Gurkhas: Re-assessing the performance of Imperial Soldiers in WW-2.
Sanju Gurung, Supervisor: Dr. Timothy Bowman (War Studie Dissertation)

Acknowledgement
It is my pleasure to thank those who made this research possible, my tutor Dr. Timothy Bowman who gave me immense support at the time of need. A special thanks to Maj Rick Beven who was the Officer Commanding in Gurkha Recruiting Camp in Pokhara, Nepal, in 2011. He provided me extensive ranges of Gurkha veterans’ interviews that he had conducted over a period of years. Not last but least, my sincere thanks to Senior Welfare Officer in Nepal, Maj Krishna Bahadur Gurung (Ret). Without his cooperation, I could not have been able to set my journey to the foothills of Nepal, to interview Gurkha veterans.

Introduction
During World War One, the Maharaja of Nepal declared that the whole military resources of Nepal were at His Majesty’s disposal, we shall be proud to be of any service, however little it may be.(1) Almost two million Gurkhas’ have fought for Britain. Twenty years later another serious crisis occurred, which saw Gurkhas’ fight in greater numbers than in any other previous campaign in their history. However, the question remained; how can the once renowned imperial soldiers of the empire, successfully maintain the Gurkha reputation of a brave, loyal and formidable fighting force of the British Raj, during World War Two?

The post-WW-1 legislation primarily assigned the Indian Army, only for ‘the defense of India against external aggression and the maintenance of internal peace and tranquillity. (2) As suggested by this legislation, Gurkhas’ remained extremely active for two primary tasks of the Indian Army; firstly, as an imperial defense, and secondly as an internal security force. Many historians claim that fighting in the Northwest Frontier during the inter-war period proved to be a training ground for Gurkhas. However, one must investigate, to what extent, fighting irregular warfare helped in dealing with the ever-evolving methods of war.

Despite the nations’ immense contribution in WW-1, India was viewed as less of a priority at the start of WW-2; The external role of the Indian Army during the ‘phony war’ was limited to providing a few brigades of reinforcements in Egypt and Malaya,(3) as an imperial reserve. Instead, London ordered the GHQ India (General Headquarter India) to continue to its inter-war role, as a primary task. Research has shown that many GHQ senior commanders had traditionalist views regarding the modernization of the Indian army. The old unenthusiastic behavior of London coupled with a traditionalist practice resulted in the Indian Army being ill-prepared for war.

Despite many years of soldiering on harsh frontiers, the Gurkhas’ mobilization for war came later than the rest of the Indian Army. The war and mobilization offered, an opportunity to end the old system of Indianization. However, it barely affected the Gurkha brigade, as it continued to be a unique organization, within the imperial Indian Army. The adoption of separate policies caused many problems, to satisfy the demand of Target 41 and Target 43 expansion. Initially, Gurkhas enjoyed relative success against an inferior enemy in the Middle East; however, a series of defeats had to be faced in North Africa. Historians argue that Gurkhas were not trained for this kind of desert warfare. Additionally, senior British officers grossly underestimated the performance of the Indian Army.

However, the victory of the 4th Division in Tunisia was a turning point that forced to re-assess the precious claim of senior commanders. As a result, the Gurkhas fought other significant battles as a specialist unit, in the re-conquest and liberation of Europe. Nevertheless, the successes in the Middle East and North Africa were overshadowed, by the series of humiliating defeats in the Far East. The creation of the Japanese imposed Indian National Army (INA), after the fall of Singapore supported the Quit India movement that produced considerable strains to the Gurkhas Brigade at a time of reformation for the Indian Army. The renewed loyalty of Gurkhas was tested critically at this juncture. Significantly, it was against the Japanese in Burma that Gurkhas showed their supreme superiority against the enemy, then in any other theatres of war.

(1) Smith. E.D, Britain’s Brigade of Gurkhas, (Leo Cooper Ltd, 1973, London), p 84. (2) Elliott, Maj Gen J.G, A roll of Honour, The story of the Indian Army 1939-1945, (Cassell and Company Ltd, 1965, London), p 13. (3) Gould. T, Imperial Warriors: Britain and the Gurkhas, (Granta Books, 1999, London), p 236

The Japanese defeat in the second Arakan and the successes of the Chindits operations confirmed, it soon became clear that the Japanese are not gods of the jungle. The previous criticism towards the Gurkhas’ performance in the First Chindits was overshadowed by their superb performance in the second Arakan operation. Also, the desperate Japanese offensive in 1944 had been halted, by superior fighting qualities performed by the imperial soldiers (Gurkhas), which finally led to the fall of Burma to British hands.

This dissertation offers the re-assessment of the Gurkhas’ performance during WW-2, as an imperial soldier of British Raj. This research critically seeks to answer the fundamental question imposed by the research problem, set in the first paragraph of this paper’s introduction. For this task; the first chapter investigates the role of Gurkhas during the inter-war period. The second chapter seeks to examine the late, but the rapid transformation of the Gurkhas Brigade during the war. The third and fourth chapters critically evaluate the performance of the Gurkhas in two theatres of war; North Africa, Italy, and Burma.

The Gurkhas – Inter-War Period
As stated earlier, the Legislative Assembly of India established after WW-1, passed a resolution, defining the role of the Indian army for ‘the defense of India against external aggression and the maintenance of internal peace and tranquillity.(Elliott, A roll of Honour, p 13) To meet its peacetime strength, in providing the practicality of this policy, the reorganization of the army occurred on an enormous scale. The Gurkha Brigade faced considerable redundancies to its wartime raised battalions; however, the original ten regiments, each equipped with two battalions were saved. As demanded by legislation, these original regiments were involved extensively in frontier warfare and, in civil duties during the inter-war period.

Despite this reorganization, the composition at the Brigade level followed the same old Kitchener’s Army formation, based on 2:1 theory. In this case, within the Indian Brigade, two of the battalions were either Gurkhas’ or Indians’, with an additional British regiment. This system remained intact, until the end of WW-2. The reason for this composition dates back to the Indian Mutiny of 1857, as a matter of distrust created by native units.

Elliott argues the single British battalion normally included would set a standard and provide an example to the Indian battalions.(5) Previous research has not made clear that, to what extent, it set a standard to the Gurkha regiments, as the Gurkhas’ remained loyal to the British during the Mutiny. However, it promptly set a benchmark of unity that helped to generate an Esprit de Corps, later in the war. Johnson claims the British approach in the inter-war years tended to start from the assumption that the grievances of the Indian people were a security problem, and political concessions were offered to maintain colonial rule.(6) The primary task of the Indian Army during the inter-war period was based on the approach presented by Johnson. As a year of skirmishes in 1919 saw the end of the Afghan War but the tribesmen in the Waziristan area were still up in arms.(7) In this case, pressure against the British Raj came from both sides; the tribal mullahs on the frontiers and the political independence movements in the urban cities of India. Swinson argues that the situation was more complex, more unpredictable, and in some ways more dangerous than ever.(8) Preparing to face a struggle ahead, the regular Gurkha battalions bade farewell to their wartime friends, and now formed a part of the absolute imperial security force of the Indian Army.

(5) ibid, p 10. (6) Johnson R, The Indian Army, and Internal security: 1919-1946, in The Indian Army in the Two World Wars, ed. by Roy K, (Brill, 2012, Boston), p 359. (7) Parker J, The Gurkhas, p 87. (8) Swinson A, North-West Frontier, (Hutchinson & Co, 1967, London), p 333

The potential of the Gurkhas in this emerging warfare offered the continuation of employability under the British Raj. Streets claims that the requirement of the Indian Army for recruitment was more northern men – men who were racially or environmentally closer to Europeans(9) and, people from the South contingent of India was considered coward, and not capable of fighting in such harsh geographical conditions of Northern India. Gould’s rationale of the recruitment of the Gurkhas supports the argument made by Streets, as a cheaper version of Europeans, whole equal they were in courage and fidelity; and the Gurkhas as a third force in India.(10) As a result of this proposed justification, the flow of Gurkhas recruitment followed without further reductions, while strictly adhering to the Gurkha’s traditional values.

The number of Gurkhas neither increased nor faced any redundancy further. For various reasons; chief among them the desire to meet the wishes of the Nepalese Durbar by limiting the recruitment.(11) Importantly, as Streets previously claimed, the Gurkhas’ perfectly suited the recruitment obligation required by the British, for the defense of India. The questions of further redundancy were not raised. No doubt that the authorities of India preferred Gurkhas’ who were prepared and suited to deploy to the Northwest Frontier, as the threat from Russia was always predicted. Thus, the Gurkha regiments were among the first the British selected when there was a crisis on the Northwest Frontier or elsewhere in their Indian Empire.(12)

In this case, the primary roles of the Gurkhas’ shifted between the deployment to the frontiers and peacetime duties at regimental stations, in India.

The official history of the Northwest Frontier claims, Regular troops either in or arriving in Waziristan were never allowed to gain the impression that they were in a peace station.(13) Parker argues it was one of the worst postings in British India as troops posted faced actual war conditions.(14) Leaving the Non-Involvement-Policy; then, what Swinson termed as Modified-Forward Policy, was adopted on completion of two bases in trouble areas of Waziristan.

With a total of ten regiments, the 5th Gurkhas’ was permanently based in the Northwest Frontier as a frontier force. The extensive involvement of the Gurkhas’ ensured that the frontiers remained as a fierce battleground between Gurkhas’ and local tribes for many decades. Dhan Bahadur Gurung claims that Pathans were murderous mountainous fighters.(15) If an individual fell into their captivity; one could expect a dreadful death. The fact that troops were fighting with one hand tied behind their backs not only introduced a new bitterness but also introduced a new ruthlessness into the Frontier campaigns.(16)

In retrospect; among the many tactics garrisoning units used, the ambush was the most effective tactic. The art of ambush efficiently disrupted and destroyed the intention of saboteur gangs of tribes, who never hesitated when inflicting damages to garrison units. One successful ambush, in particular, was thanks to 1/2nd Gurkhas’ in 1937, against the gangs of two-hundred strong in Razmak. The gangs were levies, supported by local mullahs or politicians. Two platoons, commanded by a Gurkha officer sprung a night ambush, which harassed the enemy and maintained complete surprise. The official history of the Northwest Frontier claims particularly that this event had inflicted considerable moral effect, though small material damage was done, was produced on the inhabitants of this area.(17)

(9) Streets H, Martial races, (Manchester University Press, 2004, New York), p 95. (10) Gould, Imperial, p 110. (11) History of the 5th RoyalGurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), Vol I, 1858-1928, (Gale and Polden Ltd, 1956, Aldershot), p 409. (12) The Gurkhas (National Army Museum). (13) Official History of Operations on the Northwest Frontier of India: 1936-37, (Government of India Press, 1943, New Delhi), p 3. (14) Parker J, The Gurkhas; The inside story of the world’s most feared soldiers, (Bounty Books, 2005, London), p 59. (15) Interview with Dhan Bahadur Gurung, 2/5th Gurkhas. (16) Swinson, Northwest Frontier, p 378. (17) Official History of the Northwest, p 198

In another case, attacks on Piquet, positioned outside of a garrison were always imminent and vulnerable. A Piquet (N°11) manned by six men of 2/5th Gurkhas’ was attacked by a gang of tribes, numbering between thirty to forty men. Killing two Gurkha sentries instantly by fire, afterward, a most desperate hand to hand struggle then took place, bayonets, kukris, daggers, and stones being used in such a confined place.(18) Despite the overwhelming attack, the position was intact and continuously manned by gravely wounded Gurkhas, under the command of Naik Nandalal Ghale. For their unquestionable bravery that prevented further danger to the garrison unit, the Indian Order of Merit was awarded to two Gurkhas. In this case, the Gurkha battalions posted to the Northwest Frontier faced operational involvement for two years per tour.

(18) History of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, p 31. (19) Marston D.P, Phoenix from the Ashes: The Indian Army in the Burma Campaign, (Praeger Publishers, 2003, Westport), p 28. (20) Streets, Martial, p 96. (21) Bullocks C, Britain’s Gurkhas, (Third Millennium Information Ltd, 2009, London), p 85

Regarding this practice, Marston claims that the aspects of the fighting in the Northwest Frontier that later proved useful for the army in Burma, and arguably, in North Africa.(19) Nevertheless, the frontiers were not only conflict zones. Streets argue that; external dangers to the stability of British rule in India now outweighed the dangers of internal rebellion.(20) As Gould claimed previously this was the task the Gurkhas’ suitability was seen more than ever. The Rowlett Act (1919) was originally intended as a response to anarchists and terrorists.(21) Amritsar was placed under martial law, banning all meetings and gathering in the city. To this effect, under the order of Gen Reginald Dyer, British and Gurkha troops massacred at least 379 unarmed demonstrators meeting at the Jallianwala Bagh, a city park. This single act provoked controversies and fuelled to escalate the tension.

Despite the massacre, he was alternately hailed as a savior by the authorities.(23) Since the Amritsar massacre, the Gurkhas were called upon ever more frequently to aid the civil power.(24) Nevertheless, it was certain; this event predominantly damaged the reputation of the Gurkhas among the Indians.From an Indian perspective, the Gurkhas were widely viewed as tools being used by the British Empire to suppress Indian freedom and opposed their presence, arguably as much as they did to British Raj.(25) However, in the 1930s, Trench claims, urban riots were less likely to be anti-government than communal, Moslems against Hindus and Sikhs.(26) Native Indians troops favored their religious and exercised reliable power indiscriminately against the hostile group. To avoid the emotionally detached condition, between the native officers and men, mostly the Gurkhas and the British were preferred by authorities. As for a reason; their loyalty was intact, and importantly, the Gurkhas were not Indian by nationality and, their adherence to religion was not as strict as Indians. This provided the Gurkhas as an alternative force to the British, particularly against civil disorders and unrest. The ever-existing turbulent conditions of the empire kept the GHQ India occupied with its own matters and paid less attention to the growing international conflicts. Smith claims, the imminence of war was not predicted until about 1938-9 however; more discerning of senior officers had stepped up the tempo of training because of their assessment of the political situation.(27)

Among the equipment changes, metallic oil-burning cookers replaced wood, Vickers-Berthier replaced the Lewis gun in 1935, and each battalion now had an additional Machine Gun Company. Training became tougher than in the previous decade. Mainly inter-Brigade exercises were carried out, to test the capacity of newly introduced firepower. The 1/5th Ghurkhas joined the Jhelum Brigade for a Chenab maneuver exercise, which involved a great scale of maneuver. The 5th Gurkhas regimental history claims; this joint training was mainly based on infiltration and other methods of restoring the mobility of the attack in the face of the ever-increasing firepower of the defense.(28) However, the intention of this training was still concentrated on the demands of frontier warfare, not against the emerging threat.

Upon joining his regiment in 1935, Balkrishna underwent a Vickers Machine Gun training course in Pune. Vickers was an outdated infantry support machine gun, drastically unreliable, and needed a massive workforce to operate. The training itself was conducted statically; predominantly involved in a trench system of warfare with limited maneuvers, similar to Western Front warfare.(29) This proves that training simulated by regiments was not realistic, and the GHQ India put no effort in effectively dealing with the rising threat. In this case, we could argue that the real flaw of the Indian Army, in general, was unbalanced. Collective training as an army as a whole had not happened; instead, individual regiments had to focus independently and use their own initiative. The weapon system and training manuals were outdated, and no process of significant reformation had taken place. Parker claims, their weapons were often from WW-1, and they were very short on personnel.(30) Due to the scarce availability of weapons, soldiers had to train with a wooden rifle.(31)

(22) This day in History Amritsar Massacre. (23) Bullocks, Britain’s, p 86. (24) Gould.T, Imperial, p 208. (25) 1919; The Amritsar Massacre in 1919 – Amritsar Massacre. (26) Trench C., The Indian Army and the Kings enemies, 1900-1947, (Thames and Hudson, 1988, London), p 120. (27) Smith E.D, Brigade of Gurkhas, p 88. (28) History of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, p 6. (29) Interview with Balkrishna, 1/6th Gurkhas. (30) Parker J, Gurkhas, p 122. (31) Interview with Subedar (Retd.) Dhan Bahadur Gurung, 2/5th Gurkhas.

With many reasons behind such drawbacks, one of which was that the Indian Congress always hesitated to contribute enough money to the Indian Army. Additionally, Britain faced a recession in the 1930s whereby drastic cuts were duly implemented, and the Army was hard hit.(32) Affected by these underlying factors, Marston claims, by 1939, the composition of the Indian Army was similar to its 1914 counterpart.(33) Despite the revolutionary ideas presented by a few modernists, who foresaw the need of transformation, the Indian Army was still regarded as a Sepoy Army dominated by traditionalist views. To every suggestion for modernization the conservative-minded could reply; Oh, but the Frontier….(34)
Trench argues that it was a reasonable excuse for the traditionalists, as tanks and heavy artillery were not seen realistic to use, either in frontiers or against civil riots. Also, these traditional views perfectly supported the overall psychological mindset of the GHQ India’s policy of insulation against the forces of nationalism.(35) All ranks were forbidden to take an active part in political meetings or attend them in uniform.(36)

No doubt, the opinions of traditionalists successfully contained the developing idea of modernization also, which much troubled the Indian Army later in the war. Ironically, at the height of the war, the Chatfield Committee reported the role of the Indian Army in 1939, as Apart from its availability as a reinforcement of the Frontier Defense Troops, it represents valuable insurance against any risk of the grave disaffection of a widespread nature within India.(37)

It was asserted once more, in that fatal year 1939, that the responsibility of the Government of India was a local defense only; that meant internal security and the frontiers of India.(38) It signified the Gurkha brigade, to continue the ‘2 to 4’ policy of interwar. James and Sheil-Small claim, at this stage, the majority of the Indian and the Gurkha troops knew next to nothing about the war.(39) A blurred compromise was introduced, supposedly on the fear of a possible invasion of India by the Russians after the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was signed, in 1939.(40)

As a result, supplementary Gurkhas were sent to the Northwest Frontier now more than ever. However, no significant deliberation had been paid to their capacity and strength for war. This imposed grave problems to the Gurkha brigade, regarding expansion later in the war. As a result, Smith argues that the declaration of war was greeted with relief but not with joy; no one talked about a quick victory or expected.(41)

The primary task of the Indian Army in the phony war was still limited to the mobilization of a few brigades only. Dhan Bahadur Gurung claims, they had no clear information on the progress of the war from the Chain of Command, but rumor had that soon or later we would be going to war, either in the Middle East or Malaya.(42) At this stage, the role assigned to the 2nd Battalion in this war is, for the present, to go to Waziristan as part of the 4th Infantry Brigade.(43) In the case, the Gurkhas were not entitled to mobilization, as the GHQ India had to receive permission first for Gurkhas’ deployment overseas.

(32) Harris J.P, Men, ideas and tanks; British military though and armored forces, 1903-1939, (Manchester University Press, 1995, Manchester), p 237. (33) Marston. D.P, Phoenix from the Ashes, p 15. (34) Trench C, The Indian Army, and the Kings enemies, p 134. (35) Mason. P, A Matter of Honour, (The Trinity Press, 1974, London), p 466. (36) Publication of National Army Museum, an article Ed. by Rice T and Guy A, The Indian Territorial Force 1920, Sept 1939 in Army Museum, (National Army Museum, 1983, London), p 48. (37) Chatfield Report, L/WS/1/155 Indian Office Records, British Library. (38) Mason. P, A Matter of Honour, p 468. (39) James H and Sheil-Small D, The Gurkhas, (Macdonal, 1965, London), p 65. (40) Parker J, The Gurkhas, p 59
(41) Smith. E.D, Brigade of Gurkhas, p 90. (42) Interview with Subedar (Retd.) Dhan Bahadur Gurung, 2/3 Gurkhas. (43) 2/2 Gurkhas, Regimental Records: Documents and historical interests, 1919-1945, (Gurkha Museum Archive)

This policy of internal security and defense of empire kept the Gurkhas extremely busy during the inter-war period. Historians claim that senior GHQ officials conserved the traditionalist views towards the modernization of the Indian Army that created significant problems later in the war. Gurkha units provide a unique fighting organization, and as a result, authorities preferred them as an alternative to the British. This practice caused grave problems to Gurkhas’ units, at the expansion stage. Additionally, as Nepal was not a colony of Britain, the decision to mobilize the Gurkhas faced a long bureaucratic process.

Transformation of the Gurkha Brigade
The Indian Army’s formal expansion took place following the entry of Italy into the war.(44) In the case of the Gurkhas, this depended on the acquiescence of the Government of Nepal that always kept close control of the recruitment of the Gurkhas. Nevertheless, the fall of France in 1940 and the British losses of 35.000 men in Belgium and 6000 men in France made the role of the Gurkhas more important than ever before.(45) The escalation of the war finally brought the GHQ India’s intention of mobilizing the Gurkha units for war. In the summer of 1940, the British minister at Kathmandu Col Betham enquired whether the Maharaja of Nepal would permit the Gurkha regiments to go overseas. Undoubtedly, the Maharaja expressed his profound agreement and loyalty just as he had in WW-1. He declared to Col Betham, if you win, we will win with you. If you lose, we will lose with you.(46)

The only condition he imposed on the agreement was that upon their return had to go through a purification ceremony of panipatya (*) in India before coming to Nepal.(47) Most Western scholars accepted the notion that all the Gurkhas are Hindu. However, Chandra Bahadur Gurung, whom himself falls in the martial race category argues that the Gurkhas were forced to panipatya by Rana͋͋.(|) The fact is, however, that the birth to death rituals and customs of those martial races are completely different from those of the Hindu.(48) The contribution of the Gurkhas to the Indian Army during the inter-war period consisted of ten regiments; each had two battalions. From this composition, original battalions from the four regiments were deployed to the Middle East and North Africa, from 1941 onwards. In 1940, Betham again requested that the Indian Army should be allowed a dramatic increase in its Gurkha recruitment to a total strength of 30 battalions to meet the recruitment demands of the ‘target 41’ expansion plan.(49) Formal expansion of another ten battalions had also been accepted in 1941, now reaching four battalions per regiment. All requests regarding mobilization and expansion of the Gurkhas had been unconditionally accepted by the Maharaja.

Soon the steady stream of wheaten-skinned warriors with their strange curved knives would become a flood, furnishing some 130.000 men and manning 46 battalions, including two parachutes and two garrison battalions.(50) It was the beginning of a formal expansion to the Gurkha Brigade, and a significant leap forward, taking its modernization to a new level. Unlike the Indian units where they could find potential recruits effortlessly within India, however, in the case of the Gurkha Brigade, it was a long and daunting process, with different policies of recruiting which had to have adhered because Nepal was not a British colony.

(44) Marston. D.P, Phoenix from the Ashes, p 42. (45) Uprety P.R, Nepal: a small nation in the vortex of International conflict, 1900-1950, (Pugo Mi, 1984, Kathmandu), p 220. (46) Tuker F, Gorkha; The story of the Gurkhas of Nepal, (Constable and Company Ltd, 1957, London), p 213. (*) Each Gurkhas had to go through a water purification ceremony once an individual returned from overseas, by a priest, according to the custom of Hindu religion. 47 Uprety P.R, Nepal, p 256. (|) ͋Rana is a ruling cast of Nepal and continued to be since Rana’s ancestor Janga Bahadur Rana took power of Nepal’s politics and military in 1846 by power, known as Kot Massacre in Nepalese history. He entitled himself as Maharaja. Since then, the relationship between British India and Nepal, in the matter of the Gurkhas had to go through the Maharaja. (48) Gurung C.B, British Medals, and Gurkhas, (The Gurkha Memorial Trust, 1998, Kathmandu), p 10. (49) Parker J, The Gurkhas, p 121. (50) Bullock C, Britain’s Gurkhas, p 97.

Before 1886, there was no centralized arrangement for the recruiting of the Gurkhas, as individual regiments had to find their own recruits, in most cases by smuggling through the border, however as for the 1940s, it was not as convoluted a procedure. Two recruiting depots had already been established; Darjeeling and Gorakhpur situated on the border with Nepal. Since Nepal has divided up into tribal or ethnic units and a particular set of characteristics would be attributed to a whole people on the strength of often very casual personal observations.(51)

It ensured meticulous administrative attention had to be paid, to the caste system of potential recruits to confirm their identity. Termed as Martial Race by the British Raj, soldiers fighting qualities were critically evaluated by their caste, and recruitment was tremendously affected by this system. As regards to the Gurkha regiments, Cross argues, this phrase is used as shorthand for those ethnic minorities in Nepal who, as the British Army has seen them, make the best soldiers.(52) The first martial races were the Magar and the Gurung who were recruited from the central part of Nepal.(53) The Limbu and the Rai castes were from the eastern part of Nepal, and the latter was previously regarded as a non-martial race. Mason argues the second group of caste, was not far behind in superior fighting qualities than the former as they were at first local levies, more like military police, and employed in state police forces.(54) Nevertheless, they were recruited as a martial race into the Gurkha regiments as the Gurkha’s role in the infantry was expanded in the late 19th century.
In this case, the Gurkha regiments were heavily caste influenced, in that individual battalions always had the same caste of recruits arriving at each intake. The 9th Gurkha Rifles incorporated only Thakurs and Chetris; the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Gurkhas Rifles, an equal proportion of Magars and Gurungs, while the 7th and 10th Gurkhas Rifles recruited Limbus and Rais from eastern Nepal(55). To cope with the demand for expansion, the first effort in this direction was the appointment of eleven assistant recruiting officers to be distributed as follows: six in the West and five in the East.(56) On top of that, a separate eighty regular recruiters for every battalion were designated by units. By WW-2, ex-Gurkha recruiters, known as Galla Wallas were included in the recruitment program as a way of helping the regimental recruiter.

Units had to make every effort to forecast their requirements of recruits correctly at the beginning of the season, and to change as little as possible.(57) Cross claims, subsequently that the requirement had to be presented to Rana to gain permission in the first instance.(58) As a result, the Gurkha recruiting became one of the lengthiest processes in the Indian Army. In raising the 3rd battalion in 1940, the 5th Gurkhas allocated eight recruiters, to collect 450 recruits for the 1/5th Gurkhas and 250 for the 3/5th Gurkhas. For individual units, it was important that the NCOs sent in charge of the recruiting-party should be able to distinguish between the coarse-bred land of good physique but desirable as a recruit.(59) With approximate demands of recruits from the regiment, the recruiter normally sets out on his journey to the surrounding area of his village, mostly during the Dashain period.(60) During this period, all the boys who were not actually tending the cattle and goats in the hills foregather at home for the festivities.(61) This opportunistic idea provided the chance of finding hard-working potential recruits.

(51) Caplan L, Bravest of the Brave: Representations of The Gurkhas in British Military Writings in Modern Asian Studies. (52) Cross J.P and Gurung B, Gurkhas at war: Eyewitness accounts from World War II to Iraq, (Green Hill Books, 2007, London), p 20. (53) Gurung C.B, British Medals, p 10. (54) Mason. P, A Matter of Honour, p 383. (55) Morris C.J, Gurkhas; Handbook, p 131. (56) Uprety P.R, Nepal, p 257. (57) Morris C.J, Gurkhas; Handbook for the Indian Army compiled under the orders of the Government of India, Manager of Publications, 1933, Delhi), p 141. (58) Interview with Lt Col (Retd.) J P. Cross. (59) Mason. P, A Matter of Honour, p 356. (60) Major festival of Nepal, equivalent to Christmas. (61) Morris C.J, Gurkhas; Handbook, p 136.

In this case, the role of the recruiter in the whole process of transformation was fundamentally vital. It was the Gurkha recruiters, sent from their units who had direct access to potential recruits, but not the recruiting officers stationed in recruiting depots. One must understand that ‘Rana did not authorize British recruiters to enter Nepal then, as for recruiting purposes.(62) Recruiters were those who had sole access to potential recruits. Because of this vital role, the Handbook of the Gurkhas emphasized the quality of the recruiters: It is the appearance of well being, and the tales of life in our service, which attract the potential, recruit just as much as the fact that all soldiers appear to have plenty of money.(63)

Balkrishna was easily persuaded by the flattering charm of a recruiter, and the story of his adventure. He volunteered and also consulted with his parents about his choice. In most cases, boys from villages do not get permission from their parents. Thus they take every opportunity to escape at night. Jemadar Krishna Gurung ran away with a recruiter from his village while working in a barn.(64) It was the boy who fantasized about the adventure promised by a recruiter, and his ‘Laure’ style that considered in society, higher than his social status.(65) According to Jemadar Krishna Gurung, there were not any other significant reasons, but just a personal interest to be ‘Laure’ for him.(66) Cross claims; all enjoyed seeing new places, relished the chance to win a bravery award – a bahaduri.(67) However, these boys, neither understood the value of money profoundly nor were the salary provided to the Gurkhas satisfactory then, comparing to their British counterparts.

Far worse the case may be if the Gurkhas had family living in married quarters of the battalion. Balkrishna, who lived in the quarter from 1939-1942 claims, he received only 16 rupees of salary per month. Individual had economic constrain if like him, who had to spend 12 rupees on rent, and the remaining money hardly could afford food.(68) The possibility of
earning more money was restricted to other Gurkhas, but not for parachute battalions. Dalbahadur Khatri asserts, we were given an extra 50 rupees (a month) and that, with our 16 rupees pay, made us really rich.(69) Thus unlike British soldiers, it was not a colonial lifestyle that these boys dreamed of. It was the promise and charm of recruiters that significantly played an important role, in showing overwhelming interest for volunteers.

Although, the potential recruits were initially checked by medical officers and recruiting officers, at a recruiting depot upon their arrival; the recruiter had to identify the underlying physical downfall of the young men to prevent further failure, not because of his overwhelming effort. Such as; flat-footed, deformed fingers especially the trigger finger, and bad teeth. The reason lies that; recruiters were paid a bounty on each successful recruit, but not for the failed one. Individual recruiters had enormous strains, as parents were reluctant in permitting their son to join the army, and in other cases, recruiting officers at depots looked for high standards of potential recruits. He sometimes had to return without any. In this case, Morris argues, it will be seen, therefore, that it is to a recruiter’s advantage to work for quality rather than quality.(70)

(62) Interview with J P. Cross. (63) Morris C.J, Gurkhas; Hand book, p 144. (64) Interview with Jemadar Krishna Gurung, 1/3rd Gurkhas. (65) A term, commonly used in Nepal, to refer to the Gurkhas. (66) Interview with Jemadar Krishna Gurung, 1/3rd Gurkhas. (67) Cross and Gurung, Gurkhas at War, p 18. (68) Interview with Balkrishna, 1/6th Gurkhas. (69) Cross and Gurung, Gurkhas at War, p 123. (70) Morris C.J, Gurkhas; Hand book, p 144-145.

As for the officer, normally, a battalion of Gurkha infantry consisted of 12 King’s Commissioned Officers and 17 Viceroy Commissioned Officers.(71)

To command the tidal pool of recruits, the requirement of superior officers was critically high. The rapid expansion itself had restricted individual regiments from being selective, thus forcing to accept Emergency Commissioned Officers (ECO). Marston argues, Indian officers had traditionally been restricted to positions in which they could not command British officers (72) however adaptation of ‘Indianization’ in WW-2, allowed the native Indians to commission into the Indian Army’s commissioned officer in the same grades as British Officers, but this policy did not apply to the Gurkhas.(73) In the case of the Gurkhas, they were part of the Indian Army. Nevertheless, they were not Indians. When the term Native Officers was dropped, their Subedar and Jemadars became Gurkha Officers, not Indian Officers.(74) Despite the implementation of ‘Indianization’, the system of the Officers Corps in the Gurkha Brigade remained unchanged. Only British Officers were allowed to join, not Indian. Gurkha Officers recently retired were called back while those about to retire were retained.(75)

Rather, the Gurkha units adopted and maintained a disconnected officer system other than the rest of the Indian Army. In the case of recruiting men and Officers, Mason states; the Gurkha regiments became the extreme example of the separatism.(76) Most of the regular British Officers’ places were taken by Emergency Commissioned Officers (ECO). These temporary gentlemen arrived rapidly from Britain, few with some military experience from the OTCs. Schlaefli recalls on TEWIS (Tactical Exercise Without Troops), we had to work out infantry platoon and company maneuvers in the attack.(77) Nonetheless, military skills were not the primary challenge initially; it was language to any potential officers joining Gurkhas regiments. Without learning Urdu first, and then Gurkhali, none of ECOs could join the Gurkha regiments. This proves that the language formed a barrier in one sense, however, if mastered, it provided an opportunity to prove oneself as the most exceptional officer in the Indian Army.

The ECOs’ received four to six months of tactical training that was drastically shortened from the normal schedule as a result of wartime expansion.(78) The 5th Gurkhas history claims, on joining the Gurkhas; knowledge of (a) regiment and its history and tradition (b) the Gurkhas (c) the language had to be mastered by each Officer.(79) Thus, joining the Gurkhas meant that the British officers must adhere to the way of the Gurkhas. Wounded and sick Gurkha officers and NCOs were utilized in training battalions, to teach the Gurkha customs. This particular problem imposed a tremendous level of restriction on individual regiments, in employing these officers to front-line duty.

(71) Lunt J, Jai Sixth: 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Rifles 1817-1994, (Leo Cooper, 1994, London), p 46. (72) Marston D.P, A force transformed: The Indian Army and the Second World War in A military history of India and South Asia; From the East India Company to the Nuclear Era, ed. by Marston D. P and Sundaram C.S, (Indiana University Press, 2008, Bloomington), p 121. (73) Sundaram C.S, Grudging Concession: The Officer Corps and Its Indianization, 1817-1940 in A military history of India and South Asia, p 89. (74) Mason. P, A Matter of Honour, p 309. (75) Bullock C, Britain’s Gurkhas, p 97. (76) Mason. P, A Matter of Honour, p 309. (77) Schlaefli R, Emergency Sahib; of Queens, Sikhs, and the dagger Division, (R J Leach and Co. 1992, London), p 16. (78) Marston. D.P, Phoenix from the Ashes, p 43. (79) The History of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, p 439.

End of Part 1 – Go To Part 2 (below)



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