Khukuri of the Month
Extracts of Gurkhas
- Extracts of Gurkhas
Extract from “the Gurkhas” by Mike Chappell
Over the centuries the trade of the mercenary soldier has flourished as men with martial inclination, the warrior races have continued to seek service in the pay of foreign powers, the Scots and the Irish. The present troubled century has seen the employment of mercenaries in many of its wars, ranging from the sordid activities of small groups of white mercenaries in Africa to the more creditable of the long-established French Foreign legion.
Great Britain has had a long-standing tradition of engaging foreigners to fight in her wars, especially in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when, amongst others, large numbers of Germans were recruited to fight under the British flag in America. Andon, the continent against Napoleon. The last remaining vestige of this tradition is Britain’s present-day Brigade of Gurkhas, a group of regiments with nearly two centuries of continuous service to a foreign monarch. Over this period the British Army’s and public’s respect, admiration and affection for the Gurkhas soldier have grown to such a level that few would challenge the right of the Gurkha regiments to be considered an elite-and a popular elite at that. This is all the more creditable when compared with the public image of other elites and particularly mercenary elites. A few have been loathed, many have been feared, some have been respected; but no other group of mercenaries approaches the popularity of the Gurkhas.
Gurkhas take their name from the small principality of Gorkha, which by the middle of the 18th century had had conquered most of what is today know as Nepal. The king of Gorkha and his successors became so powerful that they overran the whole of the hill country from the border of Kashmir to the east of Bhutan. Turning south, they began to raid into the territories of Britain’s Honorable East India Company. This was a situation that could not be tolerated by ‘John Company’. Which declared war against the Gurkhas in 1814 .There followed a series of bloody campaigns until a peace treaty was signed in the spring of 1816. The treaty gave the East Indian Company the right to raise battalions of Gurkhas for service in the Bengal Presidency; and since that time the rulers of Nepal have allowed their subjects to serve in the armies of certain foreign powers. These mercenaries continue to be known as Gurkhas although there is no consensus as to who, among the Nepalese, is or is not a Gurkha.
In the years since the first Gurkha regiments were formed these Nepalese hill-men, small of stature but possessing most of the qualities that make ideal infantrymen, have gained a fearsome reputation in war. Like all reputations, this needs to be closely studied if it is to be understood and fully appreciated. Much of it is based solidly on the documented history of the Gurkha regiments and their achievements in battle. Some of it is apocryphal-and some of this, unworthy. In their time the Gurkhas, like all fighting men, have had not only their triumphs but also their setbacks; history proves them to be first-class soldiers, but not invincible. And yet the legendary aura that surrounds the Gurkha fighting man continues to grow.
Extract from “10th Gurkha Riffles” by the dedicated officers of the regiment:
The ancient history of Nepal is a mixture of myths, miracles and mysteries. At the dawn of time, the Kathmandu valley was a great lake. Then the god Manjushree is said to have taken his sword and cut the hills at Chovar near Kathmandu, thus draining the lake and turning it into today’s beautiful valley. The term ‘Nepal’ once indicated a group of principalities or kingdoms in the Bagmati Valley, but they were conquered and unified by Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha in 1768-69.This famous ruler preserved the unity and independence of his country by virtually closing it to outsiders, particularly to Europeans. But during the early 19th century the powerful Gorkha kingdom, ambitiously expanding south and west, clashed headlong with the Honorable East Indian Company and its armies. After a long, bloody campaign a peace treaty was signed at Sagauli on 4th March 1816, after which Nepal allowed the British Government to station a Resident in Kathmandu. The war had resulted in mutual admiration of the soldierly qualities of both Gurkhas and British, and even before the war had ended, the recruitment of Gurkhas into the service of ‘John Company’ had begun.
From 1769 to 1846 Nepal was ruled by hereditary kings until, in a bloody coup the Rana Prime Minister usurped power. He established his family as the absolute rulers of Nepal but kept the monarch as a figurehead. This Rana regime lasted until 1951, when the monarchy was restored to power. Nepal is now the world’s only Hindu kingdom.
Against the background of these political changes in Nepal, Gurkhas continued to come forward for enlistment into the British Indian armies, and, among other campaigns, they served with distinction in Britain’s wars against the Sikhs in the 1857 Maharajah Jangbahadur Rana brought his own army to the assistance of the East India Company in combating the great mutiny. During and after that momentous war, more and more Gurkha regiments were formed, and the fame of the fighting men of Nepal spread world-wide. In both world wars Nepal came readily to the aid of Britain, both through the enlistment of Gurkhas into the Indian Army and by sending its own regiments to fight in the allied cause.
After Indian Independence in 1947, a ‘Tripartite Agreement’ was struck between Nepal, Britain and India, under which Gurkhas continue to serve in the army of the Republic of India as well as in that of Great Britain. In 1990 the young men of Nepal continue to offer themselves for recruitment as their forebears have done for 175 years, seeing the world, and sending much of their pay back home to assist their families. They bring with them the qualities of endurance conferred by their harsh origins in the Himalayas, and also the bravery, dependability, and generosity of spirit, which have made them feared by their enemies and admired by their friends throughout the world.