The Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years, beginning in 1816 when the British East India Company signed the Sugauli Peace Treaty with Nepal that allowed them to recruit local men. Gurkhas had fought them to a bloody stand still on a number of occasions and the Company was keen to have such a martial race on their side.
Lieutenant Frederick Young was one of those fighting the Gurkhas in 1815. His troops ran away and only he refused to run as he was surrounded. The Gurkhas admired his courage and told him, “We could service under men like you.” He is known as the father of the Brigade of Gurkhas. He later recruited 3,000 of them and became the commanding officer of a battalion, later name the 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles’.
Gurkhas are famous for carrying the ‘kukri’ blade, a curved knife, and there is a myth saying, that once drawn, it must be blooded before it is sheathed. Gurkhas remained loyal to Britain during the Indian Mutiny and have fought for Britain in every major conflict since then winning 13 Victoria Crosses to date.
They have seen active service in Burma, Afghanistan, the North West frontiers of India, Persia, Malta, Cyprus, Italy, France, Borneo and Malaya. At the beginning of the First World War, the King of Nepal placed the entire Nepalese army at the disposal of the British Crown. More than 20,000 of them were killed or injured, an almost unimaginable loss to a nation with a population of just 4 million.
Professor Sir Ralph Turner MC served with the 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles and in 1931 quoted:
“As I write these words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades. 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, 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.”