Earlier this month, 70 newly minted Nepalese Gurkhas swore allegiance to (British Army’s) Royal Gurkha Rifles regiment in a unique ceremonial parade known as the Kasam Khane.
As noted by MOD:
Kasam Khane is the ceremonial parade during which new Riflemen swear their allegiance to the Regiment. The recruits on parade had already made an oath of loyalty to the Crown on enlistment in Nepal, however Gurkha soldiers have the unique tradition of pledging an additional oath of loyalty to the Regiment on completion of their training and arrival at Battalion. Only then can they proudly claim to be a Rifleman of the Royal Gurkha Rifles.
In batches of three they march out in front of the parade to where the Queen’s Truncheon is being held by the Battalion’s Gurkha Major and on command each reaches out with their right hand to touch it, cementing their oath.
The Queen’s Truncheon is a magnificent 6ft-high artefact made of bronze and silver. Many British Army regiments have Regimental colours which are highly revered by the regiment’s soldiers. Once a rallying point for that regiment’s troops on the battlefield, the colours instil a sense of duty and honour to that particular regiment.
The Queen’s Truncheon, awarded to The Sirmoor Battalion (later the 2nd KEO Gurkha Rifles) after the Gurkhas distinguished themselves by holding the Ridge during the Siege of Delhi, is awarded the status of a Colour for the Royal Gurkha Rifles.
The British Army’s Nepalese Gurkhas have been putting it on the line for the Crown going back to an agreement with the circa 1815 East India Company.
Gurkhas in the Western Desert, July 1942 cleaning their iconic kukri. Note their Enfield No IIIs, Brodie helmets, and shorts. Note the distinctive Terai slouch hat on the Gurkha standing to the rear, a piece of kit the soldiers still wear today.
Growing to a force of 10 two-battalion regiments by WWII, after India became independent in 1947 the British retained four regiments by agreement that, in 1994, were all amalgamated into the Royal Gurkha Rifles, which form the bulk of today’s 3,600-man Brigade of Gurkhas.
And they have been busy since the thawing of the Cold War. To commemorate the 19 men killed while serving in the Brigade since 1999, Gurkha Company Catterick earlier this month unveiled a monument to commemorate fallen Gurkhas in recent conflicts, with new recruits trooped in front of it to remind them to stay frosty out there.
In the past, we’ve extensively covered the Nepalese Gurkhas and, how their continued overseas (basically mercenary) service in the British Army, Indian Army, Royal Brunei military, and Singapore Police Force, is both highly sought-after by the contracting branch and life-changing for the Gurkha.
While the recent COVID restrictions have wrought havoc around the globe, the Brits still managed to have the required 340-strong Gurkha trainee draft fully fleshed out “despite one of the most challenging selection procedures in history.”
Field Marshal Viscount Slim, who had plenty of experiences in which Gurkhas saved his bacon, in his Unofficial History, said, “The Almighty created in the Gurkhas an ideal infantryman, indeed an ideal Rifleman, brave, tough, patient, adaptable, skilled in field-craft, intensely proud of his military record and unswerving loyalty.”
Official caption: “A Royal Gurkha soldier of A (Gallipoli) Company (CO), 1ST Battalion (BN), The Highlanders, United Kingdom (UK) Army, takes time from searching for illegal weapons to say hello to a little boy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Royal Gurkhas played a key roll in searching house-to-house for illegal weapons during Operation TIMBERWOLF. The search in the Prijedor area near Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina under Operation JOINT FORGE found over 40 tons of weapons and ammunition during the three-week TIMBERWOLF operation by the Stabilization Force peacekeepers, 9/18/2003”
DOD DF-SD-05-12255 via National Archives
With a reputation of being heroic and honorable, one of the last true cultivated warrior castes, there are numerous stories of Gurkhas also being heartwarming.
Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria has been cleaning and testing a relic Bhojpure kukri (khukuri) from the large collection of original 19th century Nepalese Government military stores that IMA and Atlanta Cutlery scored back in 2003. Of course, he is a little late to the party as I picked up one of these a few years back and found it to be just a remarkable edged weapon. Truly excellent once you got the yak grease off.
Here is Matt testing it:
Speaking of Gurkas, this year’s intake at Infantry Training Centre Catterick has gone off swimmingly.
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
1/7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles Regiment boarding the Cunard liner Canberra for the Falklands to go fight the Argentinians, in 1982, note the M72 LAWS anti-tank rocket and copious L1A1 semi-auto inch pattern FALs
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.
British Gurkha recruits successfully complete their training at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick 2017
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:
The Staff Captain, Captain Tom Mountain inspects every detail during the inspection of The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment.
And will be using them in the Keys ceremony apparently.
A member of 10 Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment challenges on Guard during the drill practice for the Ceremony of the Keys The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment
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:
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.
Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, General of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, inspecting local Gurka 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.
The above video starts off a bit silly but shows the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas performing the traditional Khukuri Dance at the Last Night of the Proms Concert at the Royal Military School of Music recently.
“The dance is a combination of patterns of drill, where the dancers demonstrate their skills of handling the Khukuri knife. It is believed, the dance was derived from the occasion of celebration when a soldier returned from war with the glory of victory.”
Sure, it is a dated weapon, but don’t doubt that you could drop those four guys off somewhere behind the lines with just their kukri and they wouldn’t beat you back to base with a host of trophies.
A Naik (corporal) of either the 7th or 9th Gurkha Rifles, part of the 4th Indian Division of the British 8th Army, swinging his curved knife known as khukri (kukri), 1st August 1943.
Unit Moto: Kafar Hunu Bhanda Marnu Niko (Better to die than live like a coward)
I bumped into a few Gurkha in my travels and dearly love a good khukri. Besides a collectable Bhojpure model that I display with my vintage Nepalese Francotte, I keep an Ontario Cutlery Kurkri in my camping gear and it is hellah functional for clearing brush and cleanup…or zombies.
The British military recently announced at a passout for new troops that, while other forces are declining, the number of Gorkha in the Army will be growing by a quarter.
Lieutenant General J I Bashall CBE, inspecting new members of the Brigade of Gurkhas, 6 October– note the Kukri. They are not ceremonial.
All Gurkha soldiers undergo nine months of training at the Infantry Training Centre, in Catterick, which includes cultural integration trips to Darlington and Richmond.
Lt Gen Bashall said last week: “It is because of the excellent professionalism and first class reputation of Brigade of Gurkhas that we have decided to increase Brigade of Gurkhas by 25 per cent. This will see those on parade today offered far greater opportunity for longer service, wider employment and promotion.”