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Brigade of Gurkhas is the collective name which refers to all the units in the British Army that are composed of Nepalese Gurkha soldiers. The brigade, which was 3,430 strong as of 1 April 2019[update], draws its heritage from Gurkha units that originally served in the British Indian Army prior to Indian independence, and prior to that served for the East India Company. The brigade includes infantry, engineering, signal, logistic and training and support units. They are known for their khukuri, a distinctive heavy knife with a curved blade, and have a reputation for being fierce and brave soldiers.
The brigade celebrated 200 years of service in the British Army in 2015.
During the war in Nepal in 1814, in which the British attempted to annex Nepal into the Empire, Army officers were impressed by the tenacity of the Gurkha soldiers and encouraged them to volunteer for the East India Company. Gurkhas served as troops of the Company in the Pindaree War of 1817, in Bharatpur, Nepal 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) and the 60th Rifles famously defended Hindu Rao's house.
During the Malayan Emergency in the late 1940s, Gurkhas fought as jungle soldiers as they had done in Burma. The Training Depot Brigade of Gurkhas was established on 15 August 1951 at Sungai Petani, Kedah, Malaya. After the conflict ended, the Gurkhas were transferred to Hong Kong, where they carried out security duties. The troops patrolled the border checking for illegal immigrants entering the territory, most crucially during the turbulence of the Cultural Revolution. They were deployed to contain crowds during the Star Ferry riots of 1966. After Indian independence and partition in 1947, 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 1 January 1948. The 1st/2nd Gurkha Rifles was deployed to Brunei at the outbreak of the Brunei Revolt in 1962. In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and the 10th Gurkha Rifles was sent to defend the British sovereign base area of Dhekelia. On 1 July 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 1 July 1997, the British government handed Hong Kong over to the People's Republic of China, which led to the elimination of the local British garrison. Gurkha HQ and recruit training were moved to the UK. The Royal Gurkha Rifles took part in operations in Kosovo in 1999, in UN peacekeeping operations in East Timor in 2000 and in Sierra Leone later that year.
In September 2008 the High Court in London ruled that the British Government must issue clear guidance on the criteria against which Gurkhas may be considered for settlement rights in the UK. On 21 May 2009, and following a lengthy campaign by Gurkha veterans, the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced that all Gurkha veterans who had served four years or more in the British Army before 1997 would be allowed to settle in Britain.
Former units included:
Current units of the Brigade of Gurkhas include:
In 2018, the UK Government announced that it intended to expand the brigade by more than 800 posts, with the Queen's Gurkha Engineers receiving an additional squadron, while the Queen’s Gurkha Signals and the Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment will receive two new squadrons. Additionally, approximately 300 new posts within the Royal Gurkha Rifles will be created forming a new battalion planned for the Specialist Infantry role. In 2018, it was announced that from 2020, female applicants would be able to apply to join the Gurkhas. However, this decision was reversed in 2019.
The selection process for the Gurkhas is demanding: in 2017, 230 trainee riflemen were recruited from about 25,000 applicants. Recruitment is run by British Gurkhas Nepal; based at Jawalakhel, near Kathmandu, the main recruiting centre is in the city of Pokhara. Recruitment sees the prospective soldier undergo two stages of selection; first the regional selection at either Pokhara or Dharan, where the recruit undertakes a series of physical tests, written English and numeracy assessments, and an interview. Those that pass regional selection move forward to the central selection process in Kathmandu, which sees further physical and language tests, a medical and a second interview.
Gurkhas training lasts for 36 weeks and addresses a range of areas such as the Brigade ethos, language training, cultural training, career management and trade selection, as well as the same 26-week Combat Infantryman's Course that the Line Infantry receive. This enables the trained Gurkha soldiers to fulfill their roles on operations and continue the traditions of their forefathers.
In addition to running recruitment of soldiers to join the British Army, British Gurkhas Nepal also runs the recruitment process for the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force. Recruits indicate at the registration stage whether they wish to join the Singapore Police or the British Army.
Brigade HQ is based at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Surrey. Two battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles are formed as light role infantry; they are not equipped with either armoured or wheeled vehicles. The 2nd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles is based at the British garrison in Brunei as part of Britain's commitment to maintaining a military presence in SE Asia. The 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles is based at Shorncliffe Army Camp, near Folkestone in Kent as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, and is available for deployment to most areas in Europe and Africa. The 3rd Battalion, to be stationed at Aldershot, is approximately half the size of the others, and is a so-called 'specialised infantry' battalion, serving in the training role as part of the Specialised Infantry Group.
The British memorial to the Gurkhas was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 December 1997. The inscription on the monument is a quotation from Sir Ralph Lilley Turner, a former officer in the 3rd Gurkha Rifles.
A series of events took place in 2015 to mark 200 years of service by the Gurkhas in the British Army including a march past Buckingham Palace.
Under international law, according to Protocol 1 Additions to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Gurkhas serving as regular uniformed soldiers are not mercenaries. According to Cabinet Office official histories (Official History of the Falkland Islands, Sir Lawrence Freedman), Sir John Nott, as Secretary of State for Defence, expressed the British Government's concern that the Gurkhas could not be sent with the task force to recapture the Falkland Islands because it might upset the non-aligned members of the fragile coalition of support that the British had built in the United Nations. The then-Chief of Defence Staff Sir Edwin Bramall, a former officer in the 2nd Gurkhas like Nott, said that the Gurkhas were needed for sound military reasons (as a constituent part of 5th Infantry Brigade) and if they were not deployed then there would always be a political reason not to deploy Gurkhas in future conflicts. So he requested that Nott argue the case in Government for deploying them against the advice of the Foreign Office. Nott agreed to do so, commenting that the Gurkhas "would be mortified if we spoilt their chances [of going]".