On Monday 25 April 2016, serving personnel and their families from British Gurkhas Nepal (BGN) held memorial services to remember the dreadful earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015. Over 8,000 people lost their lives over 21,000 people were injured as a result of the earthquake that shook Nepal from its epicentre in Gorkha district. Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless and entire villages were destroyed. As well as many aftershocks, there was a further powerful earthquake that struck on 12 May.
In British Gurkhas Pokhara (BGP) and British Gurkhas Kathmandu (BGK), the BGN community held services to remember the fallen and those affected by the earthquake. Colonel Brigade of Gurkhas, Col James Robinson, was present in BGP and Commander BGN, Col Ian Logan, was present in BGK.
Since the earthquakes, BGN, the Gurkha Welfare Trust and the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers (QGE) have been doing their best to help several areas of Nepal affected by the earthquake. There is still an awful lot more work to be done over the coming years.
At this time, the QGE continue to help reconstruct homes, schools and community shelters. Attached are a few photos of their recent work in Rasnalu and Bhuji.
Colonel Brigade of Gurkhas, Colonel James Robinson, gave an update of current Brigade news at the BFBS Gurkha Studio in Kathmandu on Tuesday 26 April. Col Robinson visited British Gurkhas Pokhara and Dharan and also had the opportunity to meet some Regimental Associaiton members.
Here is a short interview of Col BG updating about the current Brigade news in BFBS Gurkha Radio Nepal.
During HRH Prince Harry’s recent visit to Nepal, he had the fortune to meet one of the most famous officers in the history of the Brigade of Gurkhas, Lt Colonel (Retd) John Cross OBE.
This was not the first time Colonel John has met British Royalty in Nepal.
36 years ago, in 1980, Colonel John was Officer Commanding, British Gurkhas Pokhara when Prince Harry’s father, HRH The Prince of Wales visited.
At the time, Colonel John was accompanied by two Victoria Cross winners, Hon Lt (QGO) Tulbahadur Pun VC 6GR and Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung VC 2 GR. Colonel John amusingly recalls that whilst HRH The Prince of Wales shook hands with the VC winners and many other Gurkhas, he put his hand out to shake one man’s hand who did not respond.
“What was your Regiment?” The Prince asked, “I was not a soldier,” replied the man, not knowing that an outstretched hand was meant to be shaken. ‘Why have you come here?’ asked The Prince. “Because you’re here. Four days down, one day here and four days back.” (It took four days for the man to walk down from his village in the Himalayas). As it happened, the man wasn’t even a Gurkha, he had come all this way just to satisfy his curiosity and see The Prince!
Colonel John shared this story and others with Prince Harry during last month’s visit and presented Prince Harry with a Daily Telegraph cutting of 12 December 1980 with the photo of Colonel John with HRH The Prince of Wales.
Colonel John is a legend in Gurkha history and almost every retired Gurkha and serving Gurkha will know of him. He still briefs the young recruits selected into the Brigade of Gurkhas to this day, at the age of 91.
Colonel John was born an Englishman in 1925 and is now a Nepali. He served a total of 39 years in the Army and spent 36 of those serving in the Gurkhas.
He served in WW2 in Burma against the Japanese and in one action commanded a battalion of surrendered Japanese troops against the Vietminh. The defeated Vietnamese Commanding Officer personally surrendered his 300-year-old sword to Colonel John.
Colonel John served in Malayan Emergency and the Borneo Confrontation and spent a total of 10 years service deep under the jungle canopy. He was in charge of Gurkha recruitment for many years in Nepal, which is where he now resides and he was granted Nepali citizenship in 2014. He is also the author of many publications on Nepalese and Gurkha history.
In March 2016, HRH Prince Harry conducted the first Royal visit to Nepal since his father, HRH The Prince of Wales, visited in 1998.
Prince Harry enjoyed his trip to Nepal so much, that he extended his visit by 6 days to help rebuild a school in a village that was hard-hit by the earthquakes. Prince Harry stated, “The people I have met and the beauty of this country make it very hard to leave.” Prince Harry was amazed by the beauty of Nepal and he linked it with his admiration for the warmth of the Nepalese people, “Living in such dramatic scenery clearly has an effect on the Nepalese – such calm, friendly people….watching the sunrise over those mountains is something I will never forget.”
A Warm Welcome
During a very busy schedule, HRH firstly met with the Prime Minister of Nepal, KP Sharma Oli, and then proceeded to see many of the areas of Kathmandu that were badly hit by the massive earthquakes that struck Nepal in April 2015. After trying his hand at ornate wood carving in Kathmandu and seeing the great conservation work done in Bardia National Park, Prince Harry then flew into the hills of Nepal, where he was met by Major Prakash Gurung MVO. When they met, smiles burst across both their faces, as they had previously met in Afghanistan in 2007 and whilst Maj Prakash was the Queen’s Gurkha Orderly Officer in recent years.
In the Gurkha Heartlands
Accompanied by Maj Prakash, Prince Harry then met with staff from the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT). They trekked around Lamjung District where Prince Harry witnessed the work of the GWT’s mobile doctors and the GWT’s ongoing reconstruction of homes that had been destroyed by the earthquakes.
Around 1,200 homes of former Gurkhas or their widows were destroyed by the earthquakes and the GWT hope to rebuild at least 80% by the end of 2016. In Gauda VDC, Prince Harry saw a school that is being rebuilt by GWT.
Prince Harry was also extremely fortunate to be in the hills during the festival of Holi and thoroughly enjoyed celebrating with the locals.
After his time in the hills, Prince Harry flew to British Gurkhas Pokhara (BGP). He was briefed about the infamous Gurkha Recruitment process, the huge numbers who apply and the gruelling tests the potential Gurkhas must undertake, including the legendary Doko Race.
Prince Harry also met with many members of the British Gurkhas Nepal community, including Lt Col (Retd) John Cross OBE, who was the Deputy Recruiting Officer in Nepal when HRH The Prince of Wales visited BGP in 1980 – 36 years ago.
Prince Harry was reunited with Maj (Retd) Bishnu Pun who had last seen Prince Harry in 1991. This was a truly magical moment.
Respects to Our Fallen
Prince Harry met with family members of those Gurkhas who have sadly been killed in action during the recent operational tours of Afghanistan. This was clearly a more sombre and reflective moment. A 2-minute silence was observed across BGP before Prince Harry laid a wreath and left a note as an act of remembrance. Immediately afterwards, Prince Harry also planted a tree close to the BGP memorial in memory of those Gurkhas who had fallen in Afghanistan. Prince Harry then departed back to Kathmandu, where he announced his intent to remain in Nepal for a further 6 days. HRH Prince Harry’s visit was hugely successful and it is hopeful that given his admiration for the Gurkhas, and, moreover the beauty of Nepal and its people, a return in the future seems likely.
Prince Harry’s visit in pictures and videos
Below is a collection of photos and videos which have captured Prince Harry’s historical visit to Nepal.
HRH Prince Harry is visiting Nepal for the first time from 19-23 March 2016 on an official visit that further enriches the great history and strong relationship between Nepal and the UK.
Prince Harry will meet the Nepali Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli and also meet Nepal’s first female President, Bidya Devi Bhandari.
During his visit, Prince Harry will be looking at the consequences of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015. He will witness first hand, the excellent work the Gurkha Welfare Trust and our serving soldiers from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers are doing to rebuild homes, schools and water infrastructure in those areas worst affected.
Prince Harry’s huge admiration for Gurkha soldiers, their bravery and loyalty, is well known. He built up a particular rapport with Gurkhas when he served alongside 1RGR in Afghanistan during 2007 stating: “When you know you are with the Gurkhas, I think there’s no safer place to be, really.”
Prince Harry will be visiting British Gurkhas Pokhara, the birthplace of the Brigade of Gurkhas, to learn more about Gurkha Recruitment into the British Army. He will go trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas, visiting traditional Nepali villages and staying with retired Gurkha servicemen and their families.
Colonel Brigade of Gurkhas, Col James Robinson (Col BG) and Director Gurkha Welfare Trust, Col (Retd) William Shuttlewood OBE, met Prince Harry at Kensington Palace on Thursday 10 March to discuss the upcoming visit.
Prince Harry is clearly looking forward to his visit and it is apparent he wholeheartedly values the vital contributions of Nepal to the UK over the last 200 years.
Col BG was delighted to be able to present Prince Harry with a copy of the book, The Gurkhas – 200 Years of Service to the Crown, written by Major General J C Lawrence CBE.
There will be a lot more coverage of Prince Harry’s visit both on our website and our social media pages.
More details about Prince Harry’s upcoming visit to Nepal have now been publicised in The Kathmandu Post.
A team from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers has been helping the people of Nepal to rebuild following the earthquakes that struck the country last year.
More than 8,000 people were killed and close to 500,000 buildings destroyed in the wake of the tremors. Two groups of Queen’s Gurkha Engineers named J Troop and L Troop have been working in Jiri and Netrakali respectively as part of the OP MARMAT 2 campaign providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. They have completed building Dungeswori School, Cheridung Primary School and a new Area Welare Centre accommodation in Jiri and at the same time the L Troop have completed their project in building a community centre and a primary school in Netrakali.
The first ever Chief of Army Staff Open Marathon took place in Kathmandu, Nepal on Sat 5 March. This was in part, the equivalent of the UK’s Armed Forces Day celebration. The event hosted a 5km, 10km, Half Marathon and Marathon discipline and was open to only the top 20 elite runners of each Nepalese Armed Forces unit.
Despite of busy schedules, British Gurkhas Nepal entered a team of 20 runners including spouses. The BGN team performed incredibly well considering the short notice entry and limited preparation time.
Last year many of the Brigade porters lost loved ones and homes from the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal in April. Following the earthquake the loyalty of the Brigade’s porters was unquestionable. Despite their own personal sufferings, many rallied to help the Gurkha Welfare Scheme, assisting them to visit earthquake-stricken areas and provide vital aid and equipment to those most in need.
Many of the Western Nepal porters originate from the district of Dhading and a huge number lost their homes in the village of Rigaun. The porters who are locally employed casual labourers, employed by British Gurkhas Nepal, have had a very difficult year, but British Gurkhas Pokhara provided them with their annual refresher training, reuniting the team and hopefully gearing them for easier times ahead.
The training involved trekking the foothills of the Himalayas, carrying an average of 35 Kgs in traditional ‘Dokos’ (wicker baskets used by porters to transport goods in Nepal). The porters trekked up to 3168m and along the way stopped to conduct first aid training, select and set up camp sites, and practice their cooking skills.
The Gurkha Welfare Trust, who are are doing fantastic work to help the people of Nepal recover following the earthquake, are also helping those areas in Dhading that were badly affected.
An attestation parade was held on 3 January 2016 in British Gurkhas Pokhara with the families of the successful 240 recruits invited to attend the celebration from different corners of Nepal. The sun shined down beautifully onto Pokhara for a memorable parade where Trainee Rifleman swore their Oath of Allegiance to HRH and the British Army in front of their families and loved ones.
500 recruits were called forward from regional selection (250 from both east and west respectively) in the first week of December and spent two weeks being tested to the limit with everything from language tests, medical examinations, swimming challenges, fitness tests and the legendary doko race.
The very best were selected to join the ranks of the British Gurkhas with a further a further few being selected for the Gurkha Contingent Singapore Police Force.
Lt Gen James Bashall, CBE, presided over the ceremony and inspected the newly recruited Trainee Riflemen while the recently appointed British Ambassador to Nepal, His Excellency Richard Morris also attended.
This year has been especially challenging for Nepal and for selection as a result of the Earthquake and Fuel Crisis so it was a wonderful day to celebrate. The Nepal Army Band were appointed to play music throughout the Parade. After the Parade, the 240 young men, already somewhat soldier like in appearance, shared tales of their experiences at selection with their families. Fathers looked on proud; girlfriends impressed; whilst mothers often wept with a mixture of joy and sadness as their sons embarked on their wonderful new journey.
The families know their sons are in the excellent hands of Gurkha Company Catterick and the 240 are all too aware that they owe a large amount of their success to their families, who they will always look after and keep in their hearts. These newly recruited Trainee Rifleman will now undergo nine months of Combat Infantrymen Training in Catterick to become the real Gurkhas.
Regional Selection (RS) has completed in British Gurkhas Pokhara (BGP). After the two devastating earthquakes struck Nepal the decision was made to cancel the 6-week Registration phase and the 6 week long RS phase. Thus a 9-month process had to occur from mid-November until the end of December in order to allow the young men and families of Nepal the appropriate time to recover.
Numbers of 1st attempt Potential Recruits (PRs) attending RS has been phenomenally large. The number of 1st attempt PRs entering BGP was greater in the first 3 days than numbers for both RS(W) and (E) combined last year. The queue of PRs at 0200hrs was a rank 4-wide across, extending from the BGP gate to past the taxi rank near the Gurkha Museum – a remarkable sight.
It is looking extremely positive that the quality of PR. In total we had 4,785 arrive for the British Army and 2,988 for the Gurkha Contingent Singapore Police Force (GCSPF). Central Selection has now begun with the called-forward 130 GCSPF PRs arriving on 04 Dec. They will enlist the best 80. The best 500 British Army PRs (250 from West and East respectively) will arrive in BGP over the next 2 weeks so we can select the best 236 to be enlisted. The list of the 500 called-forward to Central Selection is on the Recruiting website. Updates on Central Selection will follow shortly.