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Nepalese soldiers proved to be the British army’s “bravest of the brave.”

“If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha.” This judgment by Indian army Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who as a lieutenant colonel commanded a Gurkha  battalion, is a testament to the unmatched bravery of the Nepalese soldiers who have served in British forces for nearly two centuries.

British military leaders first faced Nepal’s troops in combat during the 1814-16 Anglo-Nepalese War. They were so impressed by the courage, martial spirit and fighting prowess of these soldiers that they recruited them to form infantry units in British service (the first 5,000 in 1815). The name “Gurkha” is derived from Nepal’s Gorkha district, where the men were recruited.

Since then, British army Gurkha units have forged an enviable reputation as ferocious fighting forces on countless battlefields. During World War I, they fought on the Western Front, in the Middle East and at Gallipoli. In World War II, they served in North Africa, Italy, Greece, Malaya, Singapore and Burma. Post-World War II, Gurkha units participated in the Malaya Emergency, Falklands War and Gulf War. Most recently, they were deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Since 1911, when Gurkhas first became eligible to receive the Victoria Cross, 13 Nepalese soldiers have been recognized with Britain’s highest valor award. Over half of these awards were for heroism in jungle combat against the Japanese army in the brutal 1942-45 Burma Campaign. (An additional 13 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to British officers serving in Gurkha units.)

Gurkhas are superb light infantry soldiers, proficient in the use of all types of weapons. However, their distinctive close combat weapon is the traditional Nepalese knife, the fearsome-looking kukri (or khukuri). Typically 16-18 inches long, it features a broad, inwardly curving blade that facilitates a deadly “chopping” motion that can easily slice through muscle and bone.

Today, the British army’s Brigade of Gurkhas consists of 3,460 soldiers serving in infantry, engineer, signal, logistics and training and support units. Yet Gurkhas serve in other nation’s forces as well, including Nepal’s army (two battalions), India’s army (42,000), the Singapore Police Force (2,000) and the Sultanate of Brunei (2,000).

A fitting tribute to these Great Warriors is the inscription on the British memorial to the Gurkhas, located in London: “The Gurkha Soldier: bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you.”


Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, “Armchair General” Editor in Chief.

Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Armchair General.

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Jerry D. Morelock (7/24/2024) British Army Gurkhas. HistoryNet Retrieved from
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