The History of the Gurkhas
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Posted by Gau Gurung, on Friday, 02 July 2010 08:29   


Gurkhas are recruited from the hill people of Nepal who trace their roots right back to an 8th century Hindu warrior, Guru Gorakhnath.


They first encountered the British in the Gurkha War of 1814-1816, which ended not just in stalemate, but with an abiding sense of mutual respect and admiration between the two sides. 

The Peace Treaty that ended the war enabled Gurkhas to serve under contract in the East India Company's army, for whom they first fought in the Pindaree War of 1817. Thus began Britain's relationship with Nepal, our 'oldest ally' in Asia.

Gurkhas fought on the British side in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and at the end of the war, Gurkhas became a part of the British Indian Army. In recognition of their service at Delhi, the 2nd Gurkha Rifles was awarded the Queen's Truncheon, a unique emblem which is believed to have magical powers. To this day, new recruits to The Royal Gurkha Rifles swear allegiance to the Crown and the Regiment on the Truncheon

From 1857 until 1947, the Gurkha regiments saw service in Burma, Afghanistan, the North-East and North-West Frontiers of India, Malta (The Russo-Turkish War 1877-78), Cyprus, Malaya, China (the Boxer rebellion of 1900), Tibet, and in various theatres of the First and Second World Wars. They have continued to serve in every major conflict since.

British officials in the 19th century declared the Gurkhas as a 'Martial Race', a term describing people thought to be 'naturally warlike and aggressive in battle' possessing qualities of courage, loyalty, self sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness, the ability to work hard for long periods of time, fighting tenacity and military strength.'

"If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha."
Former Chief of staff of the Indian Army, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw

Today, Gurkhas are marked by their graciousness, loyalty and very great courage. As gentle and shy in daily life as they are fearless and tenacious in battle, they are a dignified people and ideal soldiers.

Gurkhas are famed for carrying a kukri. It is the national weapon of Nepal, but it is also used as a work tool in the Hills. Each Gurkha carries two kurkis, one for every day use and one for ceremonial purposes. The kurkri is the stuff of legends; the most common being the myth that whenever you draw the kukri from its sheath you must also draw blood. The kukri is accompanied by two tiny knives one for skinning and slicing, the other for sharpening the main blade.

Their famous war cry, "Ayo Gorkhali" translates as "The Gurkhas are here", their motto, 'Kaphar hunnu bhanda marnu ramro' means, 'It is better to die than to live like a coward.'



Nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Gurkha's rural Nepalese homeland is as treacherous as it is beautiful. Views stretch across spectacular mountains and valleys. Most people farm the land, growing rice, potatoes and vegetables. A buffalo will be a beast of burden and a source of milk, and they may have a few chickens, running outside their simple mudbrick houses.

Nepal is developing quickly but in Gurkha villages, modern comforts remain a rarity. In most villages, there is no electricity, and there may be a steep day or two day's walk to the nearest road. If so, apart from what is produced in the village, everything must come up or down the mountainside on a person's back. People are not well off -- Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries -- but life has a simple dignity.


The Victoria Cross is the highest award in the British Army for gallantry when facing the enemy. It is awarded without regard of rank. Since 1858 The Brigade of Gurkhas has won 26 Victoria Crosses. Of these, 13 have been awarded to British officers and 13 to Nepalese Gurkhas. Each Victoria Cross won has its own unique story of courage and devotion.

10 Facts about Gurkhas and the VC

1. The elderly father of Rifleman Lachiman Gurung VC was carried for 11 days from Nepal to Delhi to see his son decorated by His Excellency the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell.

2. Enough metal remains from the Sebastopol cannon for 85 new Victoria Crosses. The famous metal is locked at Central Ordnance Depot, Donnington.

3. Unlike any other award for gallantry the VC is not made in a die nor struck but cast exclusively by Hancocks and Co, London.

4. 12 medals are made at one time with remaining stock held by the MOD. Thus, there has never been a VC made for a specific individual.

5. According to regimental sources, no photographs existed of Rifleman Thaman Gurung when he was awarded the VC posthumously. His officers asked men with similar features to pose for artists. Sketching continued until the Rifleman's comrades agreed the portrait was an accurate representation.

6. HM, Queen Victoria replaced the original words 'For Bravery' on the cross with 'For Valour'. 'For Bravery,' she said, 'would lead to the inference that only those are deemed brave who have got the Cross".

7. Rifleman Kulbir Thapa VC had never been under fire until the battle where he was awarded his Victoria Cross

8. Measuring less than five foot, Rifleman Lachiman Gurung would fail today's army selection criteria.

9. VC holder, Rifleman Ganju Lama's real name was Gyamsto. While not an ethnic Gurkha, the war effort welcomed all willing men. With a stroke of a clerk's pen, his name at enlistment and subsequent entry on honour rolls is Ganju, not Gyamtso.

10. During the relief of Lucknow in 1857, a record 24 VCs were awarded in one day.

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Today, the Gurkhas remain an important part of the British Army. In more recent times, Gurkhas have served in the Falklands and Gulf Wars, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Peacekeeping missions have taken them to Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor and Sierra Leone.

They remain renowned for their loyalty, professionalism and bravery.
Becoming a Gurkha is a matter of great pride. Tens of thousands of young Nepalese men apply, but few are accepted. The rigorous selection procedure includes; English grammar and mathematics tests, initiative and medical assessments, a final interview, and not least, gruelling fitness tests, including a 'doko race', which involves carrying 75 pounds of stones whilst running up a steep 4.2 kilometre course.

Becoming a Gurkha is a matter of great pride. Tens of thousands of young Nepalese men apply, but few are accepted.

Gurkhas in trainingThose who pass muster find themselves at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, where a rigorous nine month training course covers language, military skills, and instruction on Western customs and Regimental culture.

After passing out, the young Gurkha soldier joins a Regiment or corps unit. Depending on his aptitude and interests, he could serve as an infantryman in The Royal Gurkha Rifles or as a sapper, signaller, professional driver or trainee chef in one of the Brigade's three corps units.

Ahead lie years of adventure, loyalty, service, and indeed danger. Even in recent days, Gurkhas have paid the ultimate sacrifice on operations in Afghanistan.