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

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(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:

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SALAAMS FROM THE MACKS

Hi everyone – During the Pandemic the Mackaness clan have been holed up largely together in our home in Bishops Stortford. Working for a Global Law Firm turns out to be very good hedge against the Pandemic so I really count my blessings. I look after the Firm’s property and I am now re-writing the property plan for all our offices around the world as we adjust to a world where we work from home two or three days a week. I do not think I will be buying a season ticket again! Sarah and I are plotting to spend three months in Nepal next year doing some voluntary work and we are talking to Mondo about joining a programme of teacher coaching and providing mentorship to trainee teachers in the Helambu valley. We’ll see! It’s been so sad that so many reunions have been cancelled, including the 2nd Battalion gathering in March.

Sirmoorees may be interested to know that I have an “active” Army connection! My youngest daughter Lucy, who is at Bath University, has joined Bristol OTC! It’s been fun to listen to her impressions of Longmore, Sennybridge and Copehill Down and then utter that dreadful refrain “When I was at…” Poor Girl. Here’s a photo of Lucy (over which I do somersaults of pride) cammed up in a secret location in the south of England. My good friend David Wombell (7GR) commented that she has made far better use of war paint than I ever did. And next year she has a secondment working with the MOD in Andover (non-uniform) as part of her Psychology degree. She assures me she will not be joining the Army but it is interesting to watch her confidence grow as she has endured the relative hardships of OTC.

Sarah is well and sends her best wishes to all her friends in the Sirmoor family. She is a learning mentor in the village school but the last few months have been very difficult for the school as you can imagine. I am applying for tickets to the Remembrance Parade at the Cenotaph this year and I do encourage anyone to apply to Bruce Mckay. It is such a good reunion for the Sirmoor family who consistently out number all other Brigade cap badges. Keep Well and Jai Sirmoor.

 

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BLACK LIVES MATTER (BLM) – A GURKHA PERSPECTIVE

Many like me who have served in the Brigade will be looking on with bewilderment at the BLM Movement sweeping across much of the western world. Its genesis lay not just in the specific of the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman in Minnesota, but more generally in the long-standing racial tensions that are deeply embedded in United States society. It has now spread to this country.

The Movement on both sides of the Atlantic has moved quickly to focus on slavery and its legacy as the cause of racial tension. In America memories of the Civil War have provided a lightning rod for further unrest and dissent. In this country the toppling of Colston and associated demonstrations are indicative of our troubled history of racial integration. But is at this juncture that we diverge from the United States to move the debate on from slavery to colonialism, and in doing so embrace a wider BAME cohort, to challenge the means that made Britain “Great”. Government and the national conscience seem all too ready to pursue appeasement to those who demand that Rhodes – and others – should fall, that history should be at best re-written, or at least presented in a different way.

Where I wonder does this all leave the Brigade of Gurkhas and our 205 years of history? There are probably four issues:

– First, will some choose to view the Gurkha soldier and his history as an instrument of colonialism and oppression? To many the Indian Mutiny will forever be the first war of Indian independence, put down by the then Indian Army with the Gurkha at the forefront.

– Second, will disaffected ex-Gurkhas seek to align themselves with the BLM Movement in order to support their quest for equal pensions and recompense for other grievances? A renewed programme of agitation with the Movement as the backcloth may draw more sympathy than previous campaigns.

– Third, in the modern era is it appropriate that the Brigade and its formed units remain a separate entity from the wider Army? On grounds of military capability, of course it should. But are wider, social, arguments are now being introduced to drive change.

– Fourth, should we re-think how we present our heritage, specifically at the Gurkha Museum, to ensure it reflects the mood of the times? This is not so much a re-write of history, more a slight shift in emphasis.

Some food for thought. We live in interesting times.

WS