A small-framed soldier of the 4th Battalion, 4th Prince of Wales’s Own (PWO) Gurkha Rifles, engaged in house-to-house fighting in a Burmese village, CBI Theatre, 1945.
Raised in 1941, 4/4 saw WWII service in India’s border areas in Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram, and the Far East. One of the Gurkha regiments that was partitioned to the Indian Army in 1947, the motto of what is today the Fourth Gorkha Rifles is “Kayar Hunu Bhanda Marnu Ramro” (Better to die than live like a coward) (National Army Museum UK/One of 11 photos collected by Company Sergeant Major G R C Willis, 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. NAM. 1989-10-67-4.)
Note the Sten Mk 3 sub-machine gun and the kukri in the belt at the Gurkha’s back. Due to the local conditions, the Gurkha has whittled down most of his ’37 Webbing to just a pair of basic pouches– which could carry either two BREN magazines, a half-dozen Thompson/STEN mags, four grenades, or boxes of 303– and a utility pouch, normally carried on the chest, worn to the back while what looks like the mouth of a canteen is poking up from his right. Still, with as many as 13 32-round mags, this skinny little guy could have over 400 rounds of ammo at the ready– an aspect oft-forgotten by those who poo-poo the use of SMGs on the battlefield.
The 4/4 used beasts of burden for everything else.
Troops of 4/4th Gurkha Rifles crossing the River Irrawaddy in Burma. Each man carries his own weapon and essential supplies, while the ever-present mules shoulder the burden of extra ammunition, food, and water. NAM. 1989-10-67-5 by Sergeant Major G R C Willis, 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment.
The hardy soldiers from Nepal were well represented in the CBI in 1944-45 as 3rd Battalion/6th Gurkha Rifles; 3rd Battalion/4th Gurkha Rifles and the 3rd and 4th Battalions, 9th Gurkha Rifles, all took part in the Second Chindit Expedition of 1944. Other Gurkha battalions fought in the swamps and forests of the Arakan.
In lighter notes, the STEN has always been my favorite burp gun and one that is absolutely just the most enjoyable to fire. We’ve already talked about my kukri obsession several times…
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.
I saw this on display at the Berman Museum in Anniston and thought you would appreciate it.
This beautiful ivory-handled Nepalese kukri belonged to an officer of the 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles, during WWII. The unit served in Iran and Syria before seeing much harder service in Italy.
There, the unit was stationed close to the U.S. 10th Mountain Div and gave a good account of itself with one Gurkha, Rifleman Ganjabahadur Rai, earning the Military Medal for his “naked kukri” attack on a German patrol.
The 10th ended its war in Burma, where the Japanese no doubt tasted cold steel.
While 10 GR was one of the few Gurkha regiments retained in the British Army after the end of the Empire, in 1996 they were amalgamated with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, bringing the regiment’s 104 years of service to an end.
Like the Francotte and its bayonet, the $89 Bhojpure Kukri came from IMA/Atlanta Cutlery’s 2003 purchase of the entire Royal Nepalese Arsenal, then located at the semi-ruined palace of Lagan Silekhana in Katmandu.
Well, that post got picked up by The Truth About Knives, which is cool. Maybe it resulted in some people saving some of these old knives.
I’ve continued to work the blade and, thanks to a tip from a reader (thanks, Robert!) picked up a new replacement sheath for the old man that fits it like a glove. It currently shaves forearm hair (knife fighter mange) and shreds paper with no problem.
The knife came without a scabbard, is 7.5-inches long with a 3.75-inch slightly drop point carbon steel blade, one-piece carved bone handle and brass furniture.
Like the rest of the Katmandu stash, it had sat in a wooden palace for generations open the elements and was covered in a thick layer of soot, yak butter, and Nepalese flotsam. It was in unissued condition and the blade had never been used (or sharpened– it was a total butter knife).
This is what it looks like after a good TLC with Ballistol, green pads, and the like, with the brass parts touched up with Brasso.
Patina on a weapon means it’s seasoned, right? I mean this little pot sticker is 150~ years old, or so the story goes.
I had to do a small repair on the butt cap as it separated from the handle during the cleaning process, but some replacement brass nails and epoxy corrected just fine.
I used water stones with a 1000/6000 grit to get first a bevel, then a fine edge– though not so thin that the edge would roll. You can trim fingernails with this bad boy now.
I intend to use a strop to keep it fine. A generic leather patch knife sheath ($10, eBay) fits it like a glove.
All in all, not a bad blade for a total of about $40 and a half-dozen hours of sweat into it. I rather like it and may pick up a few more just to have. A few more years in storage probably won’t hurt them.
I really dig old military arms of all sorts, ever since I was a kid. I guess you can say I am just a big, 42-year old kid these days.
One of my latest edged weapons is a Nepalese Gurkha Kukri Bhojpure Fighting Knife that I bought to go with my semi-cleaned Nepalese 1878 Martini-Henry Francotte pattern short-lever rifle and bayonet as created by Gen. Gahendra Rana’s cottage gun smiths in the 1880s (more on that here.)
Like the Francotte and its bayonet, the $89 Bhojpure Kukri, came from IMA’s 2003 purchase of the Royal Nepalese Arsenal, which was located at the palace of Lagan Silekhana in Katmandu.
As spears and the Kora sword were being replaced by firearms, the kukri was the weapon of choice for hand-to-hand combat.
The Bhojpure region kukri was typically produced at the turn of the 19th century and after. This style is a somewhat down scaled version of the Victorian Long Leaf kukri. It appears these saw service from the 1880s through the first quarter of the 20th century when they were withdrawn from service and placed in arsenal storage. With that in mind, the blade is anywhere from 90-130 years young and has spent most of that time “on the shelf.”
It came covered in… who the frack knows what. Pureed leaves, cosmoline, dirt, tar, yak grease I don’t know. It was horrible. Of course, it was as to be expected though, as it has been in arsenal storage for probably a century, and the Francotte came similarly dressed.
Cleaned via Ballistol and elbow grease, it is very nice, measuring out to just a hair over 17 inches overall with 13 of that being a rat-tailed steel blade almost as thick as my pinkie finger (around 3/8″) at its fullest point. This kukri was handmade; the steel was smelted, forged, shaped and hammered in Nepal by individual Kami blacksmiths. As such it is very dirty impure century-old steel that is kind of soft when compared to modern steels.
Still, it’s a great piece of history.
Check out how thick this beast is when compared next to the same length of modern Ontario 6420 OKC Kukri which uses 1095 carbon steel.
It’s also rather sharp and has seen a good bit of service, but the wood, though dark, is solid.
The yak butter was such a good preservative that there doesn’t seem to be hardly any rust or patina…
What is the blade notch for? Some say its to represent the god Shiva, which doesn’t make sense because the Kora– a Nepalese sword of the same period– doesn’t have the same notch. Some say it is for capturing an enemy blade in a knife fight, or as a “blood notch” which is even goofier. I think that it is meant to be a tool notch of some sort (to be used, for example, in removing nails, etc) as the kukri is something of the multitool for the Nepalese of all working castes.
I also have a set of chakmak and karda blades; a sharpening tool and small secondary knife usually stored in the sheath of the kukri. They have a great patina on them as they did not get the yak butter treatment so I will keep them as is.
I still would like to buff out the blade with Flitz, strip and refinish the handle with boiled linseed, and maybe touch up the edge a bit. Overall, I think the old soldier has a lot of life left in him.
This is what I think I look like with it:
From the Illustrated News of London Feb. 22, 1908.
But this is probably closer to the truth:
British Home Guard display an array of close-combat weaponry at a training session, 1942. including kukri.