We all have heroes, be they your mother or father, a great scientific mind or the sportsman who performs feats of skill every Saturday night. But there are other heroes who we need to recognise, not least of which is because they will never consider themselves heroes; in this category come nurses, firemen and, most relevant to this post, soldiers. But not just any soldiers, there are some that stand out more than others. And although many people know who the Gurkhas are, there is no harm in retelling a good story.
I first saw a Gurkha regiment when I was a teenager- they marched at triple time (180 steps to the minute) in full dress uniform right through the Medway towns in Kent. Not only did they not break step, they didn’t appear to break a sweat. I was so impressed by this regiment of Nepalese soldiers who fight for the British Army to want to know more: The most basic question is why is a there a regiment of Nepalese in the British Army? The answer shows much for the pragmatism of what became the British Empire: In 1814-16 the East India Company was involved in an “action” against Nepal and Tibet that resulted in a stalemate between the two sides largely as a result of the effectiveness, stubbornness, loyalty, valor and indomitable bravery of Gurkhas. Taking a practical approach, the East India Company decided that rather than fight against these people again, wouldn’t it be better to get them to fight for you. Thus was established the first relationship between the Gurkha and the Crown.
Delhi 1857 is a defining moment in the relationship between the Gurkhas and the Crown: The Indian Mutiny was in full cry and whilst others fled or rebelled, the Gurkhas remained loyal. The 60th Rifles of the British Army was fighting alongside the Gurkha Sirmoor Rifles and they were tasked with holding a key position in Delhi until relief arrived. After three months of constant bombardment the Gurkhas remained defiant and they still held the position, despite the fact that 327 of the 490 men of the Sirmoor Rifles were killed or wounded. As the story of this action, and others like it, was reported to the British public the Gurkhas became more than simply a fearsome, determined force; through their loyalty, the gallant warriors of Nepal carved a special place in the consciousness of all who heard about them.
This bravery was shown time and time again, including the Great War where the Gurkhas were the only allied troops to reach and hold their objective at Gallipoli. But all these actions would remain unknown were it not for the reporters and writers who capture the moment. And the Gurkhas have Professor Sir Ralph Turner, MC, who served with the 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles in the First World War to thank for writing the following:
“As I write these last words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once more I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your fires, on forced march or in the trenches, now shivering with wet and cold, now scorched by a pitiless and burning sun. Uncomplaining you endure hunger and thirst and wounds; and at the last your unwavering lines disappear into the smoke and wrath of battle. Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you“