This section describes the role that Gurkhas played in the two World Wars, including their famous contribution to the Burma Campaign and the Chindit Operations of Brigadier Orde Wingate. It also covers the award of the first Victoria Cross to a Gurkha.
200 years of Gurkha history
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Map courtesy of English Wikipedia
In May 1815, and after several months of fierce fighting, General Amar Singh Thapa, the Gurkhas’ senior commander, accepted defeat when, outmanoeuvred by Major General David Ochterlony, the commander of one of the army columns dispatched by the British East India Company, his position in the mountain fortress of Malaun became untenable. A treaty, known as the Treaty of Segauli, was drafted which required the Nepalese to relinquish the land they had seized in the west and east to the British East India Company. As a punishment, it also required Nepal to give up large tracts of its own most fertile territory on the border with India. However, much of this was owned by the Nepalese ruling elite and they had no intention of signing the treaty with the British East India Company and, in January 1816, the British East India Company responded by sending a second Army of some 17,000 under the overall command of General David Ochterlony to force compliance. Again, the Gurkhas fought with courage and skill but, outnumbered and outgunned, the Gurkhas were eventually defeated by the British East India Company at the Battle of Makwanpur in February 1816. A few days later on 4 March, the Treaty of Segauli was eventually ratified, bringing the two wars between Nepal and the British East India Company to a close.
Bhim Sen Thapa the Prime Minister of Nepal, the home of the Gurkhas, at the time of the wars with the British East India Company. Another remarkable man (born August 1775, died 5 August 1839), he was the Prime Minister of Nepal for over 30 years from 1806 to 1837.
Gurkhas of the Sirmoor Battalion (later the 2nd Gurkhas), a unit belonging to the British East India Company, in front of Hindu Rao’s House on Delhi Ridge. The ridge dominated the city of Delhi which, in 1857, became the focus of the India Mutiny. Despite suffering tremendous losses, the Sirmoor Battalion, along with the 60th Rifles and the Corps of Guides, succeeded in holding the ridge until reinforcements arrived.
Major General Sir Rollo Gillespie who was killed at the Battle of Kalunga on 31 October 1814 leading British and British East India Company troops against the Gurkhas of Balbahadur Kunwar. Born in County Down in Ireland in 1766, Gillespie was another colourful character. He killed a man in a duel in 1788, was shipwrecked off Madeira in 1792, killed 6 men who tried to burgle his home in St Domingo and used a spear to kill an escaped tiger on Bangalore racecourse. He was knighted posthumously on 1 January 1815.
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It all started in October 1814 on a lonely hill top in a place called Kalunga (now known as Nalapani). The British East India Company had dispatched an army of some 30,000 troops to bring the ‘aggressive little state of Nepal’ to heel for expanding its empire into parts of northern India that the British East India Company wanted for itself. Kalunga was the location of the first battle between one of the army’s four columns and the expansionist Nepalese. What was significant about the engagement was that a relatively small force of ‘native’ troops was able to hold out against the might of the British East India Company for nearly a month. It sent shockwaves throughout British India. The ‘natives’ at Kalunga were Gurkhas, well trained soldiers belonging to the army of Nepal. They took their name from the ruling House of Gurkha which, under the leadership of Prithvi Narayan Shah, had, by about 1768, succeeded in unifying Nepal’s many petty principalities.
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Major General Sir David Ochterlony, the talented field commander of the British East India Company who defeated the Gurkhas of Prime Minister Bhim Sen Thapa at the battle of Makwanpur in February 1816. On 4 March 1816, the Gurkhas signed the Treaty of Segauli, bringing the wars between the British East India Company and Nepal to an end. Ochterlony was a fascinating and extremely colourful character. Born in Boston Massachusetts on 12 February 1758, he arrived in India and joined the British East India Company as an officer cadet in 1778, remaining there until his death on 15 July 1825. He reputedly had 13 Indian 'wives' and was awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath for his success against the Nepalese, the first Army officer of the British East India Company to receive the award.
Officers of the British East India Company were so impressed by the martial qualities of their Gurkha enemy that, even before the end of the first war, they started recruiting Gurkhas into the ranks of the British East India Company. The first three Gurkha battalions were known as the 1st Nusseree Battalion (later to become the 1st Gurkha Rifles), the Sirmoor Battalion (later 2nd Gurkha Rifles) and the Kumaon Battalion (later 3rd Gurkha Rifles). Formally raised by the British East India Company on 24 April 1815, they began the two centuries of Gurkha martial service to the British Crown that were celebrated in 2015. The locations of Sirmoor and Kumaon are shown on the above map. They were in the then western part of Nepal which was given up by the Nepalese to the British East India Company as one of the conditions in the Treaty of Segauli.
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The Treaty of Segauli required Nepal to handover almost a third of its landmass (the grey shaded area on the map) to the British East India Company. The Treaty with the British East India Company also forbade the Nepalese from employing '...any British subject, nor the subject of any European or American State...' This was designed to stop the Nepalese from hiring foreign soldiers to train its army (something it had done in the past) which would make it more of a threat to the British East India Company and its dominance of India. Some of the land taken off Nepal by the British East India Company was returned in December 1816, with more being returned in 1860 in recognition of Nepal's support in suppressing the Indian Mutiny and the loyalty of the Gurkhas fighting for the British East India Company.
This section gives an overview of the current Brigade of Gurkhas, including recruiting and the role of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. It concludes with a brief look at the 25th Anniversary Celebrations of The Royal Gurkha Rifles which took place this year (2019).
Out on 1 October 2019
Eight Gurkhas circa 1815. The first Gurkha Battalion was raised by the British East India Company in 1815 during the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814 - 1816. Note the kukris, the famous Gurkha fighting knives, in their belts.
The Gurkhas achieved real prominence during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 by remaining loyal to the British East India Company when many other ‘native’ regiments rebelled. The Gurkhas' courageous and spirited performance during the Siege of Delhi, where they fought alongside the British Army’s 60th Rifles in conditions of real privation, resulted in them being allowed to call their Gurkha soldiers ‘Riflemen’ rather than ‘sepoys’ and adopt many of the 60th’s regimental accoutrements. The Gurkhas were also given a commemorative Truncheon by Queen Victoria. This has the status of a regimental ‘colour’ and, as the only one of its kind, is still carried with immense pride by today’s Royal Gurkha Rifles. The Gurkhas also earned the first of their twenty six Victoria Crosses during the Mutiny when Lieutenant John Tytler, an officer serving with the 66th or Goorkha Regiment (later to become the 1st Gurkha Rifles), succeeded in storming a rebel gun position despite being shot in the arm and having a spear through his chest! Though the British East India Company succeeded in quashing the mutiny, the mutiny highlighted the appalling way in which the British East India Company had exploited India and its people. As a result, the British East India Company was abolished through the Government of India Act on 2 August 1858. The British Government assumed direct control of the country, appointing a viceroy to be the in-country representative and a secretary of state for India to represent India's interests in London.
NEPAL IN 1816
This section describes Gurkha operational deployments from the end of WW2 up until today and includes their campaigns in Malaya, Brunei, Borneo, the Falklands, the Balkans and Afghanistan.
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GURKHAS START BEING RECRUITED BY THE BRITISH EAST INDIA COMPANY