Bishop of London’s Address to the Gurkha Brigade Association

The Rt Rev and Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO, Bishop of London kindly gave the  address at the GBA Memorial Service held at RMAS RMC on Saturday 8 June 2013. The text of his thoughtful and inspiring address is set out below and will be of interest to all GBA members.  The GBA was immensely grateful to the Bishop for taking the time out of an extremely busy programme to speak to members of the Brigade, both past and serving.

”The Emperor Ashoka said that there are many spiritual traditions and whosoever “exalts his own way by condemning the ways of others in reality inflicts the severest injury on his own tradition.”  As I speak in the name of the most holy Trinity, it is in this spirit that I salute a military partnership which has brought together different races and creeds from the ends of the earth in a 200 year alliance.

I feel especially privileged to have been invited to join you today to do honour to the Gurkha tradition and in particular to remember those who have been killed and wounded in the World Wars and especially in what for Gurkhas is the 4th Afghan War. This war has seen the most protracted, savage and high intensity fighting for the British Army since World War II. We remember especially this year Lt Ed Drummond-Baxter and Lance Corporal Siddhanta Kunwar of 1st battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles who were killed on active service in October 2012. In all the Brigade has lost 15 killed in action [4 officers and 11 Gurkha other ranks]. Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord and let light perpetual shine upon them.

In addition 49 Brigade members have been wounded and 7 of them have undergone amputations. We salute in particular Lance Corporal Netra Rana who lost his left leg in 2008. With Gurkha courage and determination, he represented Great Britain in the men’s sitting volleyball during the London Olympics last year.

I am named after another entry in the book of remembrance here which recalls those who fell in earlier wars. Lt John Chartres was intelligence officer in the 1st Battalion the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles. He was killed in December 1943 alongside Gurkha comrades in the Italian campaign. He was just 22.

The relationships formed by such shared memories have an intensity which is hard to convey to others which is one of the reasons why associations like this one are very valuable. But one of the good things about contemporary Britain is the respect the armed forces deservedly enjoy. When I first began to participate, last century in the cenotaph Remembrance Sunday observances, the first question which any journalist would ask was “Isn’t the war a long time ago? Shouldn’t we move on?” No one is saying that now and indeed it is remarkable how many young people are participating in the various acts of remembrance.       

As a priest I am grateful that the beginning of the Gurkha story is associated with mounting guard over a guru. I read about this incident in Chris Bellamy’s 2011 book “The Gurkhas – Special Force”. The warrior Bappa Rawal found the 8th century Gorakhnath meditating and stood guard over him while he was thus employed. When the guru emerged he gave Bappa a kukri as a gesture of gratitude and said that Bappa’s followers should be called Gorkhas and would be world famous for their bravery and so it has proved,

Courage is of course a vital ingredient in any life worth living. I remember being taken around a mouldering church by the churchwardens. One of them said to me “you know bish, I think it’s only inertia that keeps us going”. The other warden simply said “Courage mate”.

The courage we need is not of course only physical although that is to be admired  but at every stage of our lives we need moral courage to take risks, to live life to the full, to persevere in illness and to stand up for our beliefs especially when the crowd is against us.

Courage is an expression of our deepest being, the spiritual heart, and the word is ultimately derived from cor, the Latin for heart. It is often an instinctive striving rather than something you think about. Because courage is an expression of our deepest being it may involve the sacrifice of many desirable things – pleasure comfort and even existence itself. But life in all its fullness only becomes possible when we have found the courage to confront death and strive after our deepest being.

It is the faith of a Christian that you need to confront death in order to know life in all its fullness. This is the meaning of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The calling of the Christian religion is to resist death in all its forms through participating in the life of God. We are called to join Jesus Christ in confronting the anti-life forces which we see in unawareness of a neighbours need; in hatred of those whose colour and creed are not like ours; in the immobilising fear which causes us to shrink into ourselves. The anti-life force has many disguises and is literally deadening.

We live in a dangerous world but one of huge opportunities. One of the major threats in these circumstances is that many nice people seem to lack all conviction and are not strenuous in their living and working for the common good. The Gurkha Brigade with your proud history fulfils a very contemporary purpose. After rigorous selection and deployment far from home, Gurkhas are perfectly equipped for the security requirements of the 21st century when a highly professional army will be needed for limited operations. This is a day for celebrating the Gurkha tradition and giving thanks for your example of courage and comradeship. Thank you also for the charitable work you do in supporting the Gurkha soldier and for the legacy you are passing on.

I have encountered the Gurkhas many times in the course of my own duties, in Kosovo for example in the dangerous early days of KFOR; unveiling the memorial to the Gurkha soldier in Whitehall with the unforgettable sight of the Gurkha band coming round the corner like a rocket. My first memory however is of Hong Kong more than 30 years ago. I was carrying the bags for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Gurkha Major asked me “Who is this Archbishop? What does he do?” I tried to explain after which the Gurkha Major said “I see, he is like our Raj Pundit who casts horoscopes for the royal family”. “That’s it I agreed.”

I conclude by returning to my main theme of courage. True courage in life and death consists being aware and faithful to the spirit which lies at the heart of our deepest and truest selves. It is a personal truth which unites us to the truth at the heart of Universe.

It is expressed in different ways in our scriptures. In the Gita, Krishna says “Beyond this creation visible and invisible, there is an invisible higher Eternal: and when all things pass away, this remains for ever and ever.

This Spirit Supreme is attained by an ever-living love. In him all things have their life and from him all things have come.”

St Paul in his letter to the Christians of Rome declares that “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”   

Amen’