A visit to The Gurkha Museum and The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens

By LCpl Bhesh Bahadur Gurung, 70 Gur Fd Sqn (Search)

The Gurkhas have been fighting under the British crown in many conflicts and wars all over the world since 1815. The Gurkha graves are spread all over the world wherever the British fought, however the history of our bravest ancestors are kept alive only in few places. Respecting the bravery and loyalty of the Gurkhas, one Field Marshal has said that the Gurkhas are the bravest of the brave and the most generous of the generous soldiers. The Gurkha motto “kattar hunu bhanda marnu jati” translates as “it is better to die than to be a coward” is equally famous. There are three Gurkha museums one is located in Winchester the other two being in Nepal. The museum in Winchester is the largest of the three and on 31 January 2013, an educational visit was organised to the Gurkha museum and the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens by Cpl Surendra Gurung.

A total of 74 personnel from 70 Gurkha Fd Sqn (Search) including some attached personnel from RHQ and 69 Gurkha Fd Sqn (Search) paraded for a brief by Cpl Surendra about the purpose and sequence of the event for the day. The first phase would be spent at the Gurkha museum till early afternoon and rest of the afternoon to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens.

After two hours on the coach we arrived at Peninsula barracks in Winchester, which is not only the home of the Gurkha museum but also museums of other British Infantry Regiments. As soon as we arrived we were taken straight up in the McDoland gallery, where the curator of the museum, Davies saheb (late 2RGR) welcomed us.  He started his initial brief with the importance of the Gurkha Museum to all serving members, and also on the expansion and development of the museum.  “What we do today will be our history for future generations”, he added.  He urged us to help the museum by sending any materials of any kind on current operations, projects and exercises which will help to keep the history of the paltan up-to-date. The museum also occasionally holds public gatherings all around the UK for those communities who hardly know anything or very little about the Gurkhas, and the museum is working enormously hard to preserve our own unique traditions by holding a Nepal cultural day from time to time.

After his brief given in Nepali by Davies Saheb, we spread around the museum rooms to take a close look at the medals, cap badges and portraits. The team divided into two groups; one to library at the top floor next to the McDonald Gallery, and the other to the War Gallery on the ground  floor of the building. The library is full of old journals, books and magazines written about the Gurkhas and their respective paltans. It also has many photographs from the past.  WO2 Khadka was fortunate to find a photo of his great, great grandfather, Subedar Major Santabir Gurung, Sirdar Bahadur, OBI, IOM 2nd Gurkha Rifles.  Sirdar Bahadur is a decoration which used to be awarded in the British Indian era. He had also served as a king’s Indian Orderly Officer (KIOO) similar to today’s QGOO. Rudyard Kipling, a famous writer of the era has written more about the Subedar Major in his book, “In the Presence” about the King Edward VII.

The War Gallery which covers two floors of the building offers a lot to see and experience, frrom the East India Company’s first war with Nepal, to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  All are displayed in a vivid and lively way. The museum’s effort to present the main events of the past either by portrait or simulated environment is certainly praiseworthy. Anyone who walks through the the museum can take away an enormous amount of knowledge about the Gurkhas’ contribution to the British crown and its sovereignty.

Just after the midday, we gathered outside the main building, in front of the fountain to take a group photograph, with thanks to Mahendra and his expensive camera. Now it was time for everyone’s favourite curry lunch in the Gurkha Chef Restaurant, just 15 minutes walk into the town. The typical Gurkha curry was served by friendly staff in a homely environment.  The secondary aim of the visit was to help the museum in another way. A total of £130 was collected from group to be donated to the museum by our OC saheb.  Davis saheb greatly appreciated the donation made to the museum. After our donation, our journey started for the second phase of the visit to the Sir Harold Hiller Garden, which is 25 min away from Winchester town.  It has one of the biggest winter gardens in Europe and is also the venue for many important ceremonies, but our main purpose was to visit Kadoorie’s Nepalese chautara inside the garden. Kadoorie is a familiar and famous name amongst the Gurkha community, but despite his enormous help in aid donated to our homeland Nepal, most of us know very little about him.  The Honorable Michael David Kadoorie, is a billionaire businessman and industrialist from Hong Kong whose Kadoorie charitable foundation has many projects within Nepal.  For more than 30 years the Kadoorie Foundation has benefited more than a million people in Nepal with large scale infrastructural improvements, opening of schools and providing portable drinking water in many remote villages in Nepal. His extensive involvement in Nepal began in Hong Kong whilst Gurkhas were serving in Hong Kong, by providing resettlement training. Kadoorie’s passion towards the Gurkhas followed all the way from Hong Kong to Nepal and finally to the UK.  A typical Nepalese chautara (resting place), has been built in the heart of the garden by the Kadoorie foundation. It is to commemorate those Gurkhas who gave their life for the British crown. The Gurkha cap badges which are beautifully depicted on the vertical slabs of the chautara are undoubtedly marvellous. Thanking honorary Kadoorie on behalf of Nepal and all Gurkha community, we made our journey back to Maidstone. The visit overall was very interesting, enjoyable and educational. I am sure every one of us took away something from the visit, either from the first Afghanistan war of our forefathers, or of the importance to preserve our tradition and culture in this diverse and multi cultural country. We can look forward to returning back to the Museum to find out more about our forefathers and maybe dig up a great grandfather’s photograph too!