November meeting: Gurkha
The Gurkhas in the British Army
This month’s speaker was Lieutenant Colonel Frank Batten of Llanelli who spoke on the history of the Gurkhas. Coming so close to Armistice Day a special effort had been made to advertise and promote the event and it was pleasing to see such a large audience in attendance.
Lt. Col. Batten began his talk by giving a little detail on his own background. After graduating from Sandhurst in 1948, he had joined the First Battalion of the Royal Welsh, training national servicemen. He later served in Malaya, Korea, Japan,Hong Kong and Berlin where he witnessed the building of the Berlin Wall from the Brandenburg Gate. It was while in Malaya during the “emergency” he served as a Gurkha officer for three years with the Tenth Gurkha rifles. It became obvious to him immediately how capable the Gurkha soldier was. After retirement he has worked for the Gurkha Welfare Trust and is currently the Trust Chairman for Wales.
Colonel Batten then turned his focus to the Gurkhas themselves. He explained that the name Gurkha was a corruption of the word “Gorkha”, a mountainous region of the Kingdom of Nepal some sixty miles from Kathmandu. The British first came across them when the East India Company found the Gurkhas very hard opponents between 1768 and 1815 when a pact was signed allowing the Ghurkhas to fight alongside the British Army. Initially 5,000 Gurkhas formed four regiments. The first test of loyalty came during the Sepoy revolt of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, when the Gurkhas did not join the revolt but in contrast helped to put down the rebellion. They were then deployed mainly to defend the North West Frontier leading to Afghanistan.
The Gurkhas were deployed in both world wars, and indeed formed 46 battalions in Burma in 1943 fighting the Japanese. It was also recognised that the Gurkhas had reduced the death toll by at least 50% during the bloody partition of India in 1947. It was after Indian independence that the Gurkhas were given the choice of joining the Indian Army or staying with the British, most decided to stay in India but a minority formed four Gurkha regiments within the British Army.
The role of the Gurkhas in Malaya has already been mentioned however another insurgency in Borneo meant that the Sultan of Brunei invited the Ghurkhas to be based there, where they remain to this day. In more recent years the Ghurkhas have served in the Falklands in 1982 and were based in Hong Kong until it was returned to China in 1997. The Gurkhas were then based for the first time in the UK where pressure was brought to make them full members of the Army with equal pay and conditions including famously pensions. Today only two battalions remain, and their future is far from certain in the long term.
Colonel Batten finished his talk by reference to the work of the Gurkha Welfare Trust. Some £10 million needs to be raised annually in order to give all retired Gurkhas a “living wage” in Nepal and some 9,000 still receive a “welfare pension” from the Fund.
Mr Phylip Jones thanked Lieutenant Colonel Batten for a most illuminating talk.
The next meeting of the Society will be on Monday 10th December with the annual Members Night.