A Journey through Nepal The Unforgotten Tom Pratt
Over four weeks two photographers named Tom Pratt and Oliver Amphlett travelled through Nepal in search of retired Gurkhas and welfare pensioners who are supported by both the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) and Gurkha Welfare Scheme (GWS) . As well as delivering pensions to these retired soldiers, the charities are also involved in assisting with water projects and other humanitarian aid to these very remote and primitive rural communities. This project was made in partnership with both the GWT and GWS. Without their enormous assistance and support our trip would never have happened. We thank both of these organisations as well as all those we met during our stay for all the help, encouragement and warm hospitality we received. A special thank you must go to J.P. Cross for his help also. This project hopes to offer the reader a glimpse of a few of these unforgotten heroes and their habitat, as well as touch upon the work of the Gurkha charities and all they do for their soldiers. Any funds that might be raised from sales of this book will be donated to the regimentâ€™s charity.
Preface J.P Cross Going on pension is like being detribalised, the longer a man serves the harder it is when he leaves to adjust to new circumstances, where there is a slacker and more informal world, less bound by what the army strongly inculcates, time, how spent and for appointments – when, in Nepal, the only time that really matters is cosmic. To understand how a military Gurkha finds himself on pension it is worthwhile to consider what sort of life he led before he joined up and when he was in service. Without putting too fine a point on it, life in Nepal is, compared with Western standards, maladroit and inefficient. Apart from the ever-present reality of a subcutaneous ‘cold war’ of the residual casts system, where our traditional martial classes are in the bottom half, there are only three methods of enhancement, source, force and course. The first is ‘who you know’, the second is what you can buy and the third is ‘what you can do’. For the first, say, one hundred and eighty years of military Gurkhas (the East India Company’s army, 1815-1858, the pre-partition Indian Army, 1858-1947, and the British Army, I January 1948 to date, the only honourable employment for a hill man was soldiering. Once he had joined, any military ‘maladroitness and inefficiency’ encountered was so little compared with what had been his norm, it was never seen as profligate
As regards becoming a soldier, I hope it will not be seen as out of place to recall what actually recruiting men entailed. Certainly the five and a half years I was engaged in that activity, was a fitting end to just short of 38 years soldiering in Asia, all less four of them with Gurkhas. It soon became clear that most young Gurkha aspirants do not believe a British officer can know more about Nepalis than they themselves know. This trait is offset by the trust a hill man will place in a foreigner, especially one not enmeshed in an extended family web, that he will not place in another Nepali. A ‘good question’ is what manner of man is required for service in the British Army? The Tripartite Agreement allowing recruiting to take place stipulates recruitment is open to ‘all martial classes’. As far as I was concerned that meant I had to continue with more of the same, the type of men who had been my comrades in arms for more than thirty-two years. In fact not all members of the martial classes are necessarily suitable for enlistment. One of the common and erroneous beliefs is that only the sons of present or one-time members of the British Army are accepted or, indeed, the type of man that is needed: alas, very often the reverse is true, despite what the proud parent may insist to the contrary. This is because many a lad, brought up away from Nepal in his formative years, may turn out to be an excellent technician because he has enjoyed a high standard of education in the army schools but he very often loses the quintessential requirement of a Gurkha soldier. This is very difficult to define but is blazingly obvious when seen. What, in effect happens, is that he loses a dimension of a traditional Hill Gurkha that lessens his suitability for high standard army service. Nevertheless, if all points and aspects between two potential recruits are equal, the rule I followed was that the one who was the son of a British Army man was selected.
However, it would be wrong to say that only those brought up in sight of the eternal snows are the required material. Alas, those who live along any of the tourist trails often pick up many undesirable traits even if they have similar potential to those whose parents have moved to an area in the Tarai where back-breaking work cultivating virgin soil has enhanced the ancient virtues of hard work and family discipline, when no snowy mountains can be seen. In any event, even by the time I was doing my first recruiting in 1977, Nepal had started to change irrevocably. The towns were filling up and I had yet to realise many of the implications of what it meant that many hill men had not adapted to town life nor did the young know how to while away idle hours. After all, it was but a short time in the history of development that a sheep drover had become a Jeep driver. But on to the question of what makes a good soldier; what does a DRO look for? As I saw them then, and still see them now, the basic qualities of a good soldier consist of an indeterminate mix of self-confidence, determination, motivation, correct temperament, character, self-discipline and appearance. Added to that was my personal, subjective ‘gut feeling’ of the man as, after spending so many years with Gurkhas, I had acquired a ‘diagnostic fluency’ in my dealings with them, almost always successfully. I had to try and assess whether a man was ‘deep’ or ‘shallow’, genuine or a bluffer, a tight-corner man or unreliable. Personal knowledge of each man being out of the question, a face-to-face interview was probably as good a way as any to judge what manner of man was the aspirant. I well remember the very first interview I undertook when there were six hundred and sixty young men to be processed. I felt overwhelmed at the task; at eighty interviews a day, weekends included, it was a formidable proposition, lasting for more than eight days. At ten minutes each, without any pauses for meals or a break, meant more than thirteen hours a day and, of course, having to draw out some of the more diffident men meant that, in fact, interviews could be longer than ten minutes.
To repeat myself six hundred and sixty times over a nine-day period and remain sane was a mental task of considerable magnitude, yet without talking to each man myself meant that the overall basic standard could not be properly adjudged. I had to decide which questions over a ten-minute period would give a representative picture of the man and allow him to show his true mettle, so that I could make the allimportant decisions of whom to accept and whom to reject.
It was a cold day when my first-ever man to be interviewed came into my office. He was a young Gurung, full of confidence, but shivering. He looked around then came up to me and said, “Cousin, this is a big room for one man.” I realised that to ‘pull rank’ would be counter-productive as the young man was being entirely natural and, with such a friendly remark, to have snubbed him would have merely meant that he would have retired into his shell and, apart from it being difficult to draw him out again, would not have given me such a good idea of his potential. “You’re cold,” I said. “Warm your hands by this fire for a moment while I sort out my paperwork.” He went over to the small electric fire, held out his hands and grinned. On the spur of the moment I asked him a Nepalese riddle: “Which is better, fire or water?” Another impish grin, “Right now, it is fire, but I’ve known times when it was water.”
And then an idea struck me – I suppose eggheads would call it lateral thinking – and I asked him two more questions that had no fixed answer as I explored the possibilities of this approach: “Which do you value more, the eyes or the mouth?” and was thrilled when he gave the reason for ‘eyes’ being the more useful: “You have to keep a watch out for your enemies, even when you are eating.” “Which do you value more, the ears or the nose?” ‘The ears’ had it because “a person can always breathe through the mouth but one can’t wear spectacles if there are no ears to fasten them on to.”
With a thrill I realised that the lad was thinking out his answers, was reacting constructively to an
unexpected situation and was using his brain. I knew I was on the right track and had to think out less ludicrous questions. Over the next few hours I improved and perfected a set of questions about farming, making baskets, schooling, social pressures, Dame Fortune, religion, mostly in rhyming couplets, using no erudite, so unknown, words. This method proved most effective as it allowed me an insight as to a candidate’s mental process, his personality and his potential; it kept the man at ease because he was intrigued, interested and willing to show off his knowledge. Relations never became strained and, as I learnt much later, the interview acted as a bond between us, whether the potential recruit was successful or not – and it had the additional merit of keeping me alert all day! I found another interesting and significant factor from this type of interview. There was an inverse ratio between a candidate being nearer to Class 10 when a student sat the all-important School Leaving Certificate and his ability to think laterally. It created an impression that never left them, dimmed though it may have become in time. I put this down partly to the rote system of learning that requires only fixed answers to be given in every case, so depriving a student of any ability for original thinking, and partly to the low standard of teaching to be found in many of the poorer rural districts. Despite a state-run education system, there seems, sadly, to be little wisdom attached to it, especially when work in primary schools, where a high calibre of teacher is required, does not attract such men. I was amazed when I found three Pokhara-based lads I took as porters on a trek did not know that ‘that white stuff on the mountains, called snow’, was cold and wet!
(At the other end of the academic spectrum slavish adherence to the rote system results in an inability to take what might appear simple decisions. The British Government gave the relevant authority some money to have a First Aid handbook for use in remoter areas. Five years later nothing had been produced. And why?
The idea of printing anything in the ‘degraded’ Nepali that is understood at village level was anathema to those in whose hands the decision to publish lay because that was not the language normally used in government publications. Not quite the same, I am told that drafters of laws use a language that is vague enough for more than one interpretation of the text to be made. The rote system can be held responsible for its adherents seldom having any original ideas. It was during these interviews that certain characteristics were shown. For instance, if there was a lack of selfconfidence I detected it by the continual asking for the last statement to be repeated, ‘echoing’ as it is known; the inability to look the questioner in the eye; inconsistency of answer; shallow, unthinking ‘parrot-like’ replies designed to please rather than convey the real opinion of the speaker – I blame the unadulterated rote system of education for this failing. All these told me that that person was not who was wanted. The ‘chemistry’ was not correct. Ignorance is excusable: stupidity is not. Without self-confidence a man is likely to be a disadvantage if not a danger to himself and to others, possibly fatally so, when the going gets really tough. Other facets of a good soldier appeared in other tests. Determination; it was not easy for the aspirant to do all that was asked in the physical tests but border-line cases showed by the amount of effort put into the ‘last few yards of the mile’. This showed whether the man was or was not likely to persevere when faced with tough situations when it will not be the ‘last few yards of the mile’ but the ‘last few yards’ leading up to an enemy position.
Motivation was hard to fathom but a man with an obsession for money to the extent of having an unbalanced approach to it is not what is wanted either. That having been said, financial pressure to join is intense and ompetition fierce. During my time the ratio of success to lack of it was one in four hundred aspirants. I believe that six people benefit from the enlistment of one man. My putative figures, therefore, for 2,148 successful men meant c857,052
were unsuccessful and so 5,142,312 people ‘went without’. No wonder the darker, not lighter, side of the hill men’s character came to the fore when it did. Back to the point of the disbelief that I, an Englishman, could know enough or more about Nepali humanity, certainly in an army context, than the potential recruit did: a man who has not been brought up under hard conditions is more likely to crack when, on active service, he finds himself cold, tired, wet, hungry, afraid, out-numbered by the enemy and far from base. Will he give of his best although the audience is of the smallest? As a person who has himself experience of all these in full measure, and seen men crack under the strain, I knew what to look for, albeit an exact or even adequate description is very difficult. My definition of ‘high morale’ is ‘the ability and willingness to give of the best when the audience is of the smallest’.
A fair question is what makes a British officer a judge of all these characteristics in a Nepali? As a young officer on joining his battalion he will set out to learn as much as he can about all aspects of his men in the knowledge that he is ignorant. Because of an initial language difficulty he realises the limitations of his knowledge whereas an officer in a British battalion, or any indigenous officer of any indigenous army, takes his knowledge for granted and so does not realise the limitations of his ignorance. ‘The spectator sees more of the game than does the referee’ gives another clue: many years serving with Gurkhas gives the British officer as good a background as any, with experience playing a very great part. Of course mistakes are made during initial assessment and, even when, in the great majority of cases mistakes are not made, men change as they develop. However, it must never be forgotten that the DRO is not asked to spot future Gurkha Majors. His task is to see if a potential recruit is of the required calibre who, if enlisted, will not sully the fair names of Nepal and the British Army, and what his potential is amongst his peers.
So what is success in recruiting? There are two sides to this: one, that the regiment to which a man goes will benefit by his presence; the other, that, when the DRO meets a rejected man or his family in the hills, he is greeted as an individual who puts service before popularity, who is completely fair, unbiased and above personal pettiness.
I did any amount of jobs in my rising-forty years’ army service, difficult, unusual and challenging but, on reflection, probably the hardest one of all was as DRO – also one of the most rewarding. I think this also shows up the uniqueness of the relationship between the two kingdoms that has intrigued, puzzled and fascinated many, and infuriated a few, for many years. What is it that the British, their army and its tradition, its system and its mystique, do to a Nepali that realises such potential for military excellence that the world admires, fears and regards the ‘Gurkha’ so highly even if, such is the ignorance of many, often without realising that there is a connection with ‘Nepal’.
There is, of course, no one answer, no one reason, no one unsolved mystery. Rather there is an amalgam, a syndrome, a catalyst of many factors: as the British officer sees him – or would it be more correct to say that the eulogistic regimental histories that the young and inexperienced British officer reads tell him? The Gurkha embodies so much that is good that he is an instant attraction. In the Gurkha, simple hill man or honoured veteran, the British somehow convince themselves that they see all they admire on the moral high ground of a military man: uncomplicated simplicity, basic honesty, unstinted devotion, strict self- and corporate discipline, sincere trust, genuine affection, sustained dedication, outstanding loyalty, heroic bravery, unquestioning obedience, unbelievable smartness and unequalled stamina, both mental and physical – so many good attributes that a myth has grown up which feeds on itself to such an extent that is dissolves into frustration, recrimination and disenchantment when either human frailties pertain or when realities of the real world prove too heavy. But now he has the prospect of status at home and a repayment of debts. He is a ‘man’, in the only honourable profession normally open to him.
For the first time in his life he finds himself in a position where ‘the man’ – his training, his welfare, his comfort, his problems, his very livelihood – is the concern of a dedicated band of highly motivated, trained and talented individuals, whose cause is service not self-interest, and whose bedrock of faith is trust. He finds himself in a traditional but forward-looking society with a stricter code of conduct than he has ever known before, where patrimony, partiality and the familiarity that breeds contempt or provides for subtler social pressures are all absent, despite what a disillusioned, small, but sadly vociferous minority of those ‘who know best’ like to believe to the contrary and who have a self-inspired, semi-divine right of selective reporting to suit their personal failures. It is these ‘invincibly ignorant’ people who are the spreaders of pernicious, unfounded and often malicious rumours that can cause so much damage. As so aptly put, ‘a lie is half way round the world before truth gets its boots on’.
His British officers recognise that all men in the British Army are rational, conscious individuals with any amount of potential and are determined to develop each man as much as circumstances permit. And the man responds. He is now someone in his own right and his opportunities for advancement depend on him, on his own showing, his own ability, his own performance and not on the whim of another: this is heady wine.
Not every society, though, can fully please everybody all the time. A high standard brings its own penalties of expectation. But the strength of the Brigade of Gurkhas, indeed of all military Gurkhas since 1815, lies in the warp and weft of its fashioning, the steady and unspectacular application of the dull, uninspiring but important tasks done properly, without which the foundations for successful action in an emergency would not be strong enough to bear the burden or the consequences. That the Gurkha has stood the test of time is self-evident; that he will continue thus is a tenet of British faith. Although it is wrong, stupid and unrealistic to consider all Gurkhas ‘supermen’, ‘heroes’, ‘ten feet tall’, there can be no
doubt that there is an unusual bond of empathy between the British and the Nepalis, showing mostly in the Brigade of Gurkhas, which heightens their appeal and tends to hide mistakes. Likewise, just as the Gurkha’s first impression of British officers’ integrity, impartiality and cleverness will probably be tempered by reality, close contact and experience as the years pass, here too, the basic core trust is very seldom lost. Gurkhas are intensely human people, with strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. The Gurkha’s strengths are the ones the British Army needs and his weaknesses not so intrusive to be an encumbrance or a liability. I am sure that the extraordinarily successful results of the Gurkha presence in the British Army stem from his strengths and weaknesses being nicely balanced with the British soldier’s weaknesses and strengths. The Gurkha soldier and his British counterpart complement one another to an amazing degree.
So what is the final verdict on this undoubtedly unique relationship as British and Gurkha serve side by side? The Gurkha sees the British, and all that a military life with them means, as the one traditional way of bettering himself in a fair and friendly climate where merit counts and trust is paramount: and the British see the Gurkha as epitomising and providing the type of soldier they need, with the Hat Felt Gurkha seldom slipping from its correct angle and with sufficient ‘spit and polish’ in peacetime and enough camouflage in war to cover what warts there are. This was certainly true during my time. Equally true is it that if the British Army Gurkhas were without the reputation and standing in matters military they have, and had not the friends they have, then, in the harsh economic climate since the early 1980s in Britain, a governmental flick of the fingers, followed by a stroke of the ministerial pen, would have disbanded it to allow out-ofwork Britons to take their place.
Maybe the fact that this has not happened is the accolade of acceptability. And yet…As a background, I need to
mention the Tripartite Agreement that was signed between Nepal, India and Great Britain during the chaotic hot weather of 1947. By chaotic I really mean chaotic: my battalion, 1/1 Gurkha Rifles, serving on the North-West Frontier, had a signal about our future from GHQ Delhi, sent by the highest priority that took six weeks to arrive. Literally the traditional runner with a cleft stick would have been quicker.
It has to be remembered that, in those days, hardly anyone knew anything about Nepal as it was, to all purposes, a closed country. Only two British men were allowed to visit Kathmandu every year, and that was by invitation of the Maharaja. My friend and I, visiting in February 1947, worked out we were probably the 126th and 127th such visitors in the past 153 years.
The prime minister of Nepal, the maharaja, insisted that all Nepalese citizens who joined the British Army had to return to Nepal and be incorporated in Nepalese society at the end of their service. This was because so many trained and educated Gurkhas decided not to go back to Nepal but to settle in India after the First World War, such would not be allowed again. And the pension of a man retiring in Nepal would equate with the Indian equivalent, except for the difference in Indian Cost of Living Allowance and the Nepalese Consumer Price Index. Much later, when the central government of India and some state governments allowed Indian ex-soldiers reduced payments for travel, education, canteen services and medical arrangements, the monetary value of those were added to the British Army Gurkhas’ pensions – but not to the retired Indian Army Gorkhas’. But the dreaded ‘differential’ had raised its ugly head long before, ever since Gurkhas had started serving alongside British troops. ‘Same job, same pay: same job, same pension,’ an easy rallying call and one easily misunderstood by those not interested in the historical background: the British Treasury may act like a condom on the Prick of Military Progress.
The first prime minister of independent India, Pandit Nehru, stipulated that no British Army Gurkha would get any more basic pay and pension than any Indian Army Gorkha, and Britain, bled white from the war, was only too glad to go along with an inexpensive source of marvellous material. Had there been any objection to those terms and conditions of service, then there would have been no cross country travel arrangements allowed, ergo no British Gurkhas.
In 1951 questions about forbidding passage across India to â€˜colonial Britain using Nepalese mercenariesâ€™ were asked in the Lok Sabha. Pandit Nehru answered that he fully accepted it was wrong to continue to allow it but, until conditions in the Hills of Nepal were up to the standard of those in the British Army, he would not insist on stopping recruitment. Heâ€™d keep an eye on it.
During the first ten years of British Gurkha service, the Malayan Emergency saw seven of the eight Gurkha battalions operating. Even with local overseas allowances, their pay was less than that of their British counterparts even though many thought that effort on both sides was not commensurate; likewise in Hong Kong during the spill-over because of the Cultural Revolution and also in Borneo during Indonesian Confrontation. After the 1996 pullout from Hong Kong when all Gurkha units, less a small garrison in Brunei, were posted to Britain, the problem of ex-servicemen was amplified when Gurkhas, whose pensions were designed for Nepalese conditions, volunteered to go to Britain. But this magnificent book is not about that aspect of ex-servicemen Gurkhas: it is about those who have decided to remain in the Land of their Birth: they are getting older and older while conditions are changing faster and ever faster.
“The name Gurkha is justly famed throughout the World for the soldierly qualities of the men that bear it. Famed for their endurance, famed for their discipline, famed above all for their courage in battle and their deadly use of the kukri in combat at close quarters. And yet, that is only half the story, for their hard existence has also given the hill men of Nepal self– reliance, keen powers of observation allied with cunning, and an amazing tenacity and single-mindedness of purpose”.
J.P Cross ‘The Fame of the Name’
This documentary was made in partnership with the Gurkha welfare Trust (GWT) and Gurkha Welfare Scheme (GWS), who without, none of this would be possible. Over 4 weeks, 2 photographers named Oliver Amphlett and Tom Pratt journey through central Nepal to find the unforgotten Welfare Pensioners (WPâ€™s) that are supported by the charity along with water projects and humanitarian aid that the Trust also provides help for in communities that are home to most of these pensioners. This book hopes to inspire the cause that they GWT stand for and help raise money for these unforgotten heroes.
Rifleman Tilbahadur Thapa was enlisted into the 2/2nd Gurkha Rifles in 1942 at Gorakhpur and having served for 5 years he was discharged in 1947 at Deharadun. Soon after being discharged he returned to his village to continue life as a farmer. Tilbahadur Thapa lives alone and relies heavily upon the support of his daughter and his son in lawâ€™s wellbeing. The very poor condition of the arable land means that very few crops can be harvested each year, with only 3-4 months worth of grain being produced.With no electricity, no local market and very poor water supply and road access, Tilbahadur Thapa lives in hardship and is fully dependant on his welfare pension. His right eye has long been completely sightless and is now close to being blind. His mobility and mental health are also poor. Apart from being partially blind, his only other long-term health defect is high blood pressure, for which he takes no medicine. His wife, who was killed 16 years ago in a mudslide, did the majority of the house work while he farmed, but since then he has had to try cope by himself which has proved very hard. He is 91 years old.
Rfn Tilbahadur Thapa
Nepalese mountain folk do not celebrate your birthday, meaning everyoneâ€™s date of birth is the 1st January of the year in which they were born. They also belive that in changing your name protects your soul from the devil, and only under special circumstances do they tell anyone apart from their closest friends and family what their real name is. Because of this it is hard to find them and put them back on the pension, there are no real addresses here and only people who live near you know where they live.
Karnabahadur Thapa was enlisted into the 6th Gurkha Rifles in 1940 after rigorous recruitment training in Abbatobad. He saw feirce fighting in Burma with heavy casualties on both sides. After 7 years of service Karnabahadur was discharged in 1947 due to the demobilization of the Indian Army. His wife, Hiramati Uchhai Thapa sadly passed away in 2012, leaving him a widower. Together the couple had eight children, four sons and four daughters, all of whom are married and live separately with their own families. For care and support the veteran lives with his youngest sonâ€™s family (inc. daughter-in-law and their two sons). The youngest son works in Qatar to offer financial support to his father and immediate family. Karnabahadur therefore does not own any of his own property or land. Whatever he did have has been distributed equally amongst his sons. His pension is still his primary source of income and has continued to sustain his family over the years. hissocial conditions are barely satisfactory. He has no mental health issues, however he does suffer from hypertension. His eyesight is poor, partly deaf and finds walking very difficult without support. When traveling to the patrol base to collect his pension he requires assistance due to his limited mobility.
Rifleman Dilaram Thapa was enlisted at Kunraghart in January 1948 and after 11 months of training was posted to 2/6th Gurkha Rifles. However, during his early career he suffered severe loss of hearing in his right ear due to ongoing exposure to gunshots and explosions. This consequently led to a discharge on a medical pension. After one year his pension was ceased and only 6 years ago was he found and put back on benefit. Dilaram is married to Khagi (65) but have no children. During our short visit we met his distant family who are clearly there to support him if needs be. They share a thatched mud-stone house with a small annex and a barn for their livestock, which includes 4 goats, a buffalo and 2 bullocks. There is roughly one acre of arable land suitable for the growth of maize and millet. These resources sustain them for about 5 months so they rely heavily on the pension given to Dilaram for their ongoing welfare. He gets 35 US dollars to suport him and his family per month. From his appearance it is clear he is still moderately healthy for his age and still retains all of his faculties bar his hearing, which as stated above, was lost during his service in the army. He is mobile, however the four-day round trip to retrieve his pension requires him to make three overnight stops and is obviously becoming very challenging to his overall physical health.
Rfn Dilaram Thapa
Rifleman Bhimbahdur Rana was enlisted into the 4/5th Gurkha Rifles in 1940 at Gorakhpur and having served for 7 years he was finally discharged at Abbottabad due to the demobilization of the Indian Army in 1947. The 92 year old ex-servicemen is a widower and lives completely on his own. He has four daughters, all of them married and living independently with their own families. The majority of his care continues to come from his brotherâ€™s grandson who has been caring for him for several years. However, his four daughters do make regular trips to visit their father. His only possession seems to be his small mudstone and tin-roofed house, with no land or any livestock. There is no other source of income and he is 100% reliant on his welfare pension. All other social conditions are adequate apart from his means of communication technology, of which he has none. Rfn Bhimbahadur Rana is physically weak due to old age. His mental heath is still sound, however it is clear his eyesight, hearing and mobility are poor. He has long since suffered from respiratory problems, with asthma causing ongoing issues. He requires assistance to visit the local patrol base, Tansen, to collect his pension and to check up with the GWS doctor.
Rfn Bhimbahadur Rana
Rifleman Himbahadur Thapa was enlisted into the 1/2nd Gurkha Rifles in 1949 at Pakilhawa and having served for 5 years during the Malayan Emergency against the Communist terrorists was discharged in 1954 in Singapore. Himbahadur (now 82) has a son and two daughters who are all married and live independently. We did not meet his wife, although we believe she is still alive and well. At present he lives with his only son Mukti Ram Thapa, along with 5 grandchildren. He lives in a medium-sized mudstone house with a tin roof on a hillside. Water supply and accessibility to his home are good. His family is sustained for roughly 4 monthsof the year on the cereals that are cultivated from the small patches of land on the property. These crops mainly consist of corn, millet and a few vegetables. It was also clear that the family kept a few livestock including two oxen, a buffalo, pigs and goats. Distance between the WPâ€™s home and the AWC is more than a dayâ€™s travel. It was clear upon meeting Rfn Himbahadur Thapa that he has no major or long-term health issues apart from being physically week obviously due to old age. His mental heath, hearing and vision are all of a good standard. However, his mobility is limited to the aid of a walking stick. Perhaps the most fascinating piece of information we learnt about H. Thapa is that during his service neither(he nor his family could remember where exactly) he was shot through the back of his left knee by a Chinese soldier. Since the injury, he has lived without a kneecap and hence the permanent use of a walking stick is required.
Rfn Himbahadur Thapa
Rifleman Tahalsing Rana was enlisted into the 2/8th Gurkha Rifles in 1940 at Gorakhpur and was discharged after 6 years of service in Silong due to the demobilization of the Indian Army in 1946. The widower pensioner has two children (a daughter and a son) and owns a relatively large two-story mudstone house with a tin roof. There is also a large loft area used for storing the crops (mainly corn and millet) harvested from the 7 ropani of dry arable land in the hilly area of Palpa. Lack of good quality soil and irrigation means the crops harvested will last his extensive family for only 5-6 months. He shares his home with his sonâ€™s family. His son has two wives with whom he has seven children and of those children, four of them are now married themselves and living independently. At present the number of family members living in the house is approximately 8. His son is an Indian Army pensioner himself, however due to the large domestic burden he is hardly managing to cater for his familyâ€™s needs through his own means. Therefore, Tahalsing has no other means of financial support other than his welfare pension. All other social conditions are of a good standard. Apart from the telltale signs of old age, Tahalsing is still active and mobile (occasionally with the aid of a walking stick). At present he is still capable of the several hours walk to the Area Welfare Centre Butwal.
Rifleman Tahalsing Rana
Rifleman Dewansing Gurung was enlisted into the 3rd Gurkha Rifles at Gorakpur on the 6th November 1943. After seeing much conflict and heavy fighting during WW2 Rfn Dewansing was discharged on the 28th January 1946 in Dehradun due to the demobilization on the Indian Army. The ex-serviceman and his late wife Gajmati â€“ who passed away a number of years ago - have one son. Their son is married and he has three sons of his own. Before the death of his wife, the couple were living independently with his wifeâ€™s parents in the village of Taksar. Since then he has moved closer to his son in Dandaswanar, which enables him to receive constant support and he is well cared for by his immediate family. He has no house of his own but lives in his brotherâ€™s house whose family are settled in Pokhara and the UK. There is a small amount of farmland situated on the hillside used for the production of corn and millet but the harvest barely supports his family for more than 3-4 months of the year. We also observed a few domestic animals including a buffalo and a few goats. There is a market close by and the house has good access to water and electricity. Although the distance to the AWC is 6 hours on foot, the terrain proves difficult for transport to reach the village, especialy at the age of 88. During our visit it was clear that this WW2 veteran is physically very weak and his other faculties are in poor condition. Although the telltale signs of old age are clear, he seemed mentally healthy and does not suffer from any major health defects.
Rfn Dewansing Gurung
Naik Ramprasad Gurung was inlisted into the British Army (3/5th Gurkha Rifles) at Gorakhpur, India on 28th September 1940 and received his recruitment training at Abbotabad and Rawalpinidi (now Pakistan). He fought against the Japanese at Manipur and Imphal and along the Manipur-Nagaland boarder in 1944. He remembers the conflict well, telling us of how they came under heavy fire for 3 to 4 days at a time and going without rations for 48 hours time and time again. During the conflict he was hit by a Japanese bullet in his right leg and subsequently hospitalized for 29 days. He also saw action in Malaya from 1945 to 1947, against Indonesian bandits. Naik Ramprasad Gurung was discharged from Kota Baru, Malaya on 4th April 1947. He said that they were told their medals of bravery would be forwarded to them in Nepal, but he has not received his to this day. NK Ramprasad Gurungâ€™s wife passed away many years ago. He has 3 sons and 2 daughters. They are all married and living independently with their families. Currently he is living with his youngest son and his family in a small mudstone house with a corrugated iron roof. The few assets he had in property were split between his 3 sons. Crops grown on the 4 ropanis of arable land on the property barely feed his family for more than 6 months, so he requires his pension to support them for the rest of the year. They also have a buffalo and an ox. Social conditions are generally good with easy access to water, electricity and transport. This veteran has some major health defects, no doubt due to reaching a senile age. During our visit it was clear that he did not just look weak, but also was close to being completely deaf and his eyesight and mobility were also very poor. It was made clear to us that he has suffered with gastric problems for many years which adds to his discomfort. Regardless of his physical defects, his mental health is sound. We would be surprised if he could reach the nearest patrol post at all in his current state of health, even with assistance.
Naik Ramprasad Gurung
Lance Knight Sopbdr Rana was enlisted into the 1/8th Gurkha Rifles in 1941 at Shillong, India, and was discharged in Dehradun after 6 years of service due to the demobilization of the Indian Army in 1947. LNK Sopbdr Ranaâ€™s family consists of 3 other members; his grandson and granddaughter and his recently widowed daughter. His wife and eldest son died in close succession, leaving the grandchildren to look after not only their mother, but also their grandfather. They share a small hillside mudstone house with a tin roof in a remote area of the Palpa district. Social conditions such as water and electricity supply, communication, accessibility by road and nearby market and health post are all good. The ex-serviceman owns a fairly substantial patch of arable land - cultivated by the grandchildren - that produces enough corn and millet to support them for roughly 5 months of the year. Apart from this asset he has no other means of income whatsoever. With his eyesight, hearing, physical mobility and mental health impaired, all of the pensionerâ€™s faculties are in a pretty poor condition. He also has a history of high blood pressure. During our visit it was clear that he was suffering from joint pain and movement was limited because of this. Due to his condition he is unable to travel the 6 hours AWC Butwal.
Residential Home rooftop early morning -Kaski, Pokharra
Residential Home Project As part of the 2005 strategy review, the Trustees of the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) identified a growing number of ex servicemen and their families who were living in extremely vulnerable circumstances. These welfare pensioners had been living in isolated conditions with no immediate family or wider community to provide a reasonable level of support and companionship. The Trust is responding to this need through the construction of residential home facilities. The first home, co-located within the Trustâ€™s Area Welfare Centre at Kaski in west Nepal, opened in late 2010. The Kilbir Thapa VC Residential home accommodates 26 welfare pensioners, who have come from all over Nepal. The home has a dedicated tea, of staff who provide around the clock care. Special attention has been given to a residentâ€™s long-term needs, especially in the area of medical care.
Who are the Gurkhas?
Renowned for their gallantry and tenacity, they are the famous fighting men of Nepal - The Gurkhas. For almost 200 years they have stood by Britain in her darkest hours. After the fall of France in 1940, the prime Minister of Nepal famously rallied his people and the world behind Britain asking, ‘does a friend desert a friend in a time of need? If you win, we win with you. If you loose, we loose with you.’ On the battlefeild the Gurkhas struck fear into their enemies, whilst their graciousness and generosity of spirit won adoration and affection.
REPAYING THE DEBT OF HONOUR
Awe inspiring acts of bravery have earned Gurkha soldiers 13 Victoria Ctosses, with a further 13 having been awarded to their british officers. This proud tradition grows by the day. Today’s young Gurkhas on operations in Afghanistan and beyond are proving themselves worthy of the legend of their forefathers. “Better to die with honour, than live as a coward”, is their motto, which says much about these men. Many men have paid the ultimate sacrifice to win the prosperity and freedom we enjoy today. If there were a minutes silence for every Gurkha casualty from World War Two, we would need to remain silent for two whole weeks. For the gurkhas who returned home to their idyllic, yet desperately poor villages, with no means of supporting themselves or their families, after Britain denied citizenship to them, the future looked bleak. To repay the dept of honour that we owe these unique individuals, the Gurkha Welfare Trust has developed vital projects accross areas of Nepal that the Victoria Cross holders hail from and beyond. These projects are a tangible demonstartion of the Trust’s commitment to
provide for all old soldiers, and is the very least that these honourable men deserve.
more important. Just as today’s serving soldier builds on the rich traditions of the Brigade of Gurkha’s, the endeavors of the Trust honours generations of service, sacrifice and friendship selflessly offered by The Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) The hardships and poverty facing Gurkha veterans the Hill people of Nepal. and their families of the War first emerged in the late 1960’s. In a poor country like Nepal , life has The Gurkha Welfare Scheme (GWS) always been tough. With no state welfare, no public As the Trust’s field arm, the GWS dispenses housing and no national health service to fall back individual welfare to Gurkha ex servicemen and their on in times of need, these gallant veterans of war widows and community aid for their villages under faced real hardship at a very uncertain old age. the terms set out by The Gurkha Welfare Trust. The Scheme has a network of 19 Area Welfare Centers It was clear something had to be done. After all, (AWCs) across the Brigade’s traditional recruiting these were old soldiers of the Crown to whom we areas in Nepal, as well as one centre in Darjeeling, all owe a debt of honour. The ‘Gurkha Welfare India. This extensive network is supported by 13 Trust’ was founded in 1969 to relieve poverty patrol bases, which preserve the GWS’s reach whilst and distress amongst ex-members of the brigade minimizing overheads. of Gurkhas and their dependents. Through the generosity of people in Britain and beyond, Regarded as a force for good, it is a credit to the the trust has grown to provide a full range of GWS and dedicated team of staff that its reputation financial, medical and community aid. Today for neutrality, integrity and fairness has remained the Trust supports 9,600 ex members of the steadfast throughout Nepal’s turbulent recent history. brigade and their widows in Nepal who have not Operating in remote and often hostile climates, served the 15 years required to earning an army tenacity and diplomacy have ensured an unabated pension and who have no other income. Most supply of much needed welfare support to the hills, are in their 80’s and 90’s and totally reliant on whatever the prevailing dangers and difficulties. the Trust for a dignified and secure old age. With recent changes to immigration entitlements for The director of the GWS is the senior British Army Gurkhas, increasing numbers are settling in the officer in Nepal. He also holds the appointments United Kingdom and the Trust is responding to of commander of the British Gurkhas Nepal and an emergency need. However, the Trust’s focus defence attaché in Kathmandu. The field director, will always remain the Hills of Nepal, ensuring based in Pokharra has responsibility for the day-tothat Gurkhas are able to live out their twilight day operations of the GWS and AWC network. years with dignity. As our old soldiers and widows become increasingly frail and unable to care for An area welfare officer who is usually a distinguished, themselves, the work of the Trust has never been retired Nepalese Gurkha Officer who together with
assistants, medics and runners carries out the majority of the fieldwork of each AWC. These honest and reliable men have a strong knowledge of the countryside, its customs and military heritage. Such the qualities are indispensible in an environment where severe weather and rugged terrain must be overcome to investigate cases of hardship, illness and distress. The commitment of GWS staff to the ex service community is unsurpassed. Often serving up to 11 months of each year away from their families, AWC staff provide welfare support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to the neediest and most vulnerable exmembers of the brigade. Under a long-standing agreement, the manpower and infrastructure for these extensive operations are largely met by grants from the Ministry of Defence. It preserves the Trust’s hard won voluntary funds for the provision of welfare activities. The Trust acknowledges this very practical contribution to Gurkha veterans and their families in Nepal.
WELFARE PENSION HARDSHIP GRANT
The monthly welfare pension distributed to 9,600 ex Gurkha soldiers and widows in Nepal, is the Trust’s core activity. It is on offer to all ex members of the brigade who did not serve their 15 years required to earn an Army pension and who are in poverty and distress. Upon the death of the soldier the Welfare pension is transferred in full to his widow. Whilst some Gurkha’s have small subsistence farmlands, their crops barely provide for a few months of the year for others, too poor to own land, the welfare pension is their only source of income. With the onset of old age they are increasingly unable to fend for themselves and the welfare pension is all that stands between these proud people and destitution Every year, trustees consider the rate of welfare pension based on the cost of a simple ‘shopping basket’ of basic goods such as rice, vegetables, cooking oil and simple toiletries. Trustees are mindful of the key recommendation of the 2005 strategy review, to enhance the quality of life of welfare pensioners by maintaining the value of the welfare pension in real terms. As a result the monthly rate of welfare pension increased on
1st July 2010 from 4,000 Nepalese rupees ($40) to 4,200 ($42). This increase ensures the welfare pension provides a meaningful supplement, sufficient for all welfare pensioners to live their final years in comfort, with the dignity and security they deserve. The welfare pension is vital in our undertaking to repay the debt of honour we owe these brave servants of the Crown. While seemingly modest, when the monthly supplement of £38 is calculated across the total welfare pensioner population of 9,600, it produces a daunting sum of £364,800. This is the amount of donations needed month in, month out from generous Trust supporters, to meet this fundamental commitment. The ongoing loyalty ad generosity of the British public is a clear message that this is a challenge we will not lose. Although the number of welfare pensioners has decreased this year, younger men from conflicts in Malaya and Borneo are stepping forward for support. In addition, when a soldier dies his pension goes down to his widow, who is often 10 years younger than her husband. Actuarial
projections show that the provision of welfare pensioners will remain the Trusts single most significant commitment for at least the next 30 years. Recent changes in the law have meant increased UK immigration entitlements for Gurkhas. However, we must not lose sight of the welfare pensioner. These frail veterans of war are the least likely and least able to reap from any benefit from this dramatic change in government policy. Nepal will remain their home and they will rely totally on their welfare pension for survival. The trust has a duty to ensure their plight is never forgotten.
â€œAs I write these last words, my thoughts return to you who are my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once more I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your fires, on forced march or in the trenches, now shivering with wet and cold, now scorched by a pitiless and burning sun. Uncomplaining you endure hunger and thirst and wounds, and at the last your unwavering lines disappear into the smoke and wrath of battle. Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had a country more faithful friends than youâ€?.
Professor Sir Ralph Lilley Turner MC