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Gurkha Brigade history

THE FIRST WORLD WAR

At the outbreak of the First World War the whole of the Nepalese Army was placed at the disposal of the British Crown. Over 16,000 Nepalese troops were subsequently deployed on operations on the North West frontier and as garrison battalion in India to replace troops of the British Indian Army who has gone to fight overseas.

Some one hundred thousand Gurkhas enlisted in regiments of the Gurkha Brigade. They fought and died in France and Flankers, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Gallipoli, Palestine and Salonika. A battalion of the 8th Gurkhas greatly distinguished itself at Loos, fighting to the last, and in the words of the Indian Corps Commander, "found its Valhalla". The 6th Gurkhas gained immortal fame at Gallipoli during the capture from the Turks of the feature later known as "Gurkha Bluff". At Sari Bair they were the only troops in the whole campaign to reach and hold the crest line and look down on the Straits, which was the ultimate objective. To quote from Field Marshal Sir William Slim's introduction to the second volume of the 6th Gurkhas' history:

"I first met the 6th Gurkhas in 1915 in Gallipoli. There I was so struck by their bearing in one of the most desperate battles in history that I resolved, should the opportunity come, to try to serve with them. Four years later it came, and I spent many of teh happiest, and from a military point of view the most vaulable, years of my life in the regiment."

BETWEEN THe WARS

There was little respite after the First World War, with fighting in the Third Afghan War in 1919 followed by numouers campaigns on the North-West Frontier, particularly in Waziristan. Four Nepalese Army regiments also took part in operations on the North West Frontier during the Third Afghan War.

THE SECOND WORLD WAR

In the Second World War there were no fewer than forty Gurkha battalions in British service, as well as parachute, garrison and training units. In all this totalled some 112,000 men. Side by side with British and Commonwealth troops Gurkhas fought in Syria, the Western Desert, Italy and Greece, from North Malaya to Singapore and from the Siamese border back through Burma to Imphal and then forward again to Rangoon.

In addition to the enormous manpower made available there were many personal gestures on the part of the Minister and Court of Nepal. Large sums of money for the purchase of weapons and equipment, including money for the provision of fighter aircraft during the Battle of Britain, were presented as gifts from Nepal. Considerable sums of money were also donated to the Lord Mayor of London during the Blitz for the relief of victims in the dockland area. An equally generous response was made to a variety of appeals for aid - all this from a country, which was then, and still, is by western standard, desperately poor. The spirit of the friendship can best be illustrated by the reply made of the Prime Minister of Nepal to the British Minister in Kathmandu after the fall of France in 1940. When Britsin stood alone. Persmission was sought to recruit an additional 20 battalions for the Gurkha Brigade, and for Gurkha troops to be allowed to serve in any part of the world. This was readily granted by the Pirme Minister who remarked, "Does a friend desert a friend in time of need? If you win, we win with you. if you lose, we lose with you." The whole of the Nepalese Army was again palced at the dispoal of the British Crown. eight Nepalese regiments were sent to India for internal security duties and for operations on the North West Frontier. Later a Nepalese brigade was sent to Burma and fought with particular distinction at the Battle of Imphal.

THE PARTITION OF INDIA AND TRANSFER TO THE BRITISH ARMY

After the Second World War conflicts in Palestine, the Ducth East Indies, French Indo China, Borneo and the troubled partition of India claimed the attention and often the lives of officers and men of the Gurkha Brigade.

At the time of the partition of India there were ten Gurkha regiments in the Indian Army, each regiments consisting of a number of battalions. As a result of negotiations between the Nepalese, British and Indian Governments (known as the 'Tripartite Agreement') four of these regiments, each of two battalions were transferred to the British Army, the remainder staying with the new Indian Army. Thus on 1st January 1948, four Gukrha regiments became, for the first time, an integral part of the British Army, forming the Brigade of Gurkhas. These regiments were:

When these regiments moved to the Far East in 1948 they, with other units of the British Army already there, were formed into a division, which, being largely Gurkha, was designated 17 Gurkha Infantry Division. After 1948 the following additional Gurkha units were raised:

THE MALAYAN EMERGENCY

The Brigade of Gurkhas operated continuously throughout the Malayan Emergency, for twelve years (1948 to 1960) against Communist terrorist, and the Gurkha soldier again proved himself to be, as he had previously done in Burma, a superb jungle fighter. Whilst the majority of the rest of the British Army was fighting in such trouble spots as Korea, Cyprus, Kenya and Aden and maintaining a presence in the UK, Germany and other garrisons in various parts of the world, the Brigade of Gurkhas was providing the backbone, the expertise and the continuity in the campaign in Malaya. Many British units fought in the Malayan Emergency with dinstinction, but never for more than two or three years before moving on to other theatres. Gurkha battalions on the other hands served on years after years, providing the decisive ingredient for victoyr in this vicious war of stealth and attrition. A peaceful period of two years followed the successful conclusion of this campaign, which enabled Gurkha units once again to widen their professional horizion and train for roles other than operating against Communist terrorist in the Malayan jungle. One Gukrha battalion was stataione din the United Kingdom (at Tidworth) in 1962, but was withdrawn to the Far East after the outbreak of the troubles in Borneo.

BORNEO - THE BRUNEI REVOLT AND 'CONFRONTATION' WITH INDONESIA.

Gurkah troops (1st battalion, 2nd KEO Gurkah Rifles) were the first to be used again in an operational role on the outbreak of the Brunei Revolt in December 1962. The battalion was alerted at 11pm on 7th December and the first company was air-landed in Brunei, nine hundred miles away, at 9am the following morning. There followed four years of continuous oeprations against units of the Indonesian Regular Army in Sabah and Sarawak in which every units of the Brigade of Gurkhas took part. As they did in the Malayan Emerency, Gurkha units agains provided the bulk and continuity of the British Army's contribution to this campaign. It was in Novemer 1962 taht Lance Corporal Rambahadur Limbu of the 2nd Battalion, 10th PMO Gurkha Rifles won the Victoria Cross.

When the Borneo Campaign ended in 1966 there was a short lull before the Brigade found itslef engaged in internal security tasks in Hong Kong during civil disurbances resulting from China's Cultural Revolution.

BRITISH WITHDRAWAL FROM MALAYSIA AND SINGAPORE AND THE 'RUNDOWN' OF THE BRIGADE OF GURKHAS

Between 1967 and 1972, as a result of changing defence commitments and the reorganisation of the Armed Force, the strength of the Brigade of Gurkhas was reduced from 14,000 to about 8,000. This was acheived by a reduction of the number of Gurkha infantry battalions from eight to five, reduction in the streangth of the three corps units (Engineers, Signals and Transport) and the disbandment of the Gurkha Independent Parachute Company and the Gurkha Military Police. When British forces withdrew from Singapore in 1971 three battalions of Gurkha infantry and the Gurkha Engineers, Gurkha Signaks and Gurkha Transport Regiment were stationed in Hong Kong and the remaining two battalions stationed one in the United Kingdom (at Church Crrokham) and the other in Brunei. In 1974 he battalion based in England (10th PMO Gurkha Rifles) deployed to Cyprus to reinforce the British Sovereign Base Area when Turkey invaded the Island. Since 1978 the United Kingdom based Gurkha battalion has taken its turn in helping to garrison Belize and in 1982 the 1st Battalion 7th DEO Gurkha Rifles took part in the Falkland Island Campaign. In the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait in 1990/91, the then Gurkha Transport Regiment provided 28 (Ambulance) Squadron and The Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas deployed as stretcher-bearers.

In 1977, during the Silver Jubilee Year, the Queen honoured three units of the Brigade of Gurkhas. The Gurkhaa Engineers and Gurkha Signals received Royal titles and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales was appointed COlonel-in-Chief of the 2nd KEO Gurkha Rifles. In 1992 the Gurkha Transport Regiment was designated the Queen's Own Gurkha Transport Regiment (now the Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment). Following the Government's decision to resuce and restructure the Army the Brigade reduced in size from 8000 to 3500 by 1998. In 1994 the four Rifle Regiment disbanded and were reformed into a large Regiment, The Royal Gurkha Rifles which initially consisted of 3 battalions. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales is the Regiemnt's Colonel in Chief. RGR reduced to two battalion in NOvember 1996 when 3 RGR disbanded on the withdrawal of 1 RGR from HOng King to the UK. At that time three Gurkha Rifle Companies were formed to reinforce the Infantry until 2005. The Brigade is also providing reinforcements for various specialist posts throughout the Army. The Corps Regiments have rediced in size to a Regimental headquarters and squadrons (see below for breakdown and location of units); these squadorns are deployed within parent corps regiments.

There are currently some 3300 Gurkhas (effective strength) in the British Army (as at December 2004) organised into the following headquarters and units:

HQ The Brigade of GurkhasNetheravon, UK
1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha RiflesUK
2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha RiflesBrunei
The Queen's Gurkha Engineers (RHq and 2 Sqns)Maidstone, Kent, UK
The Queen's Gurkha Signals (RHA and 3 Sqns)UK
The Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic RegimentAldershot, UK
Gurkha Company (Sittang)(RMA Sandhurst)Camberley, Surrey, UK
Gurkha Company (Mandalay)(IBS Wales)Brecon, Wales, UK
Gurkha Company, 3rd Battalion ITC CatterickCatterick Garrison, UK
Brigade of Gurkhas Training TeamUK
British Gurkhas Nepal (A HQ, with Depots in Kathmandu and Pokhara)Nepal
The Band of the Brigade of GurkhasSir John More Barracks, Shorncliffe, UK

CONCLUSION

In the two World Wars the Gurkha Brigade suffered 43,000 casulaties, and to date it has won 26 Victoria Crosses - 13 by Gurkhas and 13 by British Officers. This short chonricle is of necessity brief and factual. It cannot adequately portray the spirit and character of the Gurkha soldier, nor can it reflect the 'espirit de corps' and the bond of comradeships and mutual respect, which bind together the British, and Gurkha officers and men of the Brigade. But perhaps these worlds written by the late Sir Ralph Turner MC (Professor of Sanskrit at the University of London, Fellow of Chrits's College Cambridge and some time Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles) in 1931, give a hint of the true feelings of both sides:

"As I write these words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once mroe I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your campfires, on forces marches on in the trenches, now shivering with wet and cold, now scorched by a pitiless and burning sun. Uncomplaining you endure hunger and 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 a country more faithful friends than you

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