Thursday, 12 July 2012

Gurkhas and British Soldiers - The Beginning

In 'Merdeka' Alick goes into the deep jungle as part of a Gurkha fighting patrol.  These days a lot of people are familiar with Gurkhas and the British Army, but how did the story start?  There is a famous quote attributed to Lt Frederick Young of the Army of the Honourable East India Company who was surrounded by hostile Gurkhas on the border between India and Nepal.

"I went there one man and came out three thousand".

In 1814 the British East India Company  fought a short and bloody war against Nepal.  The British did not want the war but were forced to fight as Nepalese troops were harrassing border areas, finally attacking three British-Indian police posts. The British-Indian Army heavily outnumbered its Nepalese opponents, who fought bravely and savagely, but were finally forced to accept a cease-fire.

In 1814 Young was commanding a party of Indian irregular soldiers who were attacked by a larger Nepalese force and ran away, leaving Young and a few officers to face the Gurkhas.  When asked why he had not run away too, Young replied: "I have not come so far in order to run away.  I came to stay."  And he sat down.  This made a big impression on his captors who are alleged to have replied: "We could serve under men like you."  And the seeds of a relationship that endures to this day were sown.  After the war was over Frederick Young was given permission to enrol a corps of Gurkha soldiers, and in 1815 he raised a unit that became known as the Sirmoor Rifles.  For nearly 200 years the Gurkha's desire to freely serve as soldiers of the British Army has transcended the whims of politicians in both countries.  The British never colonised Nepal and, to quote Dire Straits, the relationship has always been one of 'brothers-in-arms'.

The British memorial to the Gurkhas was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 December 1997. The inscription is a quotation from Sir Ralph Turner, a former officer in the 3rd Gurkha Rifles:

"Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous,
never had country more faithful friends than you."

It should be read in conjunction with the motto of Gurkha soldiers:

'Kaphar Hunnu Bhanda Mornu Ramro'
'It is better to die than be a coward'

The above information is largely taken from the book 'Britain's Brigade of Gurkhas' first published by Brigadier E.D. Smith in 1973.  Visit Wikipedia for more information on Britain's Brigade of Gurkhas.

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