The British Army announced this week that it would create a new Specialised Infantry Battalion by recruiting more than 800 Nepalese Gurkha servicepersons this year.
Currently, the Gurkhas comprise up to 3% of the British Army, and in 2015 completed 200 years of service there.
Entry into service
The Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16 was a victory for the East India Company, but not without heavy casualties inflicted on them by soldiers of the Gorkha Kingdom. Impressed by their discipline and ferocity, the British decided to recruit these soldiers starting in 1815. Since then, the Gurkhas have fought on the side of the British Empire in almost every war, including both World Wars.
Upon Independence in 1947, the question of allotting the 10 regiments of Gurkha soldiers arose. This was settled by the Britain-India-Nepal Tripartite Agreement, which assigned the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, and 10th Gurkha Rifles regiments to India, and the 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 10th regiments to Britain. In 1948, India created an 11th Gurkha Rifles regiment to accommodate the Gurkhas who refused to depart with the now-British regiments.
Later, the British Army amalgamated their four regiments into a combined Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) regiment consisting of three battalions. The RGR was subsequently deployed in Britain’s remaining colonies in Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, to fill the vacuum created by departing Indian regiments such as the Sikhs, which were stationed there earlier.
Recruitment of Gurkhas
The Gurkhas are recruited every year at the British Gurkha camp at Pokhara in Nepal. The camp enlists fresh recruits not only for the British Army, but also for the counter-terror arm of the Singapore Police Force. British Army scouts roam the Nepalese countryside to identify potential recruits, who then undergo a rigorous training process before joining.
Reputation of the force
Regarded as fierce and loyal, the Gurkhas are held in high esteem in the British Army. They are enlisted not only in the infantry, but also in the engineering corps and as logisticians. Their signature weapon, the khukri, famous for the inwardly curved shape of its blade and its legendary utility, forms part of the Gurkha regimental insignia in Britain as well as in India.
Queen Elizabeth II of Britain is guarded by two personal Gurkha officers. Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew is known to have preferred Gurkha police officers for his protection.
The Gurkhas in action
The working conditions of the Gurkhas have improved significantly over the past few decades, and they now have the same service conditions as the regular British Army, with the option of British citizenship upon retirement. British Army Gurkhas have been active during the Falklands campaign, the Gulf Wars, as wells as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, they are stationed at British garrisons in Brunei and the UK.