Two views of the Field Marshal Sir John Chapple Education Centre at the Central Zoo in Jawalakhel in the Kathmandu Valley:
Martin Brooks, the Chairman of the Gurkha Museum Trustees, has kindly agreed that the following article can be posted on the 2GR website. A copy of ‘In the Presence’ is available online here.
IN THE PRESENCE (1912)
Honorary Captain Santbir Gurung, “Sardar Bahadur”, O.B.I. I.O.M., Kipling and the Wrath of the Ranas.
Some of you were asking about Santbir Gurung, on Friday whose medals we saw displayed in the HQBG Conference Room.
Well, thanks to the scholarship of our Vice Patron, our previous Chairman and others, raised up by Kipling’s wonderful interpretation, it is an admirable tale of devoted Gurkha service to the Crown followed by rank injustice at the hands of the Ranas.
“The Armies of India”, The artist A C Lovett was in 1914 the CO of the 1st Bn Gloucestershire Regiment at Mons (later a Brigadier). The images include one of Santbir Gurung 2/2nd King Edward’s Own Goorkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Regiment):
The Vigil at The Lying in State of King Edward VII
Subedar Major Santbir Gurung of the 2/2 Gookhas, Subedar Major Singbir Ghale of the 2/3rd Gurkhas, Subedar Bude Sing Negi of the 2/39th Garhwalis and Jemedar Baij Sing Rawat of 1/39th Garwhalis stood the vigil at the Lying in State of King Edward VII in May 1910. As Tony Gould points out Kipling did not name them and calls them all Gurkhas, reminding us as well that the 39th Garhwalis were originally the 2/3rd Gurkhas.
They refused all offer of interrupting their vigil and could not eat or rest much for 72 hours. This act of stoicism and reverence caused a great deal of interest and admiration in Britain, and as Richard Cawthorne, the former Chairman of the Gurkha Museum noted drew the admiration of no less a figure than Field Marshal Lord Roberts. This prompted Kipling to weave an interpretation of these Gurkhas at the Lying in State, as imagined through eyes of Sikhs and their pandit and interspersed with their own tale of honour and sacrifice; such is his genius.
King’s Gurkha Orderly Officers 1910. Photograph by C. Vandyk. Courtesy of © National Army Museum. NAM1953-06-42-8
Photograph shows: Major H St A Wake, 2nd Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles; Subadar Major Santbir Gurung, 2nd King Edward’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles); Subadar Major Singer Ghale, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles; Subadar Bude Sing Negi, 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles; Subadar Baij Sing Rawat, 1st Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles.
The King’s Indian Orderly Officers was a constituency of four distinguished Indian army officers chosen each year to serve as the King’s honorary bodyguard in the United Kingdom. On January 1st, 1903, the Viceroy issued a General Order announcing concessions to the Army in India in connection with Edward VII’s Coronation, notably the annual appointment of Indian officers. The first six Indian orderly officers were appointed in 1903; their number reduced to four in 1904. During the London season, from April to August, they attended the King at Courts and Levees, standing near the throne at reviews and ceremonies, always appearing in full regalia. For this supreme honour, officers were handpicked from all branches of the Indian Army, specially selected by the Commander-in-Chief himself.
The practice of King’s Indian Orderly officers attending Royal Lying in States was discontinued in 1936 and so there was no such attendance in 1952 when King George V1 died, as Richard Cawthorne notes. He also reminds us that The Queen’s Gurkha Orderly Officers were not instituted until 1954.
Santbir’s Exile from Nepal
The Postscript was less pleasant. Honoured by King George V, when Santbir wished to return to Nepal in 1913, he “was banished both from his caste and his country by order of Chandra Shamsher, despite the intervention of George V,” as Tony Gould describes, nominally for travelling to England without his Maharaja’s permission. Shamsher like all hereditary Prime Ministers since Jang Bahadur had inherited the title of Maharaja of Kaski originally granted by the King and therefore most Gurungs were his direct subjects. Santbir had to wait to the age of 83 to be restored to caste and country.
This is cited in academic circles as a particularly egregious example of the brittle and unpleasant nature of Rana elitism during their ascendency .
On the other hand, Chandra did put his own army at the disposal of the British in 1914 and without Jang Bahadur in the 1850s, there would probably have been no Gurkhas as we know it today.
29 Jan 2018
Cawthorne, Col Richard. (2010) The Vigil, BNS Journal pp 45-48.
Chapple, Capt John, 2GR. (1959) Kipling Journal, March 1959
Gould, Tony. (1999) Imperial Warriors- Britain and the Gurkhas pp 171-174, Granta Books London.
Whelpton, John. (2005). A History of Nepal, p 85 Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
(This article has been extracted from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers 2022 Journal. I’m most grateful to the Editor, Andy Gooch, for permission to reprint it here).
THE MAKING OF THE BRIGADE OF GURKHAS KUKRIS – A MODEL EXAMPLE OF OUR EX-BRITISH GURKHAS
In 2021 I saw a post on social media from Lt Col Simon Townsend RLC, the current COS British Gurkha Nepal about a trip he had made to Dharan where he had visited the factory that makes the kukris for today’s Brigade of Gurkhas (photo below). Thinking this would be a story our readers would also be interested in I asked Hakaraj Rai (ex QGE Sgt and latterly GWS AWO) to visit and ask some questions. The following is a result of this visit.
Article by Harkaraj Rai
Sgt Tilbahaadur Biswakarma was visited at his residence on 14 March 2022 for short interview regarding Biswakarma Khukuri Industries which was established in 1990 (BS 2047) at 10 Deulari Chowk, Chatara Line, Dharan, Sunsari.
21149842 Sgt Tilbahadur Biswakarma was originally from, Ward 3, Khiji VDC, Okhaldunga and enlisted into the British Army in November 1958 from Paklihawa. He was the last batch to enlist there as the following year recruitment for the Eastern Section moved to Dharan. He served in 10GR and during his time in the British Army he served in Malaya, Hong Kong, Singapore, UK, and Cyprus during Turkish / Greek separation period. He was trained as an armourer where he learnt invaluable skills such as arc welding, soldering and sheet metal works.
After 19 years of service with Brigade of Gurkhas Sgt Tilbahadur Biswakarma retired in 1977 and joined the Gurkha Reserve Unit in Brunei the same year. His GRU number was 498, and his job was to once more look after all weapons. In addition he renovated the canteen and retired from his second career in February 1990.
When asked “Why he started this business in first place?” His answers were very heart touching. In the first place, brave Gurkhas are known across the world and synonymous with the Gurkha Soldier is the Kukri. But on other hand the Nepal Government did not shown any interest in improving the quality of kukris while at the same time India supplied low quality kukris to the Brigade of Gurkhas and other Regiments in India.
Sgt Tilbahadur Biswkarma opened his business with fear and trepidation in 1990 (BS 2047) and first started to supply the British Brigade of Gurkhas in 1992. He missed out on the contract for some years and resumed once again in 2018 and has been supplying ever since. He supplies 600 to 1000 a year.
He personally overseas all that is made in his factory and as well as kukris he also makes other items from iron such as machetes, reaping hooks, swords, Karda, Chakma and knives. They come in various sizes and he will make whatever the customer needs.
The main propose of the kukri is to cut wood and trees and he does good business with countries such as America, China and Japan through a Kathmandu export agency. Every year a few small kuuris are produced as showcase items and are decorated. The cost of the kukri depends on size and quality and ranges from Rs 2000 to Rs 3000 per item; a far cry from the 1990 price of Rs 200.
What is used to make the kukri? He purchases old vehicle suspension leaf springs at auction as they are best for the blade and easily available. Buffalo horns are supplied from Calcutta, India to make the handle. In addition silver soldering rods, brass, a special glue from the laaha tree and hard wood (for the handle (bhend) are needed.
How is the kukri made? Once all materials for the blade have been collected and weighed they are heated up and beaten into shape. The blade is dipped in water to temper it and give it the hardness needed to be the blade of a weapon. The hardness is checked by cutting iron and listening to the sound it produces. After thoroughly checking to ensure it is of the right quality either the wooden or buffalo horn handle is fitted and tied up with a brass ring and sliver soldering to hold it in place. Finally is it highly polished and placed in a leather sheath (the Daap), to keep the kukri, the karda (small knife) and the chakmak (sharpening knife) protected. It takes one skilled person a full day to make one kukri.
Sgt Tilbahadur Biswakarma acknowledged the debt he owes to the Brigade of Gurkhas for training him as an armourer as without this skill he would not be where he is now.
He acknowledged that making kukris is a caste and generational trade and went on to say he will continue to make high quality kukris until his last breath and that he hopes this tradition will continue as long as there is a country called Nepal.
He went on to say that his ambition is not limited to his Kukri Industries business as he also wants to elevate the level of education in Nepal. To help realise this dream he has established two English Boarding Schools in Dharan. The first is the Shree Satya Shishu Niketan Secondary Boarding School which takes children from Nursery to Class 10 (age 16) Already 15 classes have passed through and attained their School Leaving Certificate (SLC). The SLC is equivalent to UK GCSEs. The second school is the Shree Gyan Niketan Primary English Boarding which has classes from Nursery to Class 6.
Sgt Tilbahadur Biswakarma is the Director of both schools and two of his sons help to run the them. His 3rd son, Khargen is helping him to run the Kukri Industry while is first son is working in Hong Kong. There are no shareholders invested in the school and he built the Secondary School on his own land. All he has earned has been invested in these schools.
A lot of Nepalis assume Nepal is a place of tremendous prosperity, technology and naturel sources (like it is in Japan), where highly educated people are the norm and who have many opportunities for innovation.
But for many Nepali’s their dream is focused on joining the British or Indian Armies or working overseas as labourers. With this in mind Sgt Tilbahadur Bisawkarma took these remarkable steps to provide a job and keep his sons in Nepal. His last message to ex-bhupus or serving soldiers is to come up with ideas for new businesses or industries so that the next generation can innovate too and become self-employed and then keep their children busy too.
Copyright: 2nd King Edward VII's Own Goorkhas - The Sirmoor Rifles Regimental Association.