Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

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.


New Life Member

In its thirty years of existence the Society has only seen fit to appoint a handful of life members to mark their contribution to its work. In a recent committee meeting it was felt that Mrs Josie Duke met all the criteria of those who deserved the status of life member. Josie has served the committee for many years and most of all was a highly successful transport officer, the siege perilous of all duties in chasing up members to come on our trips and most of all getting them to pay on time.

Normally a life member is appointed in the AGM, however, it was felt that this had been forgotten at this year’s meeting and it was therefore decided to have an extraordinary AGM  minute at our monthly meeting in November. The tricky problem of passing the minute when Mrs Duke was in attendance was addressed by proposing to take her into the kitchen to discuss mulled wine recipes while the deed was done. In the manner of a Brian Rix farce matters things did not proceed smoothly, since although the posse of members was in the kitchen the one missing member of the "conclave" was Mrs Duke sitting innocently in the front row.

Josie and Jean Thomas on a recent visit to Newport Transporter Bridge

Mr Trefor Jones, in hushed tones, explained to the large audience what they had to do when he saw that Mrs Duke was sitting directly in front of him. It was immediately moved that a vote was totally unnecessary and Julie Hicks presented our new life member with a basket of flowers.