Thursday, February 16, 2012


It is difficult to imagine a more honorable saga in all the annals of war than the story of the Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies . . . I had the honor of serving with these consummate professionals in Hong Kong, 1989 -S.L.

A fellow security consultant commented, "When you work with Gurkhas, you have to be very careful what you say to them, because if you tell a Gurkha to watch this door and don't let anybody through, he'll stay there long after everybody's left for the day, even if his family has to bring him dinner. And when you come back in the morning, there'll be a pile of bodies on the other side.

This is Gurkha Sergeant Dip Prasad Pun, 31, a British Gurkha soldier who single-handedly fought off an attack by at least a dozen Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, the UK’s second highest medal for bravery.

Alone on sentry duty at a checkpoint near Babaji in Helmand province, Sergeant Pun fired more than 400 rounds, launched 17 grenades and detonated a mine to singlehandedly thwart a Taliban assault. Exhausting all of his ammunition, he resorted to using the tripod of his machine gun to repel between 15 to 30 Taliban.

Pun’s father and grandfather were also in the British Army. His grandfather Tulbahadur Pun was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in Burma, during World War II.

Pun's story is well known through the British media. What the newspapers don't know is that his brother is now serving in U.S. Army Special Forces - I know this because I participated in his training, last summer down in Camp MacKall, North Carolina.

Often the mere sight of an unsheathed kukri is enough to discourage any further action. When I was with the 10th Gurkha Rifles, I was told how they aborted a revolt before it turned into a full-fledged revolution. This was in the Sultanate of Brunei, a small enclave along the lush jungle coast of Borneo between Sarawak and Sabah.

What happened was while the Sultan was on annual holiday in England, a political uprising was attempted. British military headquarters in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, was alerted and quickly flew a company of Gurkhas the short distance up the coast.

Landing at Brunei airport, the little brown men double-timed into Bruneitown and soon came in view of the rioters.

Forming a thin khaki line across the lone main street, they unsheathed their kukris and stood facing the howling mob. Looking at that silent row of men, long knives sparkling in the sun, the insurgents had second thoughts and slowly began to disband. The troops smartly about-faced, dog-trotted back to the airfield and flew home to Kuching. Elapsed time to quell the rebellion - under two hours.

The exploits of Gurkhas during the World Wars are legendary. Masters at exploiting their own mystique, Gurkha soldiers would sneak into German barracks at night and quietly make their way through the line of beds; every other soldier would have his throat slit in his sleep. When a German soldier would wake up to see that the man on either side of him was dead, he would panic; horrified to see that he could have been killed as well.

The Gurkha war cry is "Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali" which literally translates: "Glory be to the Goddess Kali, here come the Gurkhas!"

Gurkhas are determined, if nothing else. One story tells of a Gurkha who found himself in a prisoner-of-war camp in Europe during World War II. Our man punctuated his escape with the trademark Gurkha move; he beheaded a German guard on the way out. Making his way across occupied Europe on foot and mostly at night, he linked up with the French Underground and a submarine picked him up off the coast. During his debrief back in England he was asked how he managed to navigate across the Continent. "It was easy, I had a map." Having said that, he pulled out a chart and laid it on the table. It was a transit map of the London Underground.

Gurkha veterans in London, 1999.




  1. Here's the original (I think) of that story, from Bernard Fergusson's "The Wild Green Earth" (1946):

    Success in map-reading depends largely on confidence in one's own ability to read it. The results of such confidence are often surprising. There is a tale of a Gurkha, captured by the Japs in the fighting around Imphal, who managed to escape and make his way to the British positions. He was asked how he found his way. "Quite easy," he said. "I had a compass, and I had a map"; and he pointed out on his tattered map exactly how he had come. Here was this track; here was that nullah; he had dodged around the Japs here, and nearly been caught by a patrol there. The whole story was convincing; the only surprising part of it was that the map was a London street map, torn out of an old A.A. book; but a little thing like that had not daunted the Gurkha in any way at all. He had a map and a compass, and confidence in how to use both.

    Anything by Fergusson is worth reading. The above is from his chapter on Jungle Travel, which ought to be on a mandatory reading list.

  2. The way I heard the story it was Europe and it was a map of the London Underground - I read about it in a book, years ago; John Masters might have been the source, but I'm not sure. Now I'm going to have to go back and find it.

    Thanks for sharing - S.L.

  3. If the British are ever idiotic enough to cut the Ghurkas from service, I advocate that, within the hour, the US propose to enlist, buy, borrow, or steal their service.

  4. In fairness, we British also hold the record for the shortest war... 38 minutes! The "Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896". Wonderful folks the Ghurkas. Typically British, over well before Afternoon Tea and time to get an innings of Cricket too!
    TTFN :)

  5. It was my privilege to serve with the Ghurkas when I was a pilot with the Canadian Air Force assigned the the UNEF II peacekeeping force in 1974. The Ghurkas served as guards for our aircraft which were constantly under threat at Cairo International airport.

    One afternoon I was driving a UN jeep full of entertainers, one of whom had taken a picture of an Egyptian military camp by the Mohammed Ali mosque in Cairo. The error was seen by Egyptian military police who confiscated my UN ID card and ordered me to follow them to their lockup. I decided to make a run for it and, with my entertainers on board, we were racing through the streets of Cairo to the UN camp at Heliopolis. As I came careening down the road to Camp Chams, I was honking my horn to attract the attention of the guard at the gate, who luckily that day was a Ghurka.

    The guard ran onto the road, took up a position in the center and waved me through the gate while drawing his Kukri. The Egyptians, equipped with pistols and AK-47's, stopped, reversed course and headed away from Camp Chams. I had stopped just inside the gate and the Ghurka approached me, came smartly to attention and gave me a professional salute the like of which I have not seen before or since.

  6. Nice informative post on Gurkha kukri. I knew that the Gurkha kukri is used as an official weapon by the Gurkhas regimental army.