Tamandu flying the (Sirmoor) flag!

I have been asked to record the exploits of the Far East Flotilla of the Sirmoor Yacht Squadron (SYS), following the sad parting with our yacht ‘Tamandu’ in early July. The ‘Flotilla’ referred to in this article is by definition of a very singular nature! ‘Tamandu’ is a 38 foot Westerly Ocean Ranger constructed in Southampton in 1994. Her first owners had christened her ‘Baringo’ after a lake in Kenya that they often visited, but we decided to re-christen her ‘Tamandu’, in memory of Bhanbhagta’s gallantry during B Company 3/2GR’s seizure of Snowdon East in the Arakan in 1945.

Along with other other nautically minded Sirmoorees, we had much enjoyed sailing the Nuffield Trust funded Services boat ‘White Dragon’ (run aground by a ‘matelot’ on Hainan Island) and the Sail Training Yacht ‘East Wind’ (lost in a typhoon returning from the Philippines under command of an HQBF Staff Officer) in Hong Kong in earlier years. As a result we were keen to sail on our return to Hong Kong in 1997. We therefore acquired ‘Tamandu’ twenty years ago, with a view to using her, as Griselda puts it, as our ‘country cottage’. And she has been a marvellous escape from the urban confinement of Hong Kong with many blissful days and weeks spent sailing the waters of the Sai Kung Peninsula, Long Harbour and Double Haven. Given the pollution resulting from the development of the Pearl River Estuary – what is now called the ‘Greater Bay Area’ – we decided to moor her at Hebe Haven rather than the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (the Club still retains the ‘Royal’ in its English rendition). Therefore we joined the Hebe Haven Yacht Club on Hiram’s Highway – well located for sailing out into Mirs Bay, and among other destinations re-visiting the favourite anchorages frequented by ‘Jaldevi’ in years gone by. We have anchored in Governor’s Bay, Crescent Island and spent many a happy night sipping a dry martini and waking with the dawn chorus to see the rolling hills of the Tolo Peninsula. Not a sign of urban Hong Kong and the bustle and lights of the new container port of Yan Tiang (to the east of Sha Tau Kok) hidden by the hills of Kat O Chau (a section base on Border Operations). The Lavender girls and some of our granddaughters have all had enormous fun on her over the years, and we have also had ‘guest Sirmoorees’ on the helm – when Bruce and Carol Jackman, and Peter and Annie Duffell visited Hong Kong. Rachel Duffell and Mekail have also livened up our nautical escapades from time to time – as has Chris Bance (an Honorary Sirmooree by virtue of Cynthia Tuker being his Godmother).

We have periodically sailed into and anchored in Long Harbour, and landed at Ward Haven and Gurkha Haven to cast an eye over current developments and relive happy times. Ward Haven is very well looked after by Swires and available for use by their Main Board – although they seem to use it sparingly – which is a shame. Gurkha Haven had previously fallen into a state of disrepair, but on our most recent visit was undergoing substantial, if unsophisticated, redevelopment, including a modest extension to the building and establishing terraces for growing vegetables.

Tamandu Underway

We have enjoyed some very encouraging encounters with nature over the years from seeing two pink dolphins in Hebe Haven during ‘Tamandu’s sea trials, to having a Nurse shark and a Black Tip shark, make us think twice about an evening swim when anchored in Camp Cove, off Kat O Chau (although both are very timid and seldom attack humans)! The Black Tip shark appeared in October 2018 – very late in the year for sharks – but encouragingly there has not been an actual shark attack in Hong Kong since the mid 1990s.

While we have not been regular racers ‘ around the cans’ – ‘Tamandu’ has raced under SYS colours from time to time – notably in the Around the Island Race, the Macao Race (2nd place in 2005) , and the Four Peaks Race. We also competed in a very hairy ‘Cruiser Owner’s Association’ regatta racing from Sai Kung to Middle Island near Aberdeen. The race started with a reef in the Main and the storm jib hoisted in driving rain, straight into wind and with about 10 metres visibility – with a crew of two (Griselda and me) these were not ideal conditions! Incredibly, by the time we reached Cape D’Aigular at the south east corner of Hong Kong Island we found ourselves in a windless ‘hole’ . After two hour’s wallowing, and with the sun approaching the yardarm, we decided to retire, take in the genoa and motor in to Middle Island – for an early Martini. No sooner had we furled in the genoa than a ferocious squall struck – so ferocious that they closed Hong Kong Airport for 3 hours and abandoned a game of rugby in Aberdeen! The effects on the remainder of the fleet, none of whom had furled in their foresails, was chaotic – but they all had crews of 6-7 on board and could just about cope. Griselda and I found ‘Tamandu’ heeling over at 45 degrees with just the Main hoisted! Anyway we survived – but it was a most prescient decision to retire from the race when we did!

The greatest challenge – and our notable successes have been in the Four Peaks Race , which takes place in January / February each year – when the wind is usually strong and the weather chilly to say the least. The combination of running four peaks and sailing through the night make for a demanding 24 hours. In 2008 ‘Tamandu’ won her Division with Chris Gunns coming aboard as a sailor and a very strong runner. Ten years later we assembled a Gurkha-centric crew , which included Rachel Duffell, David Bulbeck (6GR), Colonel Andrew Mills and Peter Smyth (both QGE). This crew largely stayed together for three seasons – we came second in 2018, missed a mark and made poor tactical decisions leading to our retirement in 2019 (!), and came storming back in 2020 with a resounding victory over seven other boats in our Division! ‘Tamandu’s’ name will live on – engraved in the silverware on display in the Aberdeen Boat Club- under whose auspices the race is organised.

It is always better to end any venture on a high note, and with ‘Tamandu’ being 26 years old – there was an ever increasing bill for maintenance. Selling a yacht in Hong Kong is complicated by the shortage of moorings, and so when a fellow member of Hebe Haven Yacht Club expressed an interest it seemed too good an opportunity to miss, as moorings can be passed between club members. And so we handed ‘Tamandu’ over to her new owner at the beginning of July. It was inevitably a rather poignant occasion, but she is passing into good hands. Andy Brown is the Director of Kadoorie Farm and his father was a Royal Engineer who served with Gurkhas in Burma in WWII. He loves the Gurkha connection and will retain the name .

While the Far East Flotilla of the SYS is therefore no more, ‘Tamandu’ will continue to be sighted in Far Eastern waters and many a lantern will swing below decks as runners and sailors recall ‘hills run and passages made’ in the Four Peaks Race. Meantime it is back to the Med for a little chartering!

Jai SYS!

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The following short article appears in the 2021 edition of The Sirmooree. Please scroll down to read ‘The Dying Note of the Swan’s Song’ that is referenced in it (and the accompanying notes).

My father [Colonel R C Jackman OBE, 2GR 1934-48] lost his leg at the beginning of the War when he was Brigade Major of Mhow Brigade in India. He was visiting a newly arrived unit, 26/19th Hyderabad Regiment, for the first time. During his inspection of the changing of the guard a soldier had an accidental discharge from his rifle, a new weapon that the unit had only been issued with two weeks before. The round hit my father in the right knee virtually destroying it. Had it not been for some very quickly applied first aid with a tourniquet my father would have died on the spot through loss of blood. He was taken to hospital and had his leg amputated above the knee. He was of course downgraded medically and posted to GHQ Delhi where he set up E Group of which he became the Head [and work for which he was subsequently awarded the OBE – Ed]. This was an organisation tasked to infiltrate Japanese POW camps throughout the Far East to ascertain who was in them, their state of wellbeing, and to arrange escapes where possible.

When I was looking through a box of my father’s correspondence recently I came across a poem, ‘The Dying Note of the Swan’s Song’. It is about the closing down of E Group at the end of the War. It is a dirge to ‘JDC’ who was ‘Duggie’ Clague or, as we remember him, Sir Douglas Clague, a prominent figure in the hierarchy of Hong Kong. After he escaped from the Japanese POW camp in Sham Shui Po he set himself up in China and became an outpost of E Group. He was awarded the CBE for his work during the War. He and my father were very good friends as a result of their E Group experiences and both having served in India and Douglas became my brother’s Godfather in 1945 when Robin was born.

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The dying note of the swan's song & notes

Outside of the museum gates at Ghoom pahar when the author visited in 2019.  Unfortunately, it was closed for the winter.

The first of its kind Gorkha War Museum is being built outside of Darjeeling town, in close proximity to the Gorkha War Memorial at Ghoom Batase Loop. The museum is expected to be inaugurated soon. The project is the brainchild of Mr Hemant Kumar Pradhan, a local resident who happens to be the collector, founder and president of the Gorkha War Museum Trust. His late father was Subedar Ram Chandra Pradhan who served in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. The years since have seen a lot of work and effort put in by Pradhan and the Museum’s Trust members building this unique attraction which is also supported by the *Gorkhaland Territorial Administration of Darjeeling and the Government of West Bengal, India. Mr Pradhan, over the past forty years, has accumulated a significant collection of military artefacts such as accoutrements, uniforms, medals, insignia, badges, flags, equipment, photographs and souvenir items associated with both the Indian and British army Gurkhas. Within collections are some 200 medals from the First and Second World Wars, including IGSM Samana Clasp (1891); Tibet Medal (1903-04); Abor (Assam) Expedition Medal (1911-12) and Japanese WW2 Army Officers swords. Although India had new battle heroes to celebrate after independence, some of the old uniforms, battlefield objects, dusty photographs and war documents exhibited serves as a poignant reminder about the military contributions of the old Indian Army Gurkha soldiers during the two world wars.
The foundation stone for the museum was laid by Mr Jaswant Singh, then a Member of Parliament representing the Darjeeling constituency after winning election there in 2009. Since then the project had been steadily progressing albeit at a snail’s pace. In 2016, during his visit to ex-servicemen in Darjeeling, the then Col BG had also taken some time in observing the building development of the site for the museum where he met up with Mr Pradhan and planted a tree outside. The two storey building houses a display of artefacts in chronological order depicting the history of both the Indian Gorkhas and the British Gurkha Regiments. A viewing deck is built on the terrace from where visitors can view Darjeeling town and its beautiful surrounding areas with Mount Kanchenjunga range against the backdrop.
The museum’s idea is to make people and visitors coming to the Hills aware of the rich history and heritage of the region as well as to provide information about the Indian Gorkha community and their contributions to the country living there. Definitely well worth stop and visit if one happens to be in the area. [Afternote: If anyone would like to donate their military items of any kind to the museum, he would be delighted to receive them].

*There is still present the Gorkhaland movement, a campaign to create a separate state of Gorkhaland for the Nepalese speaking population in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district. The Gorkhas living in the Darjeeling Hills have been demanding for separation from West Bengal (which is now a century old) on the grounds that they are culturally, ethnically different from West Bengal. The demand for separate statehood has since taken wider shape and now includes all Nepali speaking Gorkha citizens of India across the country (also known as Indian Gorkhas) making Darjeeling as the Centre of the movement. The term “Indian Gorkha” is used to differentiate the ethnic Gorkha citizens of India from the citizens of Nepal. If so, here’s where all Gorkhas are Nepali but not every Nepali are Gorkhas, you’re sort of betwixt and between!

Visit by the then Colonel BG, Colonel James Robinson, in 2016.

The main display room.

Hand-painted picture of Maj (Hon Capt) Santabir Gurung OBI


2GR No 1 Dress jacket and hats – not sure whose they were!


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‘On This Day’ reported that on the 24th March 1981, a 1st Battalion clerk based at Sha Tau Kok went to buy some pencils in Ching Ying Street (see photo) and accidentally strayed over the border and was detained by the Chinese Police. It reminded Brigadier Bruce Jackman of a similar incident in the 2nd Battalion, again at Sha Tau Kok, in August 1979. At the time clerks, cooks, and other HQ Company personnel were being sent to the border nightly to relieve men in the rifle companies so the latter could go home and see their families or simply have a night off from the gruelling routine of ambushes to capture illegal immigrants. A recently-joined young clerk had just completed his first ambush patrol during which it had rained all night and he was soaked through. While awaiting transport back to the Battalion Lines he wandered off to buy himself a fresh, dry pair of underpants but accidentally crossed the poorly-defined Sino-Hong Kong border in Ching Ying Street and found himself apprehended by the local militia (as opposed to the People’s Liberation Army, which would have made the situation more serious and difficult to resolve). Bruce Jackman takes up the tale:

Carol and I were hosting a rather ‘duty’ curry lunch at home entertaining the Commander Gurkha Field Force, Brigadier Ian Christie, and some of his staff when my orderly came in and announced ’Telephone ayo saheb!’. When I asked who it was he said ‘OC B Coy, saheb’! Whereupon I knew it must be bad because you [John Harrop] wouldn’t have otherwise troubled me on a Sunday. After you had briefed me I told Christie who went white. We had an impromptu O Group there and then and his COS rushed off in his car to ‘Stand To’ the HQ for a major Border incident. Rapid phone calls were made to the CBF, HK Governor, and MOD. I did indeed receive instructions down the same chain via Ian Christie to play things down and keep the incident ‘low key’. The meeting between both sides astride the border in the middle of the Cha Ta Kok main street was arranged for the next day. It took a bit of negotiating by the RHKP to agree the composition of each side eventually, if my memory serves, they had representation from the PLA, the local militia, and the area politburo which we matched as best we could. As you say I had difficulty controlling myself when I was introduced to their head honcho, the area Politburo chief, at the end of their line whose name was Mr Lo Ki, an impressive tall Chinese in his high-collar Mao style jacket. I was very careful to stress that the incident had been ‘due to a misunderstanding’ – not suggesting whose misunderstanding so as to save face all round. However, when this was accepted I took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and explained, through the police interpreter, the English meaning of the term ‘low key’ to Mr Lo Ki. Fortunately he also saw the funny side of it and the otherwise rather tense incident was over with diplomatic smiles on both sides! Not a shot fired – unlike 10GR!


‘Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl visit British Forces Germany’


The Corps Commander briefed me: “We’ll send the Prime Minister and the Chancellor down the range in main battle tanks – lay that on Peter – and make sure she hits the target!”

I headed for Bergen-Hohne Ranges on historic Luneburg Heath to set things up. The Royal Hussars would man the British Challenger; 24th Panzers the German Leopard.

“His and Hers, for a duel in the sun, Sir?” suggested a sharp Cavalryman.

“Make sure she hits the target,” I responded crisply, as practice began.

At rehearsal, a Cavalry officer’s wife playing the part of the Prime Minister slid decorously through the turret hatch into the body of the Challenger tank. In so doing, her skirt caught the lip of the hatch and remained there; much to the appreciation of the tank crew below. We agreed it would be best if we could avoid that particular hazard with the Prime Minister.

On the day, RAF helicopters flew in the VIPs – PM and Chancellor, Ministers and Chiefs, assorted Generals, aides and functionaries. Eighty reporters were clustered near the PM’s spin master, Bernard Ingham:

“Are you in charge, Brigadier?”

“I am if this goes wrong!” I responded.

“Make sure she hits the target,” he barked.

Tank Commanders Hauptmann Spier and Sergeant Steve Penkethman with Leopard and Challenger crews stood ready. From the assembled Press Corps came an expectant hum as the PM stole the fashion show. While Helmut Kohl was amply filling some ill-fitting khaki overalls, Margaret Thatcher, with dashing biscuit-beige coat, white silk scarf capriciously tossed over head and shoulders and that essential accessory – matching goggles – was dressed to kill.

Prime Minister Thatcher, guarded by Sergeant Penkethman’s shoulder, and Chancellor Kohl prepare for the Battle run.

‘A cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Isadora Duncan’, reported the Telegraph.

Ready on the firing point and safely mounted, without hazard, in their command turrets the national leaders locked tank guns onto their targets, the main armaments exploded with a flash of smoke and laser beams sent 120mm shells unerringly to their objective 1500 yards distant. Then they were off, surging down the battle run with a rumble of iron-clad horse-power and billowing dust, returning from the end of the skirmish to nervous applause from anxious Generals.

I loved it” exclaimed Mrs Thatcher, I was so relieved we hit the target”.

“First time hit!” Sergeant Penkethman told a breathless Press Corps, “I’ll give her a job when she finishes!”

Chancellor Kohl smiled. Bernard Ingham chuckled.

‘Bullseye Maggie,’ headlined the Express.

‘Maggie shells Russia,’ shouted the Mirror.

Four years after the Falklands war, iconic tank photographs appeared on the front pages, restoring Mrs Thatcher’s fading ‘Iron Lady’ image and helping her re-election. The PM continued in office; the Corps Commander was promoted; Steve Penkethman was duly commissioned. I still have my signed programme.

The author’s signed programme


(Peter Duffell was Chief of Staff to Commander 1(BR) Corps in Germany in 1986)

[This article was written by Colonel Ray ‘Jackers’ Jackman after a visit by him and Joan to Bruce and Carol in Hong Kong in 1972. It was found written in a notebook discovered by Bruce a few years ago amongst his late mother’s possessions. Pieces in [brackets] are additions by Bruce.]

Last November [1971], during an alcoholic farewell party for Bruce and Carol before they left to rejoin the 1st Battalion in Hong Kong, someone mentioned that it was possible to fly to Bangkok for £80, and so an idea of a visit to Hong Kong was born. The idea became reality at 2200hrs on Tuesday 7th March [1972] when a British United Airways/Caledonian Boeing 707 took off from Gatwick heading eastwards.

Joan and I were fortunate enough to be sitting in gangway seats with an empty one between us and the passengers in the window seats. Shortly after take-off a little man sitting in my row clambered out only to reappear a few moments later with a bottle of whisky and three cans of Coke. Having settled himself down he poured himself a stiff whisky which he drank very quickly and was soon into his second. In answer to his question I acknowledged the lady opposite as being my wife. He asked whether she would like to change places with him because he reckoned that he was likely to give me a disturbed night by his frequent trips to the rear. By way of explanation he volunteered that he was scared stiff of flying (the poor chap was bound for Yokohama to join his tanker) and with a trembling hand demonstrated his apprehension as the undercarriage had retracted with a shudder and thud. He had imagined that it was coming right through the floor. He told me that the only remedy was to get absolutely stoned and that was what he intended to do. Naturally I agreed to his suggestion and eventually we all settled down for the night.

From time to time during the night I glanced across to see my friend fully maintaining his intention as evidenced by the level of of the whisky in the bottle. At some stage he must have achieved his objective for when we came in to land at Bahrain there he was out to the world, with one arm flung over the back of his seat, the other hanging limply in the gangway. He looked like some rather battered butterfly pinned to a setting board. Nothing woke him, not even the hostess slamming his seat forward into the upright position and fastening his seat belt for him. As we reached the end of the runway there was a click of a switch and everything stopped. As if I was an experienced air traveller I said to Joan, “How very considerate; they’re going to tow us in by tractor because of the dust.” How wrong I was. We were soon to learn that something had gone wrong with the hydraulics and we were to be stuck in Bahrain for 12 hours!

Now Bahrain isn’t exactly my choice of a place to be stuck, but I suppose everyone did their best to cope with 120 unexpected visitors. After a couple of hours we were given breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, toast and marmalade. Then came the announcement that we were to be taken to the Bahrain Hotel to rest. We were herded into four school buses obviously commandeered at short notice. The seats were far too narrow for comfort and on the windscreen in Arabic and English was a notice, “Do not place your arm or any other part of your body out of the windows.” The mind boggled at the thought of Arab children travelling to school with their feet sticking out of the windows! If any of us imagined that we were going to be treated to the delights of a modern hotel, our misgivings arose when our bus turned through the gateway into a typical Eastern bazaar, soon to be crawling along with much horn blowing behind a rubber-tyred two-wheeled cart hauled by a diminutive donkey, and surmounted by two Arabs equally oblivious to time and the exasperation they were causing behind them.

Eventually we stopped and it took some minutes for the truth to sink in. There before us was the Bahrain Hotel; a pinkish coloured building, its windows shuttered against the wind and sun, slap in the middle of the bazaar. Inside, in what might be described as a foyer, pandemonium reigned. There were not enough seats to go round and barely room to stand. The harassed airline officials and an Arab reception clerk were doing their best to allocate the available rooms to accommodate as many as possible. The bedrooms were cell-like affairs on either side of narrow corridors on four floors. The furniture was basic, the beds were hard, and the pillows stuffed with concrete! Mercifully, at about 1730hrs we were invited to make our way to the Dolman Hotel, a modern, well-appointed hotel on the seas-front.There we were given drinks and a first class dinner by the airline. Eventually after embussing and three re-counts we left for the airport for our onward flight to Bangkok and thence to Hong Kong.

I can thoroughly recommend Thai International Airways. The hostesses are charming in their mauve uniforms; the orchid sprays for lady passengers beautiful; the martinis just as they should be; the food excellent; and the wine unlimited. The pilots also fly the planes rather well! Just over three hours flight and your plane is making that low semicircular approach, almost brushing the sky-scrapers of Kowloon before putting down on the runway – and you just hope the thing is going to stop before rolling off the end into the sea! Carol was there to meet us with Toby, aged nearly two, and soon we were in the car driving through the Lion Rock tunnel to Sha Tin and up the winding road to their flat in Sha Tin Heights. Bruce joined us a couple of hours later. Our holiday had really begun.

The first week of our stay was a leisurely affair allowing us to unwind and prepare for the good times to come. We did, however, watch the semi-final of the Nepal Cup match between 1st and 2nd Battalions, which the 1st Battalion won by 3 goals to 1. It was a bit of ordeal being ‘home’ again after 26 years and meeting the GOs of both Battalions after the game, but a couple of whiskies eased the situation and loosened the tongue which had refused to acknowledge any other language but English.

Happily, and unknowingly, the second week coincided with Gurkha Brigade Week. Along with a great deal of work for those immediately concerned with the more serious side of soldiering, the week provided a full programme of entertainment for a much wider audience as the following will show:

Sunday 19th March.
Morning service in the Garrison church at Sek Kong. It was 2GR’s turn to do the ‘honours’. The lessons were read by Nigel Haynes and Christopher Wilson. The sermon was good, as was the singing – and Toby saw it through without any trouble. After the service we repaired to the 1st Battalion’s Officers’ Mess in Cassino Camp for drinks on the lawn and an enormous curry lunch.

Tuesday 21st March.
An early start to complete the 40 minutes journey from Sha Tin to Sek Kong in time for the Recruits Passing Out Parade at 0815hrs. In the evening we drove back again to Sek Kong for Beating Retreat and a Cocktail Party in the Training Depot Officers’ Mess. The Band & Bugles and Pipes & Drums put on a display of the highest standard one has now come to expect. The setting, with its backcloth of hills in the distance, was reminiscent of the North West Frontier. I will draw a veil over the Cocktail Party, except to mention that we met a lot of charming people and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Wednesday 22nd March.
This was the day of the Nepal Cup Final between 1st Battalion versus 6GR. Although starting out as favourites, and probably the better side, we [1st Battalion] were beaten by a side which stuck to its guns and seized its opportunities. The standard of football has improved out of all recognition since my day and, after seeing what is so bad in the professional game in England, it was a joy to see the game played without any arguing with the referee or kissing between the players! Long may it be continued to be played in this way.

The evening saw me at the Training Depot Officers’ Mess for Dinner at the kind invitation of MGBG, Major General Bunny Burnett. This was indeed an honour since I was the only one not involved officially with Gurkha Brigade Week. It was a wonderfully satisfying evening. The lightly polished table; the silver; the Mess Orderlies silently appearing at one’s elbow; the port circulating amid the smell of cigar smoke; and good humoured conversation. Being a Sassenach I’ve never got unbuttoned over the sound of pipes at close quarters, but the evening wouldn’t have been the same without them.

Thursday 23rd March.
We were off to Sek Kong again to watch 2GR take on the rest of the Brigade at cricket. We lost. I’ve forgotten the scores, but no matter. John Burlison took an unbelievable catch; Bruce hit a couple of sixes; and my glass was refilled as soon as it was empty!

48 Brigade Ball that evening at the Peninsular Hotel was a glorious affair. 300 of us attended with a variety of Mess Kits to add colour to the evening and set off to perfection the lovely dresses worn by the ladies. Supper was a ‘get-it-yourself’ buffet affair from tables which, I swear, stretched the length of two cricket pitches and were laden with every kind of dish imaginable. The Dance Band of the Black Watch provided music for dancing during the evening, and we were treated to a display of Scottish Dancing by soldiers of the Brigade of Gurkhas. After some energetic dancing by a group of young Phillipinos, the local ‘Tiller Girls’ attempted some high kicking and a dance of the Seven Veils which took them down to their coconut shells! One of these energetic young women, a red-head, bore a remarkable resemblance to Rory Ormsby! At 0330hrs proceedings came to a close. Then it was back through the Lion Rock tunnel to Sha Tin and home to bed.

Friday 24th March.
This was the day of the Brigade Khud Race; something I had never witnessed before. The course was set over a distance of just under a mile and a half(1200 yards out and 1250 yards back) with an ascent of 1300ft (average 1 in 2.5) on a hill called ‘Nameless’ (I can imagine that the hill had several other names for it by the end of the race!). The winner, a Rai from 10GR, the unit that won the Senior Units’ Team Race, covered the course in 16 minutes 52 seconds, a full five minutes faster than the first British competitor.

There followed a glorious evening spent in the company of the GOs of both Battalions at the 2nd Battalion QGOs’ Mess by kind invitation of Major (QGO) Surrendraman Gurung. Birdie Smith, Gordon Richardson, Terry Bowring, and Bruce were also invited. It was a far cry from similar parties in the old days in Dehra. Here was a first rate buffet supper and drinks galore. And what superb company we were in, as Gordon remarked, “Where in the world could one find such a wealth of battle experience and examples of bravery?” The rakshi provided the necessary lubricant to the extent that Gordon was heard to remark towards the end of the evening that my Gurkhali was rather better than when I was with the Regiment! All too soon it was time to leave. I took the precaution of requesting a forward escort in the shape of Balbahadur, now happily back with the Regiment as Families Welfare Officer, but whom I had last met in England when he was being fitted with his prosthetic leg. I reckoned that he would know of any slight obstacles on the way to the car that were likely to put the unwary, completely sober mono-ped in a heap on the ground and happily I was not in that condition. At the car we each said our farewells, Surrendraman, Thandraj and I, sadly because we all knew that it could never happen again, but what a memory to take away from Hong Kong. [Captain (QGO) Balbahadur Thapa was severely injured by a tree-fall at night whilst on exercise in the jungle a couple of years earlier. This tragedy resulted in his right leg being amputated above the knee and a period of rehabilitation at Headley Court. I was an instructor at Mons OCS at the time and my father and I visited Balbahadur. He came to stay at our home in Surrey where he and my father shared experiences of managing with a prosthetic limb. My father taught Balbahadur to shoot pigeon – something he managed to achieve without falling over, much to his surprise and jubilation].

Sunday 25th March.
The morning saw a revival of Regimental Polo. 2GR played 10GR in an inter-regimental polo match for the Dehra Dun Cup. This was the old Dehra Dun Hot-weather Cup which the Regiment had donated for this competition. The players were mounted on Borneo ponies ranging from 12 to 13 hands. These small ponies have plenty of go and provide a lot of fun for their riders. 2 GR, represented by John Chapple, Charlie Cardwell [QM 1st Battalion], Johnny Kaye and Harvey Gates were given 2½ goals handicap. 10GR, who possessed two good players in Charlie Newton Dunn and Mike Boissard, ran out the winners by 8 to 2½. General Bunny presented the Cup to 10GR after John Chapple had made it known that the cup was on temporary loan and would be returned to its rightful place next year!

And so our stay in Hong Kong was over as far as contact with the Regiment was concerned. We spent a most entertaining week on the Island with a day at Happy Valley at the races in extreme comfort and luxury in the box of an old friend, Douggie Clague (Chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club), a day cruising in his motor yacht, and numerous parties. We journeyed back via Bangkok where we paused to visit friends and see the wonders of the Royal Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Reclining Buddha, finally arriving at Gatwick in the morning of Saturday 31st March to be greeted by rain and the threat of a rail go-slow!

We think, indeed we hope, we have written to all who put up with us and looked after us, but to the many others who may read this inadequate account and who were so kind and considerate, and lavish with their hospitality, may we say thank you for giving us the “full treatment”. [As far as I am aware this account was intended for the Sirmooree but was never printed – until now!]

Sir, please find attached two short articles extracted from the latest Indian newspapers on the Indian Army recruitment of Kumaos and Garwahls into Gorkha Regiments.

Download (DOCX, 1.31MB)

It makes me wonder how they get through the integration ‘communication wise’ as all non-Gorkhas in the Gorkha Rifles have to learn Nepali so they can communicate with their regiments although I assume these are mostly Officers who have to learn the Gorkhali language to be able to interact with their men in their native tongue?

However, in the latest news, it says, “Move to open up Gorkha Rifles recruitment for non-Gurkhas gets mixed response” from veterans and experts. Some welcoming the move, saying the criteria (to recruit only Gorkhas for GRs) was created during British rule and doing away with it is practical now, especially in view of the current tensions between India and Nepal. (Till now, only Indian-domiciled or Nepal-domiciled Gorkhas were inducted into the 40 battalions that make up the 7 Gorkha Rifles regiments of the Indian Army. Currently, the ratio of Nepalese and Indian troops in a GR battalion is 60:40). Others though condemned it, saying it will only distort the ethnicity of one of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army.  Some of the comments:

….”the move will increase opportunities for youths of Garhwal and Kumaon to join the Army”

….”an inclusive move as we have been continuing the British legacy of inducting only Gorkhas to Gorkha regiments. Now, even the Gorkha community is venturing into sectors other than combat roles, i.e. Engineering, Medical, which is a good thing. However, this is diminishing the number of potential army recruits. So, the Indian Army looking into the possibility recruiting non-Gorkhas is a positive move.”

… “the move will prove a boon for the youth of Uttarakhand.”

…. “if not many Gorkhas are signing up to join then the opportunity is given to Kumaoni and Garhwali youths instead – army will retain its force. People from Uttarakhand are accepted because they share the Gorkhas’ culture, language [?] and traditions.”

…. “it is obvious that induction of non-Gorkhas (into GRs) will disturb the essence of the battalion, which has its own ethnicity and art of warfare.”

…. “bad for the regiment. There are around 2 crore Gorkhas in Indian. Their maximum population is concentrated in Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Himalchal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and even in South Indian. So we have lot of potential staffers for the Indian Army. Why should they invite people form Uttarakhand in the Gorkha regiments, when the state already has its own two regiments, Garhwal and Kumaon regiments.”

… “the Indian Army should keep Gorkhas separate as their traditions and core values are different. As far as Indian-Nepal tensions are concerned, the Army should stop recruiting from Nepal altogether if it has apprehensions.”

Looking back into our own Brigade, at the formation of larger regiment and the introduction of centralized manning, the inter Bn cross posting could not happen due to differences [whatever] between Eastern and Western Gurkhas? Though I am not sure if there is the same sort of regional divide in the Indian Army Gorkhas battalions?

Gorkha recruitment articles

Sir, reading from the recent ‘On This Day’ post, it is interesting to know that 2nd Goorkhas (in particular Capt H Becher) were the ones who considered replacing the Kilmarnock hat. I also recall some years ago after arriving in Glasgow, in pursuit of self-interest, visiting Kilmarnock in order to find out its historical link with the ‘hat’. Only to find out that actual ‘hat makers’ were based not there but in Stewarton, a small town up further north of East Ayrshire. I am yet to go there and explore!

While in Kilmarnock, I also discovered one of Scotland’s oldest working distilleries, home to the famous Johnnie Walker (JW) whiskey which is very popular among the Gurkhas. I met a G4S security guard at the gate who told me that the factory had been closed for years, now it was only a bottling plant, all distilleries had moved up in the Highlands and I was the first visitor he had seen in years. He further said that people tend to think that it’s the world’s number one whiskey, especially the Japanese (he probably thought I flew in from Japan!) but would not say the same to himself rather it was just a commercial whiskey. He then kindly allowed me to take a quick ‘selfie’ in front of the iconic ‘JW’ sign before I headed back to Glasgow, completely sober!

2 gr blog pics

I recently came across the photos at the end of this post showing Dharan camp post-handover and a few of it while still occupied.

The Cantonment was established in 1953 and was where the L of C (Lines of Communication) HQ, Eastern Gurkha Recruiting Depot, Resettlement Training Centre, Welfare Headquarters and British Military Hospital were located.  It was known locally as Ghopa Camp.  The camp was closed in 1989 and handed over to the Nepalese Government in 1991 at which point the hospital was converted into the B.P. Koirala Memorial Institute of Medical Sciences, run with Indian aid, which doubled as a hospital and college. The abandoned and decaying buildings that once were offices, married quarters, messes, canteens still stand as if frozen in time.  Nearby is the still-functioning 18-hole golf course, which is in private hands today.  The camp is guarded by G4S (Global Security Services).

Many of Sirmooris recruited in the east of Nepal served there.  In addition, the following 2GR British Officers are believed to have served there:

  • Colonel H G W Shakespear MC (AA & QMG HQ BGN, Dharan from 12 Dec 66 to 18 Jun 69)
  • Brigadier E D Smith DSO MBE (Commander British Gurkhas Line of Communication, Dharan, Nepal from 26 Sep 71 to 22 Sep 80)
  • Maj(GCO) Narbu Lama MBE (Chief Administrative Officer British Gurkha Depot Dharan from 14 Oct 74 to Feb 80)
  • Brigadier Vernon Beauchamp (Detached to HQ British Gurkhas, Dharan, Nepal, as temporary AA & QMG and Deputy Commander from 28 Jun 79 to 22 Sep 79)
  • Brigadier Mike Smith (Commander and Chief Recruiting Officer of British Gurkhas Nepal with his HQ in Dharan, Nepal from 20 Jun 82 to 6 Jun 85)
  • Brigadier Bruce Jackman OBE MC (SO1 Chief of Staff/Deputy Commander HQ British Gurkhas Nepal from 22 Apr 84 to 30 Aug 85)
  • Major (QM) Les Peacock (QM and MTO HQ British Gurkhas Nepal in Dharan from 4 Dec 86 [assuming the appointment on 15 Dec 86] to 30 Aug 89)
  • Brigadier John Brewer CBE (SO1 Deputy Commander/Commandant Dharan HQ, HQ British Gurkhas Nepal from 16 Oct 88 to 9 Nov 89 where he planned and implemented the closure of Dharan Cantonment).
  • Major Rambahadur Gurung MBE (Posted to BGD Dharan as CAO from 6 Feb 87 to Feb 90 during which time there was a major earthquake in East Nepal and for his efforts during the recovery phase he was appointed MBE).

Additions or amendments to this list, and any reminiscences about the place, are most welcome.  Please just click on ‘Comment’ below and comment away!

Above: South Gate.

Above: Dharan Club

Above: Senior British Ranks Married Quarter

South gate dharan camp Dharan club pics British mqs dharan

(Report and photos supplied by Edward Mackaness)

OC Sirmoor Shikar Andrew Johnston organised a party of guns for a fabulous day’s shooting at Maraconi Farm on Saturday 17th October.  Guns assembled at 0800 for delicious smoked salmon and scrambled egg at Andrew’s home. Some guns were looking the worse for wear from the night before (names and photos withheld). The six vehicle convoy departed on time and surprisingly didn’t get lost. So far so good. The Beaters and Keepers turned out a guard of honour to welcome us:

Cries of “Captain Mannering – don’t panic” were definitely heard amongst the home crowd and despite Brigadier Bruce’s attempts to disassociate ourselves from the label, as a moniker it wasn’t totally out of place! The hukum to bring our Kukris had only reached half the team so those who had paid attention were pushed to the front row and “Ayo Gurkha” was the cry whilst brandishing Kukris to the somewhat bemused assemblage of beaters. John Swanston (The Doc) brandished a desktop kukri paperknife …perhaps he was hedging his bets on dealing with a battlefield casualty.

Once we debussed we had effectively crossed the start line. What did they say at Staff College…something about a plan and contact with the enemy?? And so it was…Andrew’s patrol commands weren’t being understood by all as hearing aids, despite being at full volume were not doing the trick. Guns heading off to the wrong drive was only half the problem. There was a significant water obstacle to contend with and so with only one gun on (the wrong) peg the first wave of partridges sailed over. I guessed about 400 in total and they definitely dipped their wings as they flew over us. The Beaters  rolled their eyes skywards ..the OC was heard to say “well that certainly wasn’t meant to happen”! Suddenly the seriousness of the endeavour sank in and the guns deployed in jolly quick time.

A pause in the shoot

Over the years the Sirmoor Shikar has been assailed by the most ferocious weather and high winds but this year’s weather was mild and fair by comparison. In these conditions with a slight north easterly blowing, the guns were spoilt with a really first class presentation of birds, all down the line and generally in steady numbers. This was an absolute treat for all of us and the beaming grins at elevens indicated how much we are enjoying this superb display of partridges  by our hosts. The quality of shooting was absolutely first rate (a ratio of 3.13 cartridges to one kill – never been achieved before!).  In particularly good form were The Brigadier and Major Thomas who both shot extraordinarily well. David’s clumber spaniel, off his lead during the drive, couldn’t stop himself and set about retrieve mid drive.

David Thomas with dog

This normally would have resulted in words from the OC but I think either rank got in the way or the fact that Joanna had him back on the lead in double time spared David the fine for poorly behaved hound. The rest of the badly behaved dog owners were just delighted it wasn’t their badly behaved hound.

The day was a truly wonderful and happy gathering of old friends. It was the perfect antidote to the current goings-on. Considering  many of the guns had never served or worked with each other during our service it was a wonderful reminder of the strength of the 2GR family that we could nevertheless roar and laugh and joke. Andrew was a wonderful host and he remained composed and calm at all times.

David and Andrew (with another dog)

We finished the day with a delicious picnic lunch in a crumbing set of cattle barns which were once owned by Maharajah Duleep Singh who was the last ruler of the Sikh empire. Exiled to the UK in 1854 the Maharajah owned the Hatherop Estate, of which Macaroni Farm is a part. It is  a local legend that that an over-sized barn complete with a large arched entrance and sloping floor was built to house elephants that were going to be imported to carry out farm work.

The Elephant Barn

Although the elephantine farm work did not materialise, I can confirm that it had indeed been home to a family of elephants from the 1850s for about forty years who were used to play Elephant Polo on the grounds of nearby Bibury Court Hotel. All true!

The Sirmoor Guns were:

Brigadier Bruce Jackman OBE MC
Mrs Val Urquhart (wife of Major John Urquhart)
Major David Thomas MBE
Major Michael Willis
Colonel John Swanston – The Doc
Mr Peter Taylor
Captain Rupert Corfield
Captain Edward Mackaness

The Guns.  L to R: Michael Willis; Rupert Corfield; Val Urquhart; David Thomas; Peter Taylor; Bruce Jackman; John Swanston.  Edward Mackaness is at the front holding the camera.

Afterword from a subsequent WhatsApp chat:

So the Sirmoor tradition continues…..this photo is a 1st Battalion ‘shikar’ in Iraq in 1941. L to R: Subedar Sire Rana, Capt Ramsay-Brown, Maj Edwards, Capt Shore.  The Regimental History says that during the winter months [of 1941] “The scattergun experts were in paradise: black partridge, woodcock, sandgrouse, bustard, pigeon, sisi, chiker, teal, pochard, mallard, quail, and hare were plentiful”. The History also reports of another occasion that year: “On one memorable day outside Abadan, the bag amounted to nearly 100 brace of black partridge. Iced beer reached the drive every half-hour”. Apart from the type of birds being shot it doesn’t sound as if much has changed in the intervening 79 years!

In fact, this photo from the Regimental albums goes even further back and shows a ‘record bag of chickor – 101 birds – 6 guns’ on one outing while the 1st Battalion was on garrison duty in Chitral 1907-1909.

It doesn’t specify who ‘the guns’ were, but it probably included some of the officers in this picture taken about the same time:

Img 20201028 130520 Img 20201028 130819 Photo 16 bcj Photo 15 bcj