After the conflict with the British, Gurkhas have enjoyed considerable fame in various battlefields. The name originally referred to people from central Nepal, but ever since the conquest of Nepal by Gurkha kings, the word Gurkha is liberally applied to those who speak Nepali.
Gurkhas in the modern world are now essentially a mixture of various mountain tribes from the Himalayas, e.g. Gurungs, Rais, Limbus, Thapas, Magars, etc. Every tribe has its own characteristics.
Almost all Gurkha tribes have their own dialect and/or accent of Nepali; anyone who has been to Nepal will realize that the Nepali spoken in western Nepal is considerably different than the Nepali spoken in Eastern Nepal. The same holds true for Nepali cuisine.
The trademark Khukuri, ever since the dawn of the Gurkhas, has been made by a "Kami" (pronounced as "kah mee"), a community of blacksmiths. Many serving Gurkha soldiers order their custom Khukuris to be made by the Kami while on leave.
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In the Gurkha War (1814–1816) they waged war against the British East India Company army. The British were impressed by the Gurkha soldiers and after reaching a stalemate with the Gurkhas, made Nepal a protectorate. A soldier of the 87th Foot wrote in his memoirs: "I never saw more steadiness or bravery exhibited in my life. Run they would not, and of death they seemed to have no fear, though their comrades were falling thick around them". Much later, they were granted the right to freely hire them as mercenaries from the interior of Nepal. Originally Jung Bahadur and his brother Ranodip Singh brought a lot of modernisation to Nepalese society, the abolition of slavery, undermining of taboos regarding the untouchable class, public access to education, etc. But these dreams were short lived when in the coup d'état of 1885 the nephews of Jung Bahadur and Ranodip Singh (the Shumshers J.B., S.J.B. or Satra (17) Family) murdered Ranodip Singh and the sons of Jung Bahadur, stole the name of Jung Bahadur and took control of Nepal. This "Shumsher" Rana rule is regarded by some[who?] as one of the reasons for Nepal lagging behind in modern development. The children of Jung Bahadur and Ranodip Singh lived mainly outside of Kathmandu, in Nepal, and in India after escaping the coup d'état of 1885.
The Gurkha soldier recruits were mainly drawn from several ethnic groups. When the British began recruiting from the interior of Nepal, the majority of these soldiers were drawn from the Kirat people, such as Tamang, Magar, Gurung, Rai and Limbu. However, other ethnics group also are recruited by British Army Brigade of Gurkhas and Indian Army Gurkha Regiment.
After the British left India, Gorkhalis continued seeking employment in British and Indian forces, as officers and soldiers. Under international law, present-day British Gurkhas are not treated as mercenaries but are fully integrated soldiers of the British Army, operate in formed units of the Brigade of Gurkhas, and abide by the rules and regulations under which all British soldiers serve.
The Gurkha war cry is "Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali" which literally translates to "Glory be to the Goddess Kali, here come the Gorkhas!"
Professor Sir Ralph Lilley Turner, MC, who served with the 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles in the First World War, wrote of Gurkhas:
As I write these last words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once more I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your fires, on forced march or 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 country more faithful friends than you.
British East India Company Army
Gurkhas served as troops under contract to the East India Company in the Pindaree War of 1817, in Bharatpur in 1826 and the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars in 1846 and 1848.
During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Gurkhas fought on the British side, and became part of the British Indian Army on its formation. The 8th (Sirmoor) Local Battalion made a particularly notable contribution during the conflict, and indeed twenty-five Indian Order of Merit awards were made to men from that regiment during the Siege of Delhi. Three days after the mutiny began, the Sirmoor Battalion were ordered to move to Meerut, where the British garrison was barely holding on, and in doing so they had to march up to 48 kilometres a day. Later, during the four month Siege of Delhi they defended Hindu Rao's house, losing 327 out of 490 men. During this action they fought side by side with the 60th Rifles and a strong bond developed. Twelve regiments from the Nepalese Army also took part in the relief of Lucknow under the command of Shri Teen (3) Maharaja Maharana Jung Bahadur of Nepal and his older brother C-in-C Ranaudip Singh (Ranodip or Ranodeep) Bahadur Rana (later to succeed Jung Bahadur and become Sri Teen Maharaja Ranodip Singh of Nepal).
After the rebellion the 60th Rifles pressed for the Sirmoor Battalion to become a rifle regiment. This honour was granted then next year (1858) when the Battalion was renamed the Sirmoor Rifle Regiment and awarded a third colour. In 1863 Queen Victoria presented the regiment with the Queen's Truncheon, as a replacement for the colours that rifle regiments do not usually have.
British Indian Army (c. 1857–1947)
From the end of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 until the start of the World War I the Gurkha Regiments saw active service in Burma, Afghanistan, the North-East Frontier and the North-West Frontiers of India, Malta (the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78), Cyprus, Malaya, China (the Boxer Rebellion of 1900) and Tibet (Younghusband's Expedition of 1905).
Between 1901 and 1906, the Gurkha regiments were renumbered from the 1st to the 10th and redesignated as the Gurkha Rifles. In this time, the Brigade of Gurkhas, as the regiments came to be collectively known, was expanded to twenty battalions within the ten regiments.
During World War I (1914–18), more than 200,000 Gurkhas served in the British Army, suffering approximately 20,000 casualties, and receiving almost 2,000 gallantry awards. The number of Gurkha battalions was increased to thirty-three, and Gurkha units were placed at the disposal of the British high command by the Nepalese government for service on all fronts. Many Nepalese volunteers served in noncombat roles, serving in units such as the Army Bearer Corps and the labour battalions, but there were also large numbers that served in combat in France, Turkey, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. They served on the battlefields of France in the Loos, Givenchy, Neuve Chapelle and Ypres; in Mesopotamia, Persia, Suez Canal and Palestine against Turkish advance, Gallipoli and Salonika. One detachment served with Lawrence of Arabia, while during the Battle of Loos (June–December 1915) a battalion of the 8th Gurkhas fought to the last man, hurling themselves time after time against the weight of the German defences, and in the words of the Indian Corps commander, Lieutenant-General Sir James Willcocks, "... found its Valhalla". During the ultimately unsuccessful Gallipoli campaign in 1915, the Gurkhas were among the first to arrive and the last to leave. The 1st/6th Gurkhas, having landed at Cape Helles, led the assault during the first major operation to take out a Turkish high point, and in doing so captured a feature that later became 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. The 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Gurkha Rifles (2nd/3rd Gurkha Rifles) was involved in the conquest of Baghdad.
Following the end of the war, the Gurkhas were returned to India and during the interwar years, they were largely kept away from the internal strife and urban conflicts of the sub-continent, instead being employed largely on the frontiers and in the hills where fiercely independent tribesmen were a constant source of troubles. As such, between the World Wars, the Gurkha regiments fought in the Third Afghan War in 1919 and then participated in numerous campaigns on the North-West Frontier, mainly in Waziristan, where they were employed as garrison troops defending the frontier, keeping the peace amongst the local populace and keeping the lawless and often openly hostile Pathan tribesmen in check. During this time the North-West Frontier was the scene of considerable political and civil unrest and the troops stationed at Razmak, Bannu and Wanna saw an extensive amount of action.
During World War II (1939–45), there were ten Gurkha regiments, with two battalions each making a total of twenty pre-war battalions. Following the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk in 1940, the Nepalese government offered to increase recruitment to increase the total number of Gurkha battalions in British service to thirty-five. This would eventually rise to forty-five battalions and in order to achieve this, third and fourth battalions were raised for all ten regiments, with fifth battalions also being raised for 1 GR, 2 GR and 9 GR. This expansion required ten training centres to be established for basic training and regimental records across India. In addition five training battalions were raised, while other units were raised as garrison battalions for keeping the peace in India and defending rear areas. Large numbers of Gurkha men were also recruited for non-Gurkha units, and other specialised functions such as paratroops, signals, engineers, and military police.
Whispers of Gurkha war tactics quickly became legend among Axis soldiers. Stories of shadowy troops began to circulate; Gurkha soldiers who would break into German barracks at night. The stories went that the Gurkhas would quietly make their way through the soldiers; the first soldier in the line of beds would have his throat slit in his sleep, the second would have his bootlaces cut, and so on in that fashion. When a German soldier would wake up to see that the man on either side of him was dead, he would panic and immediately go for his boots; only to find that the laces were cut. They would be horrified to see this sign that they could have been killed as well.
A total of 250,280 Gurkhas served during the war, in almost all theatres. In addition to keeping peace in India, Gurkhas fought in Syria, North Africa, Italy, Greece and against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma, northeast India and also Singapore. They did so with considerable distinction, earning 2,734 bravery awards in the process and suffering around 32,000 casualties in all theatres.
Gurkha military rank system in the British Indian Army
Gurkha ranks in the British Indian Army followed the same pattern as those used throughout the rest of the Indian Army at that time. As in the British Army itself, there were three distinct levels: private soldiers, non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers. Commissioned officers within the Gurkha regiments held a Viceroy's Commission, which was distinct from the King's or Queen's Commission that British officers serving with a Gurkha regiment held. Any Gurkha holding a commission was technically subordinate to any British officer, regardless of rank.
British Indian Army and current Indian Army ranks/current British Army equivalents
- Viceroy Commissioned Officers (VCOs) up to 1947 and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) from 1947
- Warrant officers
- Non-commissioned officers
- Company Quartermaster Havildar/Company Quartermaster Sergeant
- Lance Naik/Lance Corporal
- Private soldiers
- British Army officers received Queen's or King's Commissions, but Gurkha officers in this system received the Viceroy's Commission. After Indian independence in 1947, Gurkha officers in regiments which became part of the British Army received the King's (later Queen's) Gurkha Commission, and were known as King's/Queen's Gurkha Officers (KGO/QGO). Gurkha officers had no authority to command troops of British regiments. The QGO Commission was abolished in 2007.
- Jemadars and subedars normally served as platoon commanders and company 2ICs, but were junior to all British officers, while the subedar major was the Commanding Officer's advisor on the men and their welfare. For a long time it was impossible for Gurkhas to progress further, except that an honorary lieutenancy or captaincy was very rarely bestowed upon a Gurkha on retirement.
- The equivalent ranks in the post-1947 Indian Army were (and are) known as Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs). They retained the traditional rank titles used in the British Indian Army — Jemadar (later Naib Subedar), Subedar and Subedar Major.
- While in principle any British subject may apply for a commission without having served in the ranks, Gurkhas cannot. It was customary for a Gurkha soldier to rise through the ranks and prove his ability before his regiment would consider offering him a commission.
- From the 1920s, Gurkhas could also receive King's Indian Commissions, and later full King's or Queen's Commissions, which put them on a par with British officers. This was rare until after the Second World War.
- Gurkha officers commissioned from the Royal Military Academy – Sandhurst – and Short Service Officers regularly fill appointments up to the rank of major. At least two Gurkhas have been promoted to lieutenant colonel and there is theoretically now no bar to further progression.
- After 1948, the Brigade of Gurkhas (part of the British Army) was formed and adopted standard British Army rank structure and nomenclature, except for the three Viceroy Commission ranks between Warrant Officer 1 and Second Lieutenant (jemadar, subedar and subedar major) which remained, albeit with different rank titles Lieutenant (Queens Gurkha Officer), Captain (QGO) and Major (QGO). The QGO commission was abolished in 2007, Gurkha soldiers are currently commissioned as Late Entry Officers (as above).
Regiments of the Gurkha Rifles (c.1815–1947)
- 1st King George V's Own Gurkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment) (raised 1815, allocated to Indian Army at independence in 1947)
- 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) (raised 1815, allocated to British Army in 1948)
- 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles (raised 1815, allocated to Indian Army at independence in 1947)
- 4th Prince of Wales's Own Gurkha Rifles (raised 1857, allocated to Indian Army at independence in 1947)
- 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) (raised 1858, allocated to Indian Army at independence in 1947)
- 6th Gurkha Rifles, renamed 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles in 1959 (raised 1817, allocated to British Army in 1948)
- 7th Gurkha Rifles, renamed 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles in 1959 (raised 1902, allocated to British Army in 1948)
- 8th Gurkha Rifles (raised 1824, allocated to Indian Army at independence in 1947)
- 9th Gurkha Rifles (raised 1817, allocated to Indian Army at independence in 1947)
- 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles (raised 1890, allocated to British Army in 1948)
- 11th Gorkha Rifles (1918–1922; raised again by India following independence in 1947)
- 25th Gurkha Rifles (1942–1946)
- 26th Gurkha Rifles (1943–1946)
- 29th Gurkha Rifles (1943–1946)
- 42nd Gurkha Rifles (raised 1817 as the Cuttack Legion, renamed 6th Gurkha Rifles in 1903)
- 44th Gurkha Rifles (raised 1824 as the 16th (Sylhet) Local Battalion, renamed 8th Gorkha Rifles in 1903)
Second World War training battalions
- 14th Gurkha Rifles Training Battalion
- 38th Gurkha Rifles Training Battalion
- 56th Gurkha Rifles Training Battalion
- 710th Gurkha Rifles Training Battalion
After Indian independence—and partition—in 1947 and under the Tripartite Agreement, the original ten Gurkha regiments consisting of the twenty pre-war battalions were split between the British Army and the newly independent Indian Army. Six Gurkha regiments (twelve battalions) were transferred to the post-independence Indian Army, while four regiments (eight battalions) were transferred to the British Army.
To the disappointment of their British officers the majority of Gurkhas giv