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The Brigade of Gurkhas is the paramount infantry regiment of the British Army and the ambition of every young Gurkha boy is to be accepted into the British Army.

Some years ago the British Army was down sized and three battalions of Gurkhas were made redundant. There was a proposal presented to the Australian government to enlist these battalions into the Australian Army and establish a base at Rosedale in Victoria. It was rejected even though, at the time, there was a shortfall in local recruitment.

The Singapore Police Force has a unit composed entirely of Gurkhas. "  Nowhere in the world have I ever been in a country where I feel as safe as I do in Singapore."

No wonder. They are fierce and mighty. 

Yesterday's article spoke of the Gurkhas responding to the Haka during recent military exercises between soldiers from New Zealand Army's 2nd/1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and their British Army‬ counterparts from Royal Gurkha Rifles. RGR replied in turn with their traditional Kukri Dance. We spoke of the Maori Batallion. Today we look at the gurkhas. 

 

Few blades hold as storied a history as the Kukri knife. Hailing from the rugged terrain of Nepal, this distinctive weapon has etched its mark across centuries of warfare and played a crucial role in the daily lives of the people as an agricultural implement.

The roots of the Kukri knife reach deep into the rich tapestry of Nepalese culture and traditions. It is believed that this unique blade design was first forged during the medieval period, with some evidence pointing to its emergence in the early 14th century. Drawing inspiration from earlier curved blades and machetes prevalent in the region, the Kukri gradually evolved into the formidable tool and weapon we know today.

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The Gurkhas were instrumental in elevating the Kukri to legendary status. Their exploits across numerous military campaigns in South Asia caught the attention of the British East India Company during the 19th century. Impressed by the Gurkhas' martial prowess and their indomitable use of the Kukri, the British began enlisting them into their ranks, leading to the establishment of the illustrious Gurkha regiments in the British Army. The Kukri quickly became an emblem of their identity and fighting spirit.

The origins of the Gurkhas can be traced back to the 16th century when the region of Gorkha in present-day Nepal was ruled by King Drabya Shah. It was during this time that the term "Gurkha" first emerged, referring to the people of Gorkha. The rugged terrain and turbulent history of the region forged a fiercely independent and martial culture among the Gurkhas.

 

In the mid-18th century, a visionary leader named King Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha embarked on a campaign to unify the numerous small kingdoms and principalities of the region into a single cohesive nation. His military prowess and strategic acumen enabled him to conquer and consolidate various territories, leading to the creation of the Kingdom of Nepal in 1768. The Gurkhas played a crucial role in this unification process, earning a reputation for their martial skills and unwavering loyalty to their leaders.

 

The early 19th century saw the Gurkhas coming into direct contact with the British during the Anglo-Nepalese War, also known as the Gurkha War (1814-1816). The conflict arose due to territorial disputes and the expansionist policies of the British East India Company. Despite their formidable resistance, the Gurkhas were eventually defeated.

Impressed by the Gurkhas' tenacity and martial prowess, the British sought to enlist them into their ranks. In 1815, a historic agreement known as the Treaty of Segauli was signed, which allowed the British to recruit Gurkhas into their military services. This marked the beginning of a unique relationship between the Gurkhas and the British that endures to this day.

More than 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in the First World War.  20,000 were killed or injured in World War II. They took on the Germans at Tobruk and Monte Cassino and the fanatical Japanese in the Far East. They suffered 23 thousand six hundred and fifty-five casualties. In doing so, they earned numerous accolades for their bravery and effectiveness in various campaigns across Europe, Africa, and Asia. 
  
 

1st Battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles, returning from road protection duties, Waziristan, 1936

Since their inclusion in the British Army, the Gurkhas have established themselves as elite and highly respected soldiers. Over the years, they have participated in numerous military campaigns and conflicts worldwide, demonstrating their unwavering loyalty, bravery, and professionalism. Their service has been recognised with numerous honours and awards for valour, including a large number of Victoria Crosses, the highest British military decoration for bravery.

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Gurkha regiments have fought in major conflicts, such as the First and Second World Wars, the Falklands War, the Gulf War, and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their distinctive weapon, the Kukri knife, has become synonymous with their identity as fearsome warriors.

Under the Tripartite Agreement signed between the governments of the United Kingdom, India and Nepal after Indian independence and the partition of India, the original ten Gurkha regiments consisting of the 20 pre-war battalions were split between the British Army and the newly independent Indian Army. Six Gurkha regiments (12 battalions) were transferred to the post-independence Indian Army, while four regiments (eight battalions) were transferred to the British Army.

To the disappointment of many of their British officers, the majority of Gurkhas given a choice between British or Indian Army service opted for the latter. The reason appears to have been the pragmatic one that the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army would continue to serve in their existing roles in familiar territory and under terms and conditions that were well established. By contrast, the four regiments selected for British service faced an uncertain future, initially in Malaya - a region where relatively few Gurkhas had previously served. The four regiments (or eight battalions) in British service were subsequently reduced to a single regiment of two battalions. The Indian units have been expanded beyond their pre-Independence establishment of 12 battalions. 

The principal aim of the Tripartite Agreement was to ensure that Gurkhas serving under the Crown would be paid on the same scale as those serving in the new Indian Army. This was significantly lower than the standard British rates of pay. While the difference is made up through cost of living and location allowances during a Gurkha's actual period of service, the pension payable on his return to Nepal is much lower than would be the case for his British counterparts.

With the abolition of the Nepalese monarchy in 2008, the future recruitment of Gurkhas for British and Indian service was initially put into doubt. A spokesperson for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (later the "Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre)"), which was expected to play a major role in the new secular republic, stated that recruitment as mercenaries was degrading to the Nepalese people and would be banned. However, as of 2023, Gurkha recruitment for foreign service continues. 

Originally, the only Gurkhas veterans allowed to remain in the UK were those who had retired since the Brigade headquarters moved to England in 1997. In May 2009, after a long campaign supported by Dame Joanna Lumley and other advocates, around 36,000 members of the regiment who had retired before 1997 won the right to settle in Britain with their spouses and children.

How utterly tragic that it took a fight to get what Britain now offers to all and sundry for having contributed nothing to the United Kingdom at all........ 

 

But more about their weapon, the Kukri knife. 

The art of crafting a Kukri is a meticulous process, often passed down through generations of skilled Nepalese blacksmiths. Typically fashioned from high-carbon steel, the blade exhibits a curve with a distinct, inwardly curving edge. This unique design grants the Kukri its incredible chopping power and versatility.

The crafting process starts with the selection of appropriate steel, followed by heating it to high temperatures in a coal-fired forge. The smith then hammers and shapes the blade, skillfully curving it to ensure balance and effectiveness in both combat and agricultural applications. The blade is then carefully quenched and tempered to enhance its durability and edge retention.

 

The handle, traditionally made from wood, is attached using a full-tang construction, ensuring strength and stability. Often adorned with ornate carvings, the handle reflects the artisan's creativity and adds a touch of cultural significance to the blade.

Throughout history, the Kukri proved to be an invaluable companion on the battlefield. The Gurkhas wielded it with distinction in various conflicts, showcasing its lethal efficacy in close-quarters combat. Its razor-sharp edge could effortlessly slice through enemies, while its weight and momentum delivered devastating chopping blows.

In addition to its prowess as a combat weapon, the Kukri exhibited surprising utility as a multi-tool for the Gurkhas. It served as a machete for clearing vegetation, a utility knife for daily tasks, and even a symbol of honour and bravery.

Beyond the realm of warfare, the Kukri held a significant role in the daily lives of the Nepalese people, particularly those engaged in agriculture. As a farming implement, the Kukri became an indispensable tool for cutting crops, clearing land, and performing various agricultural tasks. Its curved edge and robust construction made it particularly well-suited for such demanding labour.

Even today, the Kukri remains an enduring symbol of Nepalese culture, cherished not only as a weapon but also as a cherished heirloom and a representation of their national identity.

Former Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw once stated that: "If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha."

I have to wonder how a battle between the Ghurkas and the Maori Batallion would go. I suspect that they would win on the battlefield, but on the football field? No, not a chance. The average height of the New Zealand Maori All Black is over 6 foot 2. The Gurkha around 5 foot 3. 

But what they lack in physical height, they more than make up for in sheer ferocity, stamina and skill wielding their weapon: the kukri. What a shame our foolish Australian government never welcomed these people with open arms to serve in our military. 

 

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