 Rupees. Sister Sahib is very good.” How could I be angry with him? I had to laugh with the rest of them. My grandfather Jack Harding spent his entire military service in the First World War with the 5th Battalion Hampshire Regiment, and spent much time with the Gurkhas, working with Gurkha attachments or campaigning together, to eliminate the insurgent tribesmen on the North West Frontier, where they taught him a great deal about the fieldcraft of hunting, a sport which no Gurkha could ever resist! Jack brought home with him irrefutable evidence of his friendship with the Gurkhas in the form of a photograph (currently lost in the family) when the Gurkhas captured some insurgents, beheaded them with their kukris, and put the heads on a rock, facing each other like they were talking together. However gruesome, that was the humour of the military way and Jack joined in, showing the photograph to family and friends with much delight. With the outbreak of the Third Afghan War in May 1919, Jack’s Battalion received orders to proceed to Kohat, as part of the 46th Mobile Brigade, joining the 2nd Battalion 7th Gurkhas and 2nd Battalion 9th Gurkhas. He was awarded the India General Service Medal 1909, with clasp inscribed Afghanistan, North-West frontier, 1919.
simon daniels

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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