The Gurkhas: The Fiercest Warriors of WWII - History Key

The Gurkhas: The Fiercest Warriors of WWII

Presently, not many people of this new generation know much about the Gurkhas. According to history, the Gurkhas were known as the most feared warriors of their time. The average Gurkha stand about 5 feet and 3 inches and easily overlooked talk of least becoming a soldier. Nevertheless, let the truth be told, if you meet them in battle, you are in for what you didn’t bargain. From their motto, “better to die than being a coward” says it all. You may want to ask, how did they come about?

Gurkhas from the 4th Royal Gurkha Rifles in formation with their signature Kukri knives
Gurkhas from the 4th Royal Gurkha Rifles in formation with their signature Kukri knives © Image Source: businessinsider.com
 

History of the Gurkhas

They were first called “the Gurkhas” by the impression they made on the British during the Anglo-Nepalese war between the East India Company and the Gorkha Kingdom. It is understandable if you want to know why the war, moreover, that will take us “years” to explain. The Gurkhas originated from the mountainous area of Nepal and the British East India Company felt their sting more than 200 years ago. Like a bee that was successful in protecting its hives, the British forces were neglected to mourn the immense casualties. This situation instigated the British forces to sign a peace treaty hasty because of how powerful they were.

Gurkha soldiers during Anglo-Nepalese War, 1815
Gurkha soldiers during Anglo-Nepalese War, 1815 © Image Source: Wikimedia Commons – Wikipedia

According to a soldier of the 87th Foot, he wrote in his autobiography, “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”.

This peace treaty enabled them to be part of the East India Company’s army. Ever since then, more than 200,000 Gurkhas fought in every military campaign including the World Wars, 1982 Falklands War, and the Afghanistan war. As a result, other countries such as India, Malaysia, Cyprus, Iraq, Kosovo, and Singapore made use of their services in their police forces and armies. In the World War I, they fought in Egypt, Salonika, Palestine, Gallipoli, Persia, Mesopotamia, Flanders, France and the Far East.

The Gurghas in modern days
The Gurkhas in modern days © Image Source: telegraph.co.uk

The Gurkha’s Gallantry

One of the bravery of the Gurkhas’ is an illustration of the situation of the rifleman, Lachhiman Gurung. According to legends, Gurung in 1945 was in a ditch along with two other soldiers when Japanese fighters numbering about 200 opened fire on them. After his comrades sustained many injuries, he observed several inbound grenades around his location. Without wasting time, he threw it back to the enemy. After the first and second throw, he was unable to throw the third as it exploded in his right hand.

Gurung as a young Gurkha
Gurung as a young Gurkha © Image Source: wearethemighty.com

With the immense injury he had sustained on his right hand, he managed to handle his rifle with his left hand. With this, he killed several of the Japanese soldiers even as they were coming towards his trench. During this fight, 31 Japanese soldiers lost their lives. Arguably, the eagerness displayed by the Gurkhas’ during battle comes with its price. During WWI and WWII, they lost about 43,000 men. Though heavy losses have been experienced by them, however, their heroic actions didn’t go unnoticed. They had about 26 Victoria Crosses, which is the highest award for bravery in the UK and this has been awarded to the Gurkha Regiments.

 Lachhiman Gurung lost his right hand and was blinded in one eye after the action that led to him being awarded the Victoria Cross
Lachhiman Gurung lost his right hand and was blinded in one eye after the action that led to him being awarded the Victoria Cross © Image Source: businessinsider.com

The Gurkha Training

For instance, in the British Army each year, about 28,000 Gurkha applicants contend for just 200 slots. The criteria for their qualification include doing 70 sit-ups within two minutes and 75 bench jumps within a minute. Furthermore, after this, the next task looks like a sight from a Kun fun training mosaic, which has to do with running five kilometers. This will take them up the foothills of the Himalayas with about 25 kilograms’ size of rock at their back. This has to be completed within 55 minutes.

Finally, each Gurkha soldier is bestowed with a traditional weapon called “Kukri”. This weapon is used in tasting the blood of his enemy; nevertheless, in the event of the soldier not able to draw the blood of his enemy, he has to cover the weapon. This will only be possible if the soldier has cut himself. This might sound odd but there has been evidence of this custom.

Gambhir Singha Rayamajhi, Gurkha commander armed with a khukuri in his left hand
Gambhir Singha Rayamajhi, Gurkha commander armed with a khukuri in his left hand © Image Source: Wikimedia Commons – Wikipedia

Why are we talking about them today?

Ironically, they are still relevant today. Not a long time ago, there was a climb down on the refusal of the UK Government to give settlement to former Gurkha soldiers who have decided to stay in the UK after leaving the British Army. The restraining policy introduced last year concerning the Gurkhas who left the British Army before 1997 having automatic residential right in the United Kingdom was defeated. This changes announced a few weeks ago, had lots of conditions that made campaigners complain that only a few veterans can even qualify for such rights. Nevertheless, according to the British Government, the changes were meant to provide about 4,300 settlement to those who served in the Army before 1997 out of the 36, 000. Additionally, the policy is still under review.

Singapore Gurkha Contingent

The Singapore Police Force formed the Gurkha Contingent on 9 April 1949. This was a selection of the former British Army Gurkhas. This was a vital part of the Force and replaced the Sikh unit. This contingent was dedicated, well trained, and disciplined with the primary purpose of acting as a riot police. During the period of crisis, they serve as a reaction force. They displayed professionalism, self-restraint, and courage, which made them be famous and earned the respect of so many people.

The Gurkha Contingent marches past at the Police Day Parade 2005
The Gurkha Contingent marches past at the Police Day Parade 2005 © CC BY-SA 2.5, Image Source: Wikipedia

Conclusion

Finally, there is various controversy surrounding how these Gurkha soldiers have been treated with the discovery of them receiving monthly pensions of £37 when compared with that received by British soldiers, which is about £800 a month.

Consequently, the Gurkhas aren’t considered British subjects because Nepal isn’t part of the Commonwealth countries. This is one of the reasons they are subject to such disparity. The Government of United Kingdom claims that giving room to 36,000 former Gurkhas will surely create massive social service and immigration pressures.

The 2/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles marching through Kure soon after their arrival in Japan in May 1946
The 2/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles marching through Kure soon after their arrival in Japan in May 1946 © Image Source: Wikipedia

Regrettably, the disparate treatment and budget cuts might hamper the future of the Gurkhas soldiers, nevertheless, their acts of bravery have been stamped or engraved in the history books as among the fiercest fighters in the world.

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