Sam Hollis, a gunner, was no stranger to war. He had seen a lot of action, but even he had never come across anything like this - a solitary Gurkha by the name of Ganju Pun preparing to hold off a heavy Japanese assault…
It made more sense to turn and run and it certainly would be no disgrace, but Ganju Pun did not even consider retreat. He came from a family of warriors, after all, and now it was his turn to prove that he was a worthy owner of his razor-sharp kukri.
Gurkhas were first recruited into British service in 1815, following the closely-fought Anglo-Nepal wars between the East India Trading Company and the recently-unified Kingdom of Nepal. Soldiers are traditionally recruited from hill villages across Nepal and each year thousands of applicants compete in a gruelling selection for the chance to become part of the British Army. Amongst stringent academic and fitness tests the most infamous part of the selection is the 'Doko Race' which involves a 5km uphill run, carrying 25kg in a basket secured around the head.
Gurkha soldiers are world-renowned for their fitness, discipline, courage and the curved 'kukri' knife which they carry. The Brigade's motto is 'It is better to die than live a coward' and they have won 26 Victoria Crosses; of these 13 have been awarded to British Officers and 13 have been awarded to Nepali soldiers (who only became eligible for the award in 1911).
The first regular Gurkha units of the British Army distinguished themselves fighting for the East India Trading Company and the Crown; and during the Indian Mutiny remained loyal and fought alongside British soldiers to successfully quell the rebellion. For their part in this, the Sirmoor Regiment were permitted to adopt the traditions and dress of the British light infantry and later awarded the Queen's Truncheon. The Truncheon replaced the existing Colours and is accorded the honours due to a Queen's Colour; it is unique within the British Army and continues to be carried by the Royal Gurkha Rifles.
By the First World War, there were ten full-strength Gurkha regiments in the British Indian Army and the 100,000 men who served with them between 1914 and 1918 saw action in France, Flanders, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Palestine, Salonika, and Gallipoli.
In the Second World War there were no fewer than 40 Gurkha battalions in British service and the whole of the Nepali Army was put at the disposal of the United Kingdom. Gurkha battalions fought in Italy and North Africa and a number of regiments were part of the 'Forgotten' XIVth Army in Burma, often employed on Chindit operations.
Following Partition in 1947, four Gurkha battalions of the British Indian Army were transferred to the British Army's Gurkha Brigade and moved to the Far East where they became expert in jungle warfare and served with distinction in various campaigns. After the Handover of Hong Kong the Brigade relocated to the United Kingdom. One battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles is permanently stationed in Brunei.
Today the Brigade of Gurkhas consists of around 3000 soldiers in two battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the Queen's Gurkha Signals, Queen's Gurkha Engineers, Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support Company, the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas and Headquarters Brigade of Gurkhas. Since the Second World War, Gurkha units have deployed to Malaysia, The Falklands, Bosnia and Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan; both as formed units, and to reinforce other units of the British Army. The Nepalese Army and the Indian Army also employ Gurkhas.
Note: Originally published as Commando No 2533 (1992).