Gorkhas, Gurkhas, Gurkha and Gorkhali
In honor of the whole “May the 4th be with you” thing, let’s talk a bit about the current deployment of the most real-life Mandalorians, the homegrown warriors of Nepal:
Ever read about the British Army’s (Cold War-era, 1947-94) Brigade of Gurkhas and wonder why the unit numbers are so wonky? For instance, the principal infantry units were four regiments, all of one battalion, each:
2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles)
6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles
7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles
10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles
That’s because these hardy Nepalese fighters, which had been part of the British Army going back to an agreement with the circa 1815 East India Company, originally numbered 10 two-battalion regiments, numbered 1-10, in the British Indian Army in 1903 when that force was reformed. When India broke away from Britain and formed their own proper force in 1947, it was agreed between New Dehli and London to split these troops in a 4:6 ratio, so the Indians picked up:
1st King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment)
3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles
4th Prince of Wales’s Own Gurkha Rifles
5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force)
8th Gurkha Rifles
9th Gurkha Rifles
In more modern times, the names have morphed to a more British and Indian version.
In 1994, the four units still raised by the UK were all amalgamated into the Royal Gurkha Rifles, which form the bulk of today’s 3,600-man Brigade of Gurkhas. They stay up to strength through a yearly intake of 432 potential recruits– for which as many as 20,000 young Nepalese men apply. At the end of 36-weeks training, 270 are accepted.
Since 1858, no less than 26 members assigned to British Gurkha units have earned the VC. In 2010, Sgt. Dipprasad Pun, 1/RGR, was decorated with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (just under the VC) for single-handedly fought off a large Taliban attack on his lightly manned position. Pun is the grandson of Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun, 3rd/6th Gurkha Rifles, who received the VC in 1944 for single-handedly charging and capturing two Japanese light machine guns in Burma.
Recently, some 120 Gurkhas from 10 Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, usually based at Gale Barracks in Aldershot, have been busy at Wellington Barracks training to mount the Queen’s Guard in London for the next eight weeks. They will be standing guard on public order duty at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Windsor Castle as well as over the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.
Naturally, they have their kukris:
And will be using them in the Keys ceremony apparently.
Looks like the Queen is in good hands.
As for the Indians, they kept the old pre-1947 regimental numbers, dropped the royal tie-ins, and started spelling Gurka as the more correct “Gorkha.” They also expanded the force from six to seven regiments, each with a whopping 6-7 battalions, in essence, more than tripling the size. Today’s Indian Army now has the very robust:
1 Gorkha Rifles
3 Gorkha Rifles
4 Gorkha Rifles
5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force)
8 Gorkha Rifles
9 Gorkha Rifles
11 Gorkha Rifles
They seem pretty hardy, too.
Further, the Singapore Police Force has, since 1949, fielded their own 2,000-man Gurkha Contingent. They are kept whole by taking the 120 best candidates of the British Army’s yearly 423-man intake, who in turn sign a 27-year contract right out of the door.
As described by the SPF, “The GC was formed to provide a ‘strong-arm’ within the Police Force capable of quelling civil disturbance and carrying out specialist security tasks…These Gurkhas possess the qualities best suited to service in the Contingent, specifically: physical and mental robustness, resourcefulness and an uncomplaining dependability.”
An example of the “dependability” part of that, along with their notion of being “visibly invisible” in Singapore:
Across from Singapore, the Sultanate of Brunei maintains the 2,000-strong Gurkha Reserve Unit (GRU), which was formed in 1974 as a special guard force of the Royal Brunei military, protecting the royal family, oil facilities and other vital infrastructure. Rather than recruiting directly from Nepal, members are formerly of British, Indian and Singapore units.
Since 1962 British Army Gurkhas have been based in Brunei. There is always one infantry battalion of The Royal Gurkha Rifles, supported by troops from The Queen’s Gurkha Engineers, The Queen’s Gurkha Signals, The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, and The Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support Company based in Tuker Lines, Seria, making later recruitment in the GRU an easy task.
Elsewhere, the Gurkha’s past service to the Commonwealth still lingers.
In Hong Kong, Chinese since 1997, there are some 40-50,000 ethnic Nepalese, descendants of Gurkhas stationed there over the years while it was a British colony and their families. They have a vibrant culture.
Plus, of course, there is the standing Nepali Army, also known as the Gorkhali Army, which numbers 95,000 men (and women) in eight divisions.
They have been fighting a low-key Maoist insurgency for years (the country shares a 900-mile Himalayan border with China), as well as sending thousands overseas on UN Peacekeeping duties, providing Geneva/New York their own smiling Gurka units on the cheap.
They have been on 58 missions since 1958.
Some 5,000 are on the UN’s dime right now.