Brigade of Gurkhas

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Brigade of Gurkhas is the collective name which refers to all the units in the British Army that are composed of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers. The brigade, which was 3,430 strong as of 1 April 2019, [1] draws its heritage from Gurkha units that originally served in the British Indian Army prior to Indian independence, and prior to that served for the East India Company. The brigade includes infantry, engineering, signal, logistic and training and support units. They are known for their khukuri, a distinctive heavy knife with a curved blade, and have a reputation for being fierce and brave soldiers.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

Nepal A landlocked country in the Himalayas

Nepal, officially Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked country in South Asia. It is located mainly in the Himalayas, but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. With an estimated population of 26.4 million, it is 48th largest country by population and 93rd largest country by area. It borders China in the north and India in the south, east and west while Bangladesh is located within only 27 km (17 mi) of its southeastern tip and Bhutan is separated from it by the Indian state of Sikkim. Nepal has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world's ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Kathmandu is the capital and the largest city. Nepal is a multiethnic country with Nepali as the official language.

Gurkha Nepalese National Soldiers

The Gurkhas or Gorkhas with endonym Gorkhali are soldiers native to the Indian subcontinent of Nepalese nationality and ethnic Nepalis of Indian nationality recruited for the British Army, Nepalese Army, Indian Army, Gurkha Contingent Singapore, Gurkha Reserve Unit Brunei, UN peacekeeping force and war zones around the world. Historically, the terms "Gurkha" and "Gorkhali" were synonymous with "Nepali", which originates from the hill principality Gorkha Kingdom, from which the Kingdom of Nepal expanded under Prithivi Narayan Shah. The name may be traced to the medieval Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath who has a historic shrine in Gorkha. The word itself derived from "Go-Raksha", "raksha" becoming "rakha" (रखा). "Rakhawala" means "protector" and is derived from "raksha" as well.


The brigade celebrated 200 years of service in the British Army in 2015. [2] [3]


During the war in Nepal in 1814, in which the British attempted to annex Nepal into the Empire, Army officers were impressed by the tenacity of the Gurkha soldiers and encouraged them to volunteer for the East India Company. Gurkhas served as troops of the Company in the Pindaree War of 1817, in Bharatpur, Nepal in 1826, and the First and Second Sikh Wars in 1846 and 1848. During the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the Gurkha regiments remained loyal to the British, and became part of the British Indian Army on its formation. The 2nd Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) and the 60th Rifles famously defended Hindu Rao's house. [4]

Bharatpur, Nepal Metropolitan City in Province No. 3, Nepal

Bharatpur is a city in southern central Nepal with a population of 280,502. It is the fourth largest city in Nepal and the district headquarters of the Chitwan District, as well as a separate metropolitan authority.

First Anglo-Sikh War conflict

The First Anglo-Sikh War was fought between the Sikh Empire and the East India Company between 1845 and 1846. It resulted in partial subjugation of the Sikh kingdom and cession of Jammu and Kashmir as a separate princely state under British suzerainty.

Second Anglo-Sikh War conflict

The Second Anglo-Sikh War was a military conflict between the Sikh Empire and the British East India Company that took place in 1848 and 1849. It resulted in the fall of the Sikh Empire, and the annexation of the Punjab and what subsequently became the North-West Frontier Province, by the East India Company.


Gurkhas advancing with tanks to clear the Japanese from Imphal-Kohima road Imphalgurkhas.jpg
Gurkhas advancing with tanks to clear the Japanese from Imphal-Kohima road

During the Malayan Emergency in the late 1940s, Gurkhas fought as jungle soldiers as they had done in Burma. [5] The Training Depot Brigade of Gurkhas was established on 15 August 1951 at Sungai Petani, Kedah, Malaya. [6] After the conflict ended, the Gurkhas were transferred to Hong Kong, where they carried out security duties. [6] The troops patrolled the border checking for illegal immigrants entering the territory, most crucially during the turbulence of the Cultural Revolution. They were deployed to contain crowds during the Star Ferry riots of 1966. After Indian independence and partition in 1947, under the Tripartite Agreement, six Gurkha regiments joined the post-independence Indian Army. Four Gurkha regiments, the 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 10th Gurkha Rifles, joined the British Army on 1 January 1948. [7] The 1st/2nd Gurkha Rifles was deployed to Brunei at the outbreak of the Brunei Revolt in 1962. [8] In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and the 10th Gurkha Rifles was sent to defend the British sovereign base area of Dhekelia. [9] On 1 July 1994 the four rifle regiments were merged into one, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, and the three corps regiments (the Gurkha Military Police having been disbanded in 1965) were reduced to squadron strength. On 1 July 1997, the British government handed Hong Kong over to the People's Republic of China, which led to the elimination of the local British garrison. Gurkha HQ and recruit training were moved to the UK. [6] The Royal Gurkha Rifles took part in operations in Kosovo in 1999, in UN peacekeeping operations in East Timor in 2000 and in Sierra Leone later that year. [10]

Malayan Emergency guerrilla war from 1948 to 1960

The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought in pre- and post-independence Federation of Malaya, from 1948 until 1960. The belligerents were the Commonwealth armed forces against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP).

Sungai Petani Town in Kedah, Malaysia

Sungai Petani is a town in Kuala Muda District, Kedah, Malaysia. Sungai Petani is Kedah's largest town and is located about 55 km south of Alor Setar, the capital of Kedah, and 33 km northeast of George Town, the capital city of the neighbouring state of Penang.

Kedah State of Malaysia

Kedah, also known by its honorific Darul Aman or "Abode of Safety", is a state of Malaysia, located in the northwestern part of Peninsular Malaysia. The state covers a total area of over 9,000 km², and it consists of the mainland and the Langkawi islands. The mainland has a relatively flat terrain, which is used to grow rice, while Langkawi is an archipelago, most of which are uninhabited islands.

Gurkhas undergoing an urban warfare exercise in the United States. Note the kukri on the webbing of the nearest soldier. Gurkhas exercise DM-SD-98-00170.jpg
Gurkhas undergoing an urban warfare exercise in the United States. Note the kukri on the webbing of the nearest soldier.

In 2007 the Brigade of Gurkhas announced that women were allowed to join. [11] Like their British counterparts, Gurkha women are eligible to join the Engineers, Logistics Corps, Signals and the brigade band, although not infantry units. [12] In September 2008 the High Court in London ruled that the British Government must issue clear guidance on the criteria against which Gurkhas may be considered for settlement rights in the UK. On 21 May 2009, and following a lengthy campaign by Gurkha veterans, the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced that all Gurkha veterans who had served four years or more in the British Army before 1997 would be allowed to settle in Britain. [13]

Gurkha Justice Campaign

The Gurkha Justice Campaign was a campaign group in the United Kingdom fighting for the rights of the Gurkhas.

Home Secretary United Kingdom government cabinet minister

Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, normally referred to as the Home Secretary, is a senior official as one of the Great Offices of State within Her Majesty's Government and head of the Home Office. It is a British Cabinet level position.

Jacqui Smith British politician

Jacqueline Jill Smith is a British Labour politician. She was the Member of Parliament for Redditch from 1997 until 2010, the first female Home Secretary and the third woman to hold one of the Great Offices of State, after Margaret Thatcher and Margaret Beckett.

British Gurkha units 1947–1994

Former units included: [7]

2nd King Edward VIIs Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) former rifle regiment of the British Indian and British Army

The 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles was a rifle regiment of the British Indian Army before being transferred to the British Army on India's independence in 1947. It consisted of Gurkha soldiers from Nepal. The 4th Battalion joined the Indian Army as the 5th Battalion, 8th Gorkha Rifles, where it exists to this day. As part of the British Army, the regiment served in Malaya, Hong Kong and Brunei until 1994 when it was amalgamated with the other three British Army Gurkha regiments to form the Royal Gurkha Rifles. It is the only Gurkha regiment which did not have a khukuri on its cap badge.

The 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles was a rifle regiment of the British Indian Army comprising Gurkha soldiers of Nepalese origin, before being transferred to the British Army following India's independence. Originally raised in 1817 as part of the army of the British East India Company, the regiment has been known by a number of names throughout its history. Initially the unit did not recruit from the Gurkhas, although after being transferred to the British Indian Army following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, it became a purely Gurkha regiment, in due course with its regimental headquarters at Abbottabad in the North West Frontier Province of British India. After 1947 the regiment was one of only four Gurkha regiments to be transferred to the British Army and this continued up until 1994, when it was amalgamated with other Gurkha regiments to form the Royal Gurkha Rifles. Over the course of its 177-year history, the regiment was awarded 25 battle honours, although prior to World War I it had only been awarded one and no battle honours were awarded to it after World War II.

7th Duke of Edinburghs Own Gurkha Rifles

The 7th Gurkha Rifles was a rifle regiment of the British Indian Army comprising Gurkha soldiers of Nepalese origin, before being transferred to the British Army, following India's independence in 1947 and after 1959 designated as the 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles


Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas performing in France, 2014. Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas.jpg
Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas performing in France, 2014.

Over 2,000 Gurkhas are recruited by the British Army for the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force. Approximately 2,000 Gurkhas serve a similar role in the Gurkha Reserve Unit in Brunei. [14] In addition to the British Army, Gurkhas are also recruited by the Indian Army (approximately 100,000 in 44 battalions plus 25 battalions of Assam Rifles), as part of the tripartite agreement that was signed at the time of India's independence. This is further documented in a list of Gurkha regiments serving under the Indian Army. [15]

Current units of the Brigade of Gurkhas include: [16]

In 2018, the UK Government announced that it intended to expand the brigade by more than 800 posts, with the Queen's Gurkha Engineers receiving an additional squadron, while the Queen’s Gurkha Signals and the Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment will receive two new squadrons. Additionally, approximately 300 new posts within the Royal Gurkha Rifles will be created forming a new battalion planned for the Specialist Infantry role. [20] [21] For the first time, women will be allowed to join units in the brigade. [22]

Recruitment and basic training

The selection process for the Gurkhas is very demanding: only 230 trainee riflemen are recruited each year out of about 17,000 applicants in the British army. [23] Gurkhas training lasts for 36 weeks and addresses a range of areas such as the Brigade ethos, language training, cultural training, career management and trade selection, as well as the same 26-week Combat Infantryman's Course that the Line Infantry receive. This enables the trained Gurkha soldiers to fulfill their roles on operations and continue the traditions of their forefathers. [24]


Brigade HQ is based at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Surrey. The two battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles are formed as light role infantry; they are not equipped with either armoured or wheeled vehicles. [25] The Second Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles is based at the British garrison in Brunei as part of Britain's commitment to maintaining a military presence in SE Asia. [26] The First Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles is based at Shorncliffe Army Camp, near Folkestone in Kent as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, and is available for deployment to most areas in Europe and Africa.

Commemoration of service

London memorial

A monument to the Gurkha Soldier near the Ministry of Defence in London Gurkha Soldier Monument, London - April 2008.jpg
A monument to the Gurkha Soldier near the Ministry of Defence in London

The British memorial to the Gurkhas was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 December 1997. The inscription on the monument is a quotation from Sir Ralph Turner, a former officer in the 3rd Gurkha Rifles.

200 years of service

A series of events took place in 2015 to mark 200 years of service by the Gurkhas in the British Army including a march past Buckingham Palace. [27] [28] [29]


Under international law, according to Protocol 1 Additions to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Gurkhas serving as regular uniformed soldiers are not mercenaries. [30] According to Cabinet Office official histories (Official History of the Falkland Islands, Sir Lawrence Freedman), Sir John Nott, as Secretary of State for Defence, expressed the British Government's concern that the Gurkhas could not be sent with the task force to recapture the Falkland Islands because it might upset the non-aligned members of the fragile coalition of support that the British had built in the United Nations. The then-Chief of Defence Staff Sir Edwin Bramall, a former officer in the 2nd Gurkhas like Nott, said that the Gurkhas were needed for sound military reasons (as a constituent part of 5th Infantry Brigade) and if they were not deployed then there would always be a political reason not to deploy Gurkhas in future conflicts. So he requested that Nott argue the case in Government for deploying them against the advice of the Foreign Office. Nott agreed to do so, commenting that the Gurkhas "would be mortified if we spoilt their chances [of going]". [31]


See also

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Further reading