The Valley of the Lost MFO Boxes I first closely came across Gurhkas when some 20 were detached to my Squadron in 3 Division for a major Corps exercise in September/October 1980. They fitted extremely well with my soldiers and worked very hard. My next appointment was as a DAA&QMG in PS10(A) which looked after Pay & Pensions in the main. One of my tasks was to take part in the Annual Pay Review of the Gurhkas in looking at their addition for Hong Kong & Brunei. Our team consisted of a senior Civil Servant, a lady from the Treasury, myself, an HEO from the Finance Department and a Retired Officer from the London cell of HQBG (a Lt Col Gregory). We also had a preliminary visit to 7GR in Church Crookham to help get us a feel for their way of life. In 1981, we then visited Honk Kong & Nepal. One of the first meetings in Honk Kong was with all the Gurhka Majors who, very politely, gave us a list of the Brigade's problems/queries, which we took into account in both Hong Kong and Nepal during our visit (we visited Nepal in relation to the married addition for those married unaccompanied personnel in Hong Kong). One such problem bought to our attention (as Item No 19) was that when a soldier went back to Nepal with his family for his long leave, he would go back with some 20 or so MFO boxes and when he returned, he would come back with one only for his personal effects. The British Quartermasters had got fed up writing boxes off so they came up with the solution of charging the soldier the £6/box when he got the boxes (say £120) and refunding the money when the box was returned (£6). The Gurhka Majors thought this very unfair. We spent some time in Pokhora at the Western Depot and we visited a village called Sanje. The HEO & I went around the bazaar looking at prices and we noticed that many of the shops were built with MFO boxes. The boxes all had the name, number and rank of a soldier on them. In chatting to one shopkeeper, we asked where he got the boxes. "From the Gurhkas, Sahib, very fine boxes, last 3 monsoons." How much did you pay, "300 rupees, very good value." The Exchange Rate was 24 rupees to £1 then. We realised that they were doubling their money. When we had finished the Review work, we had another Meeting with the Gurhka Majors to give them the results of the Review and their queries. When we got to Item 19, our Team Leader just said "The Sahib has the answer to this one". I looked out of the window and mused "Sahibs, we found the Valley of the lost MFO boxes". There was some laughter and we moved straight onto Item 20. They, of course, knew exactly what was going on even if the British Quartermaster did not.
Stephen Coltman

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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