Brigade of Gurkhas

From Academic Kids

Gurkha Soldiers (1896)
Gurkha Soldiers (1896)

The Brigade of Gurkhas is the collective term for British Army units that are composed of Nepalese soldiers. They are famous for their ever-present kukri blade.

The first Gurkhas volunteered as mercenaries in the service of the British East India Company after the war in Nepal of 1814-1816. During the war, the British were impressed by the tenacity of the Gurkha soldiers and encouraged them to volunteer for the British armed forces.

Under international law British Gurkhas are not mercenaries. They are fully integrated soldiers of the British Army, operate in formed units of the Brigade of Gurkhas, and abide by the rules and regulations under which all British soldiers serve. Similar rules apply for Gurkhas serving in the Indian Army.

Gurkhas served as troops of the East India Company in the Pindaree War of 1817, in Bhurtbore 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) defended Hindu Rao's house for over three months, losing 327 out of 490 men. Twelve Gurkha regiments also took part in the relief of Lucknow.

See the Gurkha article and individual regimental pages for details of Gurkha service with the Indian Army from 1875 until 1947.

After Indian independence – and partition – in 1947 and 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 January 1 1948. They formed the Brigade of Gurkhas and were stationed in Malaya.

A , the preferred blade of Gurkhas.
A kukri, the preferred blade of Gurkhas.

During the Malayan Emergency, Gurkhas fought as jungle soldiers as they had done in Burma. They also formed four new units – Gurkha Engineers, Signals, Transport and Military Police. They were also used for convoy escort duties, security of the new villages and ambushing guerillas. In the year of Malayan independence, Gurkha Signals units monitored communications during the first free elections.

One Gurkha battalion – 2nd Gurkha Rifles - was stationed in Tidworth, Wiltshire in 1962. On December 7, the unit was deployed to Brunei on a day’s notice at the outbreak of the Brunei Revolt. The forthcoming Indonesian Confrontation saw the formation of the Gurkha Independent Parachute Company on April 1 1963. It ended up as a commando unit and worked with the Special Air Service. The unit was disbanded in 1972.

After that conflict ended, the Gurkhas were transferred to Hong Kong, where they had security duties during the upheavals of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

The Gurkha brigade’s size was reduced to 8,000 men when the British government changed its defence policy. Hong Kong became their headquarters, while other battalions were stationed in the UK and Brunei.

In 1971 the 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Gurkha Rifles moved to Queen Elizabeth Barracks at Church Crookham, Hampshire. In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and the 10th Gurkha Rifles was sent to defend the British sovereign base area of Dhekelia. Later they remained there on peacekeeping duties and sometimes had to literally place themselves between Greeks and Turks.

On July 1, 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 July 1, 1997, the British government handed Hong Kong over to the People's Republic of China, which led to the reduction of the local garrison. The size of the Brigade of Gurkhas was reduced to 3,400. Gurkha HQ and recruit training were moved to the UK.

Gurkhas have had a role in the Falklands War (1st Battalon of the 7th), Gulf War, NATO operations in Kosovo and UN peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and East Timor. Two Gurkha battalions are stationed in Sierra Leone.

Currently all Gurkha recruits begin their service in the Gurkha Training Wing at Church Crookham. Brigade HQ is based at Airfield Camp near Netheravon, Wiltshire. The 2nd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles is stationed in Brunei.

Gurkha regiments traditionally have British officers, although many officers of all ranks are now themselves Gurkhas - those who wish to receive Queen's Commissions are required to become British subjects. Past officers have described their troops as silent, reliable and loyal. Their enemies describe them as silent, ruthless and dangerous.

The Brigade of Gurkhas - or to be precise, their salaries and pensions - is a significant source of income for Nepal. Every year, Gurkha recruiters select 270 out of of ten of thousands of applicants, mostly from the Magar, Gurung, Rai and Limbu tribes.

Gurkhas have one five-month leave in Nepal every three years. Some of them can take their families with them to the UK – this becomes a permanent right once they have reached the rank of Colour Sergeant. Most serve unaccompanied.

Gurkha soldiers have won 13 Victoria Crosses, although all but one (Rambahadur Limbu) were won when all Gurkha regiments were still part of the Indian Army. A further 13 have been awarded to British officers in Gurkha regiments. They have affiliations with the Royal Scots, the King’s Royal Hussars and the Royal Green Jackets.

In addition to the British Army, Gurkhas are recruited for the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force. The Indian Army still also has Gurkha troops, usually recruited from those who have been rejected by the British Army, since pay and conditions are nowhere near as good and most potential Gurkhas would therefore prefer to serve with the British.

Bravest of the brave,
most generous of the generous,
never had country more faithful friends than you.
Sir Ralph Turner (former officer in the 3rd Gurkha Rifles).
Carved on the London memorial to Britain's Gurkha soldier unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on December 3, 1997

Old Gurkha Military Rank System (Indian Army)

Indian Army/British Army Equivalence


  • As opposed to British army officers who received regular Queen's or King's Commissions, Gurkha officers in this system would receive the Viceroy's Commission or, later, Queen's or King's Gurkha Commission. This distinction implied that Gurkha officers had no authority to command troops of British regiments.
  • While in principle any British subject may apply for a commission without having served in the ranks previously, the same cannot be said about Gurkha officers. It was customary for a Gurkha soldier to rise through the ranks and prove his ability before his regiment would consider offering him a commission.
  • From the 1920s, Gurkhas could also receive King's Indian Commissions, and later full King's or Queen's Commissions, which put them on a par with British officers. This was rare until after the Second World War.

Indian Army Gurkha Rifle Regiments ca.1800-1948

British Gurkha Units ca. 1940-1994

Current Units of the Brigade of Gurkhas

Training Depot Brigade of Gurkhas (TDBG)

Although Britain has been recruiting Gurkha soldiers from Nepal since the 19th century, no effort was made to develop a centralized recruit-training system in the Brigade of Gurkhas throughout the pre Second World War era. As a result, recruiting training was conducted at the various Gurkha regimental training certres in India.

The need for such centralized training establishment became apparent in the late 1940s following India's national independence, and subsequently the TDBG was established on 15 August 1951 at Sungei Patani, North Malaya.

With Malaya's independence, however, the TDBG was once again relocated to Malaya Lines in the New Territories, Hong Kong in 1971. At the TDBG in Hong Kong, recruits were taught basic English alongside military subjects such as field craft, drill, weapon-handling etc. More importantly, being in a modern city like Hong Kong, these young recruits from the hills of Nepal were given the opportunity to experience life in a different culture and environment. Such experience would be crucial for their future deployments in different corners of the world.

Due to Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China, the TDBG was closed down in December 1994. However, it was reconstituted immediately as the Gurkha Training Wing (GTW) at Queen Elizabeth Barracks (Church Crookham) in the U.K. In December 1999, The GTW moved to Helles Barracks (Catterick) and became Gurkha Company, 3rd Battalion, Infantry Training Centre (ITC). Organized in two wings, A(Imphal) Wing and B(Meiktila) Wing, the company currently maintains 72 permanent staff of all ranks and 230 recruits.

Selection and Basic Training

First Stage: Hill Selection

Hill selections are held at various locations in Nepal. There are usually 30 applicants for every place available at this stage. Potential recruits must satisfy the following requirements before proceeding to the second stage:

  • Aged between 17 and 22
  • Be at least 5 feet 2 inches
  • Weight at least 7 stone 12 pounds
  • In good health
  • Have attained a certain level of education

Second Stage: Pokhara Selection Centre

This stage of the selection process would last for 3 weeks. All candidates must pass the following tests in order to proceed further:

  • English grammar
  • Math
  • Fitness test, which included exercises and a doko race (carrying 75 pounds of stones and run up a 4.2 kilometre long steep course)
  • Initiative test
  • Final interview

Third Stage: Basic Training at GTW Infantry Training Centre Catterick

This is a nine-month long training course that includes:

  • Language training (3 months)
  • Military skills
  • Western culture and customs

Final Stage: Passing Out

The graduation of successful recruits will be marked by a passing out parade at the end of the basic training course. Based on their progress and results they will then be alloted to various positions within the Brigade of Gurkhas. In general those who obtained better results in the Math test during the second stage of selection would be offered postings to the Queen's Gurkha Signals or the Queen's Gurkha Engineers.

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