The auction house Noonans (www.noonans.co.uk) is auctioning a Naval DSM that was awarded ‘’For gallant and distinguished services in operations in Brunei during the period 8th to 23rd December 1962′ to Petty Officer Mechanician P. J. D. Kirwin, Royal Navy (thanks to Major John Harrop for this information).

Kirwin was Stoker Petty Officer of the leading lighter at the opposed Royal Marines Commando raid against heavily armed Indonesian supported rebels at Limbang, Brunei, on 12 December 1962, who, ‘when his craft came under heavy fire, left the safety of his engine room, grasped his automatic weapon, and engaged the rebels himself at very close range’. The award was promulgated in the London Gazette 31 May 1963.

Kirwin’s DSM and Brunei Service Medal

D.S.M. Citation and description of the action:

Up to 1962, the island of Borneo was divided into the vast southern area under Indonesian rule and three British dependencies, Sarawak, North Borneo and, sandwiched between them, the tiny but very wealthy protectorate of Brunei. With the sun gradually setting on British interests in this part of the Far East, a proposal to include these three northern Borneo states into the new Federation of Malaysia was opposed by Indonesia which then proceeded to back the dissident TNKU in mounting an insurrection in Brunei with the aim of maintaining a North Borneo Union. To further this, in December 1962 the rebels occupied several towns, including Brunei town and at Limbang across the border in Sarawak, they held a number of hostages, including the British Government’s Agent – the ‘Resident’, ‘Dick’ Morris – his wife and a nursing sister. There were indications that the hostages were to be executed on 12 December. At this time 42 Commando, who were awaiting Christmas in Singapore, were put on short notice, and two days later ‘L’ Company, under Captain Jeremy Moore (later to command British Land Forces during the Falklands War), flew to Brunei Town where the Gurkhas had restored order. In fact, most of the trouble had been quickly stamped out, except at Limbang, only accessible by river.

Amphibious Assault on Limbang

Tasked with rescuing the Limbang hostages, Moore’s urgency was further sharpened when it was learned that the TKNU had murdered some hostages at Bangar. At the waterfront in Brunei he met the Senior Naval Officer, Lieutenant-Commander J. J. Black (who by coincidence would also rise to senior command during the Falklands War as Captain of the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Invincible) who had requisitioned two Z-Lighter landing craft for the raid, the Nakhoda Manis and the Sindaun, and provided these with five man crews from the minesweepers Fiskerton and Chawton under his command. Lieutenant Willis, being Black’s First Lieutenant, was appointed as the Senior Naval Officer charged with ensuring that the task force arrived off Limbang but once the assault landing was under way, the lighters would then come under the tactical direction of the senior Royal Marine on board. None of the Royal Navy men under Willis had any experience in handling Z-Craft or landing craft operations but they were now being committed to the daunting prospect of an opposed landing.

At 10pm on 11 December, the understrength ‘L’ Company of 87 men, faces blackened, all wearing green berets with glinting cap badges for identification, filed on to the waiting Z-Craft. On board the lead lighter, Nakhoda Manis – commanded by Willis – was Captain Moore, his reconnaissance group, part of Company HQ, and 5 Troop. Also aboard as guide was Captain Muton, the Brunei Director of Marine who would later receive the M.B.E. for his efforts and four more Royal Navy crew including Petty Officer Mechanician Kirwin.

The assault went in at first light:

Terence Cuneo painting of the assault

When they were 300yds from the Limbang police station, and as the leading craft came abreast of the huts south of the town,‘it erupted like a disturbed ants’ nest as the rebels stood to’. At 200yds the Commando Intelligence Sergeant called through the loud-hailer in Malay: ‘The rebellion is over . . . you should lay down your arms.’ They replied with automatic weapons – an LMG, three or four SMGs – and some dozen rifles, supported by over 100 shotguns. The instantaneous counter-fire from both craft gave the commandos, thanks to their Vickers machine-guns, the initiative, enabling the leading craft to beach half a minute later only 30yds from the police station. Two marines of the leading No.5 Troop were killed before the craft gained the bank and their OC, Lt ‘Paddy’ Davis, was wounded as he jumped ashore. Sgt Bickford led two Sections of the Troop against the police station, which was quickly cleared, but the naval coxswain of the leading craft had been wounded and as the craft drifted off the bank, Lt D.O. Willis, RN, drove it hard back ashore; but this shallow draught lighter broached to 150yds upstream between the hospital and the home of the British Resident. Capt Moore sent the reserve section ashore, with HQ personnel led by TSM McDonald, and they cleared the hospital. As they came through to the back of this building, the Troop sergeant and two marines were killed, ‘for the jungle comes literally right down to the back door of the hospital’. The grounding of the craft up-river had been a fortunate accident, for Capt Moore found some of the hostages in the hospital. A rebel had fired at them but missed, and no one was hurt. While the ground between the hospital and the police station was being cleared, as was the Resident’s house, the Company Commander was told of more hostages. Therefore, he organised the clearing of the rest of the town to the south, and by the afternoon had released another eight hostages but at nightfall there were still rebels inside the Company’s perimeter, two of whom were killed close to the marines’ positions. Next day the town was secured. Five marines had been killed and six wounded (including a sailor), but the action here, coupled with those of the Gurkhas and Queen’s Own Highlanders elsewhere in Brunei, had broken the rebellion. At Limbang alone 15 rebels had been killed and 50 captured from a force of 350, – twice the expected size. They had been taken by surprise, as the commandos now discovered. The Vickers guns in the second craft had been masked, the Company Commander also learnt, by the leading craft, until QMS Cyril Quoins asked the officer commanding this lighter if he could pull out of line to give them a clearer shot. ‘Sergeant Major’, the officer replied, ‘Nelson would have loved you’, and promptly swung his craft into a more exposed position.’ (The Royal Marines by James D. Ladd refers.)

It is also worth quoting Captain Jeremy Moore’s observations, made much later:

‘It is perhaps interesting to note that, though my assessment of where the enemy headquarters might be was right, I was quite wrong about the hostages. Furthermore, it was chance that the second beaching happened where it did, that resulted in us taking the hospital from the direction we did. It could be that this saved us heavier casualties, though I assess the most important factor in the success of the operation was first class leadership by junior NCOs. Their section battle craft was a joy to watch and the credit for this belongs to the troop and Section commanders.’

Moore received a Bar to the Military Cross he had won during operations against Communist terrorists in Malaya during the Emergency of the 1950s. Royal Marine Corporals W. J. Lester and R. C. Rawlinson were awarded the M.M. and decorations were also awarded to two of the Royal Navy crew of the 1st Lighter. Lieutenant Willis got the D.S.C. for his command of the 1st Lighter when, having had two of his helmsmen shot at his side and 140 bullet holes in the bridge of his landing craft, he took the wheel himself and landed his Commando. Petty Officer Mechanician Kirwin, also of the 1st lighter under Willis, would be awarded the Distinguished Service Medal – The Naval Chronicle recording how, with his craft coming under heavy fire, Kirwin chose to leave the safety of the engine room and grasping an automatic weapon, engaged the rebels himself at very close range. Captain J. J. Black would later write of Kirwin’s gallantry: ‘after having heard the battle raging around his craft, he left his engines under the charge of his assistant, picked up his sten gun and joined in the gun battle by sticking his head out of his hatch.’

Kirwin’s rare award is one of only four Distinguished Service Medals awarded to men of the Royal Navy in the period from the Korean War in 1953 until the Falklands War in 1982. Two of these were for the Near East (Suez), one for operations in Borneo, and there is this sole award to Petty Officer Kirwin for Brunei. Just one of these other interim post-war D.S.M.s has been seen at auction (Able Seaman Loader’s Suez Crisis group which sold in these rooms in December 2021) while the other Limbang gallantry awards – to Moore, Rawlinson, Lester and Willis – are all yet to be sighted.

Patrick John Dennis Kirwin was born in 1932 at Barton upon Irwell, Lancashire, the son of Kathleen Mary Magee and John Kirwin. He died at Salford, Greater Manchester, in 1989.

 

Memorial outside Limbang Police Station:

Close up of the plaque commemorating those killed:

 

Reminiscence from Brigadier Bruce Jackman on 13th May 2022:

Coincidentally at the time [of the Limbang assault] I was OC 8 Pl in B Coy 1/2GR commanded by Terry Bowring. We relieved L Coy RM at Limbang days after their action, in which incidentally the Vickers machine guns that are mentioned had been borrowed from 1/2GR! 8 Pl and I then spent the best part of 2 months chasing Salleh bin Sambas, a turncoat rebel Police Field Force weapon training instructor.

Wanted poster for Salleh bin Sambas

He inflicted most of the casualties on the RM assault with a LMG fired from the roof of the Limbang customs building before he fled with one or two of his henchmen. We conducted a 10 day ambush on his house, which was on what we called ’the Limbang trail’ (a rough unmetalled road from Limbang to Bangar), but fortunately for him he kept away from the house and his gorgeous young Brunei/Malay wife! After Noel Fordyce had taken over from Terry Bowring we received a tip off from a local who led us to Salleh bin Sambas’s camp in a cave in the hills, but he and his group of about 4 people had left some 3 hours earlier, judging by the embers of a fire. We ambushed the cave for 10 days but he never returned. Two weeks later we found another camp built in a mangrove swamp on the edge of the Limbang River. We were set to ambush that for 10 miserable days perched in mangrove trees, but after 7 days we were forced to withdraw because the river Limbang overflowed after days of very heavy rain that caused the major floods in the whole Limbang valley. When 8 Pl and I left the now flooded ambush position to make our way out to a road-head about 2 miles away the water was up to the Gurkhas’ chests and we had to cut poles to feel our way through it. Finally the water level became too deep to proceed to the road over the last hundred yards or so. We only got out by felling a row of rubber trees and working our way along the line of fallen tree trunks – thank goodness they are planted in straight rows! Because of the huge widespread flooding all military operations were curtailed and the battalion began a humanitarian mission to rescue locals from the many longhouses upriver that were completely submerged or just washed away. I spent a couple of weeks with my orderly, a Gurkha signaller, and a couple of Royal Marines with a Gemini speedboat, living in the roof of a school building way up river, from where we helped coordinate events. Incidentally one of the Royal Marines was Capt David Storrie RM (recently died), who was a helicopter pilot in 845 Sqn RNAS that supported us in Third Division during our first Borneo tour in late 1963-early1964! Bob Waterton, OC D Coy, was awarded a humanitarian medal for his role in this humanitarian operation. Salleh bin Sambas meanwhile fled with other leaders of the rebellion over the border into Indonesia via Ba Kelalan (where I subsequently commanded C Coy in 1964). He returned to Brunei in May 1963 with Yasin Affendi (the rebel commander) and his ‘command group’ in the belief that they could re-ignite the rebellion, but they were captured (two killed?) by 1/7 GR on an island in the Brunei river on 18 May 63 in what was the last action of the Brunei Rebellion. When Salleh bin Sambas was released (I don’t know the year) he became the Chief Customs Officer in Limbang!

Book review courtesy of Brigadier Ian Rigden which explains what happened to Salleh bin Sambas (highlighted in red):

EILEEN CHANIN, Limbang Rebellion. Seven Days in December 1962.
Singapore: Ridge Books, 2013 (reprinted by Pen & Sword Military,
2014). XXII, 249 pages, $28.00. ISBN 978-9971-69-775-4 (pbk)

This book is family history, military history, colonial history and political history
in one. The rebellion of the title took place in Borneo during the decolonisation
era. The author, Eileen Chanin from the University of New South Wales, is a
prize-winning historian. Her new book, many years in the making, is based on
extensive research in Sarawak (Malaysia), Singapore, Australia and the United
Kingdom (pp. 205–36). She also trawled the archives of the Imperial War
Museum, the Royal Marines and the Mill Hill Missionaries. Telling use is made
of her own family’s papers: her parents-in-law were Richard and Dorothy Morris,
an Australian in the British Colonial Service and his wife, who were taken
hostage by rebels in Sarawak in 1962. They were released unharmed following
military action by a vastly outnumbered detachment of Royal Marines. Five commandos
were killed and six wounded during the engagement.

Captain Richard Holywell Morris OBE SMB (1915–2000), an only child
of Anglo-Welsh heritage, with but a “patchy education” (p. 28), arrived in Borneo
in 1945 with the Australian Imperial Force. After the war he was appointed to
the Sarawak Civil Service, in which he served until his retirement in 1964. By
November 1962, when he took up his appointment as Resident (administrator)
of the Limbang District, he had worked in all five administrative divisions of
the crown colony, in addition to a long spell (1954–8) in neighbouring Brunei.
The author remembers him as “a naturally gracious man with a cheerful and
caring disposition”. Dorothy Morris (died 2002), daughter of a bank manager,
was reared in country towns in New South Wales (p. 28). Blessed with a “sunny
personality”, she organized social events for the benefit of the Red Cross, for
which she was a life-long volunteer, a matter of some importance during the
ordeal she was to undergo in December 1962. The Morrises were both fluent in
Malay and Iban; Richard was also competent in Cantonese and written Arabic,
while Dorothy was a “ready listener and inveterate letter-writer”.

The main body of the book (Chapters 2–8) delivers a blow-by-blow account
of the uprising, with each chapter devoted to one day, starting on Friday, 7 December
and ending on Thursday, 13 December 1962. The Morrises were taken
prisoner at the outset (p. 51); the book portrays their “highs and lows” before
their “knights in shining armour” duly arrived five long days later. Similarly, the
emotions of the marines, their fear and tension before going into battle (many
for the first time), are excellently captured by Chanin. The assault force suffered
from many handicaps: a lack of information about the movements of the enemy,
no adequate maps, poor equipment, and deficiencies in transport. Owing to their
excellent training, the marines were able to overcome all of these problems.
Sheikh Ahmad Azahari (1928–2002), the leader of the Brunei revolt, does
not get a “good press” here.

The most interesting insurgent is perhaps Salleh bin
Sambas, known as Salleh Jangut, the bearded one, who was 30 years old in
1962. A former member of the Sarawak Field Force, he was a master of the
Bren gun. Leading the assault on Limbang, he saw himself as a freedom fighter,
like Rosli bin Dobhi (assassin of Governor Stewart in 1949). After the Royal
Marines recaptured Limbang, Salleh, though wounded in the arm and chest,
escaped on a bicycle. He lay low for a lengthy period and was eventually captured
near Serdang by Gurkhas acting on information from a food carrier. He was subsequently
sentenced to 15 years in gaol. Released after only a decade, Salleh
later became a penghulu and a village hero in Limbang (pp. 31–2, 163, 173–4,
196, 203, 223).

The rebellion certainly revealed to the colonial regime its own unpopularity.
“It now seems fairly certain”, Morris himself stated shortly after the trouble had
subsided, “that virtually all Malays and Kedayans in Limbang district had a
foreknowledge of the intended rebellion. This knowledge in some cases appears
to have been quite detailed. Despite this, no information was passed either to
the Police or to myself” (p. 175). For Dorothy, things could never be the same
again: “Our dear friendly Sarawak” had suddenly become hostile; “those long
stretches of river where we always waved to fellow voyagers”, she added, “I’m
sure I could never travel happily on those again; where any bend could produce
some snipers” (p. 149).

Mention must be made here of the Limbang postmaster, Abang Omar bin
Abang Samaudin, who ministered to the captives as a Red Cross volunteer, surreptitiously
giving them the latest news and keeping up their morale. He was
awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct and died in 1992
(pp. 36, 73–4, 110–14, 183, 200, 203).

There are a few factual errors: Duncan Stewart (p. 18) was never awarded
a knighthood; the Governor of Sarawak was “High Commissioner” rather than
“Governor” (p. 15) of Brunei in 1948–59; to describe Morris as “Minister of
Economic Development” (p. 16) is rather grandiose, given that the sultanate did
not have a cabinet in 1958; finally, the Brunei honour “SMB” awarded to Morris
appears to have been gazetted originally in 1966, not 1970 (p. 201, see Brunei
Government Gazette, 5 November 1966: 260). But these are quibbles.

Overall, Limbang Rebellion. Seven Days in December 1962 sets the benchmark
for any future study of the Brunei Revolt and its spillover effects elsewhere
in Borneo. Eileen Chanin is a very careful historian; and she has produced an
exemplary narrative. The strength of the monograph is its first-hand testimony,
produced here for the first time; its glaring deficiency is the lack of original
documentation reflecting the rebel perspective. Given that the outcome is known
in advance, some narrative tension is lost; even so, the interest of the reader is
retained from first to last.

(Review by Anthony V.M. Horton).

 

Comments by Lieutenant General Sir Peter Duffell:

I fear that my cursory acknowledgement of your [Major John Harrop’s] note about the DSM awarded to Petty Officer Kirwin RN for the part he  played in 42 Commando RM’s assault on Limbang on 12 December 1962 did not do justice to the memories it awakened for this old soldier and no doubt for the 150 young Riflemen who had arrived in the Battalion from recruit training only a few days before our deployment from Singapore on 8 December.

The Brunei operation, nearly sixty years ago, was a modest imperial campaign in which the First Battalion played a leading role. No doubt as December and the anniversary of the operation approaches more will be heard about this campaign to contain and supress a rebellion within a British protectorate in South East Asia – an unexpected uprising against a benign ruling Sultan .  It was an insurgency that took the region’s political and military leadership – and the First Battalion –  almost totally by surprise. In the great sum of things it was no more than a minor fragment of military history even if for me and some of our younger soldiers it was certainly a military rite of passage. It was to lead to a much more serious and demanding three year campaign in Borneo a few months later for which as a result of our Brunei experience we were much better prepared.

The First Battalion, the Queen’s Own Highlanders and 42 Commando did all the heavy lifting and most dangerous matters were pretty well concluded in the first ten days or so of the campaign albeit at some cost, particularly to ourselves and 42 Commando. War stories will no doubt emerge in more detail as the anniversary approaches – and our regimental history tells our tale – but the Limbang assault on 12 December by L Company 42 Commando – led by Captain Jeremy Moore who later was to enter military folklore as the ‘man of the match’ in the Falklands campaign – was a courageous raid on a rebel-held hotspot at Limbang where several officials including the British Resident had been taken hostage and threatened with execution.

Using commandeered cargo lighters identified in Brunei harbour and organised by Lieutenant Jeremy Black RN who was also to achieve fame as the commander of HMS Invincible during the Falklands campaign  (‘there and back with Jeremy Black’) –  and with some rapidly assembled armour plating attached to the Lighters’ sides, the Marines approached the town sailing up the Limbang River and successfully conducted an opposed landing, recapturing Limbang and releasing the hostages. Five Marines were killed and eight wounded in the assault and the follow-up operation. During the engagement 15 rebels were also killed and 24 captured although the rebel leader – Salleh bin Sambas – managed to slip the net and was only captured several weeks later. Together with the Commandos success, our own early operations in Brunei Town, Tutong and Kuala Belait and the Highlanders achievements in the oil fields of Seria, the major thrust of the rebellion was quickly contained.

Historically it was the role played by the First Battalion that ensured a continuing Gurkha presence in Brunei to this day and helped to cement our place in the British Army. L Company is still titled the Limbang Company to mark the Marines and Royal Navy heroism on that single day in the Brunei campaign as exemplified by the DSM won by Petty Officer Kirwin RN and several other awards to those who took part in that gallant raid.

Limbang 8 Limbang 7 Salleh bin hambas wanted poster Limbang 3 Limbang4 Limbang 2 Limbang 1

Article from the Nepali Times, 28th November 2020:

Diary of a Nepali soldier in France

Writings and a khukri of an unknown World War I Gurkha soldier surface in Germany after 107 years

By Shree Bhakta Khanal, an investigative journalist and author of An Arduous Path.

Gurkhas in the trenches of France during World War I. More than 20,000 Nepali soldiers were killed fighting for the Allied Forces between 1914-1918. Photo: Imperial War Museum

Books have been written about the legendary bravery and sacrifice of Nepal’s Gurkha soldiers. Officers have extolled their obedience and cheerfulness despite hardships and danger. The world has an image of Nepali soldiers in the battlefield: fierce but always smiling.

But historians have pored through letters and diaries written by Gurkha soldiers from the two World Wars to paint a slightly different picture — Nepalis in the trenches of Flanders Field or below the cliffs at Gallipoli, homesick, terrified, cold and miserable. Many of these letters home were held by military censors, and are archived.

Now, a diary written by a Gurkha sergeant in the British Army during the battle of La Bassée in northern France during World War I in 1914, and retrieved by a German officer, have revealed a whole new side to the Gurkha legend, one that confirms the traditional bravery, but also their human side.

Two unnamed Gurkha prisoners of war in a German camp in Münster in 1916. Courtesy: Sir Kukri & Co

Gurkha prisoners of war in a German camp. Some of their voices recorded in song and stories are now in the Humboldt Museum archives. Courtesy: Sir Kukri & Co

Lieutenant Alexander Pfeifer was with the Kurhessische Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 11 and found the diary of a Nepali solider in La Bassée on 20 December 1914 after a fierce battle against Allied forces of the British and French Armies. The battle had lasted from 12 October till the end of December. The name of the Nepali soldier, and whether he died in the battlefield or as a prisoner of war, are not known.

Lt Pfeiffer’s great-grandson Philip Cross found the documents and the khukri while going through his family effects. He is in the process of translating his great grandfather’s diary into English, and also getting the diary of the dead Gurkha sergeant translated into English and German.

British Army officers with Gurkhas of the ‘Indian Corps’ at La Bassée at the beginning of the war.

Lt Pfeiffer writes in his diary about the fearsome reputation of the Gurkhas among the German troops: ‘I found quite a few letters written in Indian script. They are fierce warriors. We are afraid of them. They use their knives to cut up the enemy,’ he writes in one entry.

It appears that Lt Pfeifer’s job was to go through the bodies of dead enemy soldiers to find out if he could find any intelligence of what the Allied forces were up to. That appears to be how he got hold of the diary, photographs and even the khukri.

The first page of the diary of the unknown Nepali solider is in verse with numbered lines. It lists the names of the writers’ young friends who were killed or taken prisoner, the hardships they endured. From the penmanship and vocabulary and the use of numbered verse, the soldier appears to have learnt his Nepali probably from a village priest who used to be the only literate person in the villages in Nepal in those days.

यो कठै बरा…जोबन सबै शत्रुका हातबाट गयो ।।२०।। पल्टनको माया मोह नेपालमै रह्यो जिउँदै मरी कैलाशमा गयो। सुवेदार भीमसिं भँडारी भयो ।।२१।। हर्के थापा जसराजा धर्म खत्री कम्यान्डर प्रजीतन नैनसिं खत्री सरुप कुँवर प्रतिमन थापा

Lt Alexander Pfeifer, the German officer among whose papers was the diary of the Gurkha soldier, and was recently retrieved by his great-grandson, Philip Cross.

Pages from the diary of an unknown Nepali soldier with a verse, and a list of names, possibly of prisoners of war. Courtesy: Philip Cross. Translated, the lines read:

‘Poor fellows, their youth was taken away by the enemy’s hands (20)

The love of the military was left behind in Nepal

We are the living dead who have gone to heaven

Subedar Bhimsi Bhandari (21) Harke Thapa Jasraja Dharma Khatri Commander Pasitan Nainsingh Khatri Swarup Kunwar Pratiman Thapa’

The same names in the Nepali soldier’s diary also appear in the diary of Lt Alexander Pfeifer, and in the same order. It appears to be a translation of the Gurkha diary. Courtesy: Philip Cross

The second page of the Nepali soldier’s diary (above) has the names of Gurkhas which, interestingly, are the same names found in the same order in the papers of Lt Pfeifer in which he lists the names of Gurkhas taken prisoner (left). The German phonetics also closely resemble the way the unknown soldier has written the names in Nepali, for example, by spelling Gurung as गुरुं (Gurun).

Lt Pfeiffer’s note in his own diary entry reads as follows:

Found with a Gurkha sergeant major. The content of the notice page no. 1 says: The soldiers of the section (Battalion) should be treated with love, friendliness and kindness. Every person, who carries out the rules of his religion, according to law and order, receives his payment (will be happy). The orders of the commanding officer should be carried out precisely and immediately. The content of the notice paper no.2 is as follows. Names of the Gurkhas:

  1. Thuparau Gurun
  2. Chandrabir Thapa
  3. Akalbir Gurun
  4. Manbahadur Gurun
  5. Amarsing Gurun
  6. Udjersingh Gharti
  7. Imansing Gurun
  8. Manbir Thapa
  9. Chhabilal Rana
  10. Akatbir Thapa
  11. Narbahadur Thapa
  12. Schatasin Gurun

On investigating some of these names, British Army records show that Chandrabir Thapa was a rifleman in the Second King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (Sirmur Rifles). Manbir Thapa was a sergeant in the First Battalion of the First King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (Malaun Regiment), and his service number was 1896 and he was killed in action on 20 December 1914 in La Bassée. We even know Manbir’s father’s name was Parasram Thapa and lived in Dohadi village in western Nepal.

Chhabilal Rana’s service number was 2114 and he was a rifleman with the Second King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles Second Battalion (Sirmur Rifles) and he was also killed in action on 20 December.

Records at La Bassée show that there were other Gurkha soldiers killed in the battlefield or taken prisoner who are not on Lt Pfeiffer’s diary list. One of them is Haribal Thapa who, according to the Sir Kukri & Co blog was a rifleman in the First King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (First Gurkha Regiment).

His service number was 2952 and he died on 24 January 1915 while he was a prisoner of war in a German camp after being captured in La Bassée. His grave can still be found at a military cemetery outside Berlin. Haribal Thapa’s documents show that his father was Dal Kishore who lived in Perung in today’s Majhkot of Tanahu district.

The grave of Haribal Thapa, a Gurkha prisoner of war who died in captivity in Germany 24 January 1915, and is buried at a military cemetery outside Berlin. Courtesy: Sir Kukri & Co

Lieutenant Alexander Pfeifer’s diary, as translated by his great-grandson, has many references to the Gurkhas who were their enemies and served in the British Army. Among them are entries dated 20 December 1914, the day of the fierce battle during which the 12 Gurkhas listed above by the unknown Nepali soldier were probably taken prisoner:

  • I was woken up at 5:30am on 20 December 1914 by the sound of cannons and gunfire. Someone opened the door to the room where I was sleeping. He was the uberjäger from our machine-gun company. He was so frightened he could not even speak properly. Our machine-gun company had been over-run by the enemy. He said they (the Gurkhas) used their curved knife to cut the throats of our comrades, and killed everyone they could find. I woke up the others and related this news to them.
  • After the end of the battle, I witnessed a horrific sight. The dead and wounded covered the ground. There were some British and Indian (Gurkha) soldiers, who were in eternal sleep next to our artillery position. Some were headless, others did not have limbs. We took what we could from the dead. I got one of those curved knives, tobacco, food in tiffin boxes.
  • We were fighting these Indians (Gurkhas) who had their heads shaven. They were short and stocky, and very agile. One of them who was a prisoner of war said that the Gurkhas were terrified of the cold. They were afraid of the snow and freezing weather. They will soon bite the dust.
  • The Gurkhas have a reputation for being brutal, aggressive and fearless, but in their hearts they are kind, peace-loving and spiritual people.

Among Lt Alexander Pfeifer’s effects was this khukri possibly taken from the same Gurkha soldier who wrote the diary. Photo: Philip Cross

The Nepali soldier’s diary, written by hand 107 years ago, says a lot about the war and the warriors from Nepal. The soldier was writing about fellow Nepalis in his own, and possibly other units, listing carefully the names of the dead and those taken prisoner. The names in the poem are probably of those who were killed in battle, but we cannot be sure. The other list, because of its similarity to the list in Lt Pfeifer’s list in German, could be of those who were taken prisoner on 20 December.

But that opens up a puzzle. How come the list of dead soldiers in Nepali soldier’s diary is in the same order as the list of prisoners in German in Lt Pfeifer’s diary? Nepali writer Satis Shroff who lives in the southwest German town of Freiburg has read Lt Pfeifer’s notes, and deduces that the list contains names of Gurkha POWs and the commanding-officer is instructing his subordinates to treat the soldiers well and to allow them to practice their religious rites as they are used to. Shroff infers that the Gurkha who wrote the list of names is dead because there is no mention of a handing-over of the diary.

It is not clear if Lt Pfeifer is just translating the Nepali soldier’s diary, or if those are his own instructions. The German officer’s own diary was ultimately found more than a century later by his great-grandson. We do not know what the Gurkha’s name was, where in Nepal he was from, and what happened to him.

To add to the puzzle, Manbir Thapa, whose name is among the 12 listed in the German and Nepali soldiers’ diaries, is also on the FindGrave.com list of those killed in action on 20 December 1914 in the battle of La Bassée and buried at Indian Cemetery in La Rochelle in France. Here is a partial reproduction of the list of those killed from the First King George V’s Gurkha Rifles (Malaun Regiment) on that day with their father’s name and hometown:

Rifleman Buddhiman Thapa

Father’s name and address: Sukhbhar Thapa, Lamjung

Lance Corporal Kharak Bahadur Gurung

Father’s name and address: Jasbir Thapa, Lamjung

Rifleman Bahadur Gurung

Father’s name and address: Asu Bahadur Gurung, Lamjung

Rifleman Rana Bahadur Rana

Father’s name and address: Kulman Singh, Serung

Rifleman Pritman Thapa

Father’s name and address: Sarbajit Thapa, Graham

Rifleman Ransur Thapa

Father’s name and address: Purnabir Thapa, Bhirkot

Rifleman Haribaran Thapa

Father’s name and address: Pratiman Thapa, Bhirkot

Lance Corporal Lal Bahadur Gurung

Father’s name and address: Sriman Gurung, Gorkha

Besides the uncertainty of war, the Gurkhas who sailed across the oceans to a completely new country, climate and food must have suffered badly from culture shock. Many had boarded troop ships from Calcutta or Bombay and arrived in Europe at the beginning of winter in 1914. Their main hardship was caused by the extreme cold because they did not have enough warm clothes while in the wet trenches. Many wore military trousers on top of their suruwal.

They had never been trained in trench warfare, and did not know how to dig them. They were not used to fighting in such cold. The Germans found out from the Gurkha prisoners of war that the Nepalis feared the cold more than the enemy they were fighting, according to Alexander Pfeifer’s diary.

Most of the fighting men from Nepal could not read or write, and no one ever wrote their stories for them, so there is very little written documentation of what they went through. There must be so many hidden stories of unknown soldiers that we will never get to hear about. Yet, they are a part of our people’s history, and a forgotten chapter in the history of Nepal.

Those who returned alive from the front, used to dock in Bombay and take the train via Banaras, where they all bought copies of the Nepali Ramayana translated by Bhanubhakta Acharya. One of the major ways in which the holy book got to the far corners of Nepal was through these demobilised Gurkhas returning home.

The Battle of La Bassée lasted three months with the Germans first gaining the upper hand, and then being repulsed by British Army reinforcements from the Lahore Division and Gurkhas. The British suffered more than 20,000 casualties, of which 1,600 were from the Indian Corps, including Gurkhas. The Germans recorded 6,000 killed.

Contemporary map of La Bassée in France, which was captured by the Germans during 1914.

Many of the Gurkhas captured in France and Belgium were transported to prisoner of war camps in Germany. There, some of the prisoners had their voices and songs preserved in early recording machines that had just come into use.

Nepali professor Alaka Atreya Chudal of Vienna University has been translating from Nepali into German some of these testimonies recorded between 1914-1918 in a prisoner of war camp of Halbmondlager in Wünsdorf 40km away from Berlin.

The 100 or so recordings contain Nepali folk tales, songs, poetry, and folk riddles that have immense linguistic and cultural value because they are preserved in audio from more than a century ago. The recordings are now in the archives of Humboldt-Universität in Berlin.

Says Prof Atreya: “These folk material bring out the sorrow, prayers, suffering, longing for home and family of the Gurkha prisoners from long ago.”

Article from the Nepali Times, 28th November 2020:

Diary of a Nepali soldier in France

Writings and a khukri of an unknown World War I Gurkha soldier surface in Germany after 107 years

By Shree Bhakta Khanal, an investigative journalist and author of An Arduous Path.

Gurkhas in the trenches of France during World War I. More than 20,000 Nepali soldiers were killed fighting for the Allied Forces between 1914-1918. Photo: Imperial War Museum

Books have been written about the legendary bravery and sacrifice of Nepal’s Gurkha soldiers. Officers have extolled their obedience and cheerfulness despite hardships and danger. The world has an image of Nepali soldiers in the battlefield: fierce but always smiling.

But historians have pored through letters and diaries written by Gurkha soldiers from the two World Wars to paint a slightly different picture — Nepalis in the trenches of Flanders Field or below the cliffs at Gallipoli, homesick, terrified, cold and miserable. Many of these letters home were held by military censors, and are archived.

Now, a diary written by a Gurkha sergeant in the British Army during the battle of La Bassée in northern France during World War I in 1914, and retrieved by a German officer, have revealed a whole new side to the Gurkha legend, one that confirms the traditional bravery, but also their human side.

Two unnamed Gurkha prisoners of war in a German camp in Münster in 1916. Courtesy: Sir Kukri & Co

Gurkha prisoners of war in a German camp. Some of their voices recorded in song and stories are now in the Humboldt Museum archives. Courtesy: Sir Kukri & Co

Lieutenant Alexander Pfeifer was with the Kurhessische Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 11 and found the diary of a Nepali solider in La Bassée on 20 December 1914 after a fierce battle against Allied forces of the British and French Armies. The battle had lasted from 12 October till the end of December. The name of the Nepali soldier, and whether he died in the battlefield or as a prisoner of war, are not known.

Lt Pfeiffer’s great-grandson Philip Cross found the documents and the khukri while going through his family effects. He is in the process of translating his great grandfather’s diary into English, and also getting the diary of the dead Gurkha sergeant translated into English and German.

British Army officers with Gurkhas of the ‘Indian Corps’ at La Bassée at the beginning of the war.

Lt Pfeiffer writes in his diary about the fearsome reputation of the Gurkhas among the German troops: ‘I found quite a few letters written in Indian script. They are fierce warriors. We are afraid of them. They use their knives to cut up the enemy,’ he writes in one entry.

It appears that Lt Pfeifer’s job was to go through the bodies of dead enemy soldiers to find out if he could find any intelligence of what the Allied forces were up to. That appears to be how he got hold of the diary, photographs and even the khukri.

The first page of the diary of the unknown Nepali solider is in verse with numbered lines. It lists the names of the writers’ young friends who were killed or taken prisoner, the hardships they endured. From the penmanship and vocabulary and the use of numbered verse, the soldier appears to have learnt his Nepali probably from a village priest who used to be the only literate person in the villages in Nepal in those days.

यो कठै बरा…जोबन सबै शत्रुका हातबाट गयो ।।२०।। पल्टनको माया मोह नेपालमै रह्यो जिउँदै मरी कैलाशमा गयो। सुवेदार भीमसिं भँडारी भयो ।।२१।। हर्के थापा जसराजा धर्म खत्री कम्यान्डर प्रजीतन नैनसिं खत्री सरुप कुँवर प्रतिमन थापा

Lt Alexander Pfeifer, the German officer among whose papers was the diary of the Gurkha soldier, and was recently retrieved by his great-grandson, Philip Cross.

Pages from the diary of an unknown Nepali soldier with a verse, and a list of names, possibly of prisoners of war. Courtesy: Philip Cross.  Translated, the lines read:

‘Poor fellows, their youth was taken away by the enemy’s hands (20)

The love of the military was left behind in Nepal

We are the living dead who have gone to heaven

Subedar Bhimsi Bhandari (21) Harke Thapa Jasraja Dharma Khatri Commander Pasitan Nainsingh Khatri Swarup Kunwar Pratiman Thapa’ 

The same names in the Nepali soldier’s diary also appear in the diary of Lt Alexander Pfeifer, and in the same order. It appears to be a translation of the Gurkha diary. Courtesy: Philip Cross

The second page of the Nepali soldier’s diary (above) has the names of Gurkhas which, interestingly, are the same names found in the same order in the papers of Lt Pfeifer in which he lists the names of Gurkhas taken prisoner (left). The German phonetics also closely resemble the way the unknown soldier has written the names in Nepali, for example, by spelling Gurung as गुरुं (Gurun).

Lt Pfeiffer’s note in his own diary entry reads as follows:

Found with a Gurkha sergeant major. The content of the notice page no. 1 says: The soldiers of the section (Battalion) should be treated with love, friendliness and kindness. Every person, who carries out the rules of his religion, according to law and order, receives his payment (will be happy). The orders of the commanding officer should be carried out precisely and immediately. The content of the notice paper no.2 is as follows. Names of the Gurkhas:

  1. Thuparau Gurun
  2. Chandrabir Thapa 
  3. Akalbir Gurun
  4. Manbahadur Gurun
  5. Amarsing Gurun
  6. Udjersingh Gharti
  7. Imansing Gurun
  8. Manbir Thapa
  9. Chhabilal Rana
  10. Akatbir Thapa
  11. Narbahadur Thapa
  12. Schatasin Gurun

On investigating some of these names, British Army records show that Chandrabir Thapa was a rifleman in the Second King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (Sirmur Rifles). Manbir Thapa was a sergeant in the First Battalion of the First King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (Malaun Regiment), and his service number was 1896 and he was killed in action on 20 December 1914 in La Bassée. We even know Manbir’s father’s name was Parasram Thapa and lived in Dohadi village in western Nepal.

Chhabilal Rana’s service number was 2114 and he was a rifleman with the Second King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles Second Battalion (Sirmur Rifles) and he was also killed in action on 20 December.

Records at La Bassée show that there were other Gurkha soldiers killed in the battlefield or taken prisoner who are not on Lt Pfeiffer’s diary list. One of them is Haribal Thapa who, according to the Sir Kukri & Co blog was a rifleman in the First King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (First Gurkha Regiment).

His service number was 2952 and he died on 24 January 1915 while he was a prisoner of war in a German camp after being captured in La Bassée. His grave can still be found at a military cemetery outside Berlin. Haribal Thapa’s documents show that his father was Dal Kishore who lived in Perung in today’s Majhkot of Tanahu district.

The grave of Haribal Thapa, a Gurkha prisoner of war who died in captivity in Germany 24 January 1915, and is buried at a military cemetery outside Berlin. Courtesy: Sir Kukri & Co

Lieutenant Alexander Pfeifer’s diary, as translated by his great-grandson, has many references to the Gurkhas who were their enemies and served in the British Army. Among them are entries dated 20 December 1914, the day of the fierce battle during which the 12 Gurkhas listed above by the unknown Nepali soldier were probably taken prisoner:

  • I was woken up at 5:30am on 20 December 1914 by the sound of cannons and gunfire. Someone opened the door to the room where I was sleeping. He was the uberjäger from our machine-gun company. He was so frightened he could not even speak properly. Our machine-gun company had been over-run by the enemy. He said they (the Gurkhas) used their curved knife to cut the throats of our comrades, and killed everyone they could find. I woke up the others and related this news to them.
  • After the end of the battle, I witnessed a horrific sight. The dead and wounded covered the ground. There were some British and Indian (Gurkha) soldiers, who were in eternal sleep next to our artillery position. Some were headless, others did not have limbs. We took what we could from the dead. I got one of those curved knives, tobacco, food in tiffin boxes. 
  • We were fighting these Indians (Gurkhas) who had their heads shaven. They were short and stocky, and very agile. One of them who was a prisoner of war said that the Gurkhas were terrified of the cold. They were afraid of the snow and freezing weather. They will soon bite the dust.
  • The Gurkhas have a reputation for being brutal, aggressive and fearless, but in their hearts they are kind, peace-loving and spiritual people. 

Among Lt Alexander Pfeifer’s effects was this khukri possibly taken from the same Gurkha soldier who wrote the diary. Photo: Philip Cross

The Nepali soldier’s diary, written by hand 107 years ago, says a lot about the war and the warriors from Nepal. The soldier was writing about fellow Nepalis in his own, and possibly other units, listing carefully the names of the dead and those taken prisoner. The names in the poem are probably of those who were killed in battle, but we cannot be sure. The other list, because of its similarity to the list in Lt Pfeifer’s list in German, could be of those who were taken prisoner on 20 December.

But that opens up a puzzle. How come the list of dead soldiers in Nepali soldier’s diary is in the same order as the list of prisoners in German in Lt Pfeifer’s diary? Nepali writer Satis Shroff who lives in the southwest German town of Freiburg has read Lt Pfeifer’s notes, and deduces that the list contains names of Gurkha POWs and the commanding-officer is instructing his subordinates to treat the soldiers well and to allow them to practice their religious rites as they are used to. Shroff infers that the Gurkha who wrote the list of names is dead because there is no mention of a handing-over of the diary.

It is not clear if Lt Pfeifer is just translating the Nepali soldier’s diary, or if those are his own instructions. The German officer’s own diary was ultimately found more than a century later by his great-grandson. We do not know what the Gurkha’s name was, where in Nepal he was from, and what happened to him.

To add to the puzzle, Manbir Thapa, whose name is among the 12 listed in the German and Nepali soldiers’ diaries, is also on the FindGrave.com list of those killed in action on 20 December 1914 in the battle of La Bassée and buried at Indian Cemetery in La Rochelle in France. Here is a partial reproduction of the list of those killed from the First King George V’s Gurkha Rifles (Malaun Regiment) on that day with their father’s name and hometown:

Rifleman Buddhiman Thapa 

Father’s name and address: Sukhbhar Thapa, Lamjung

Lance Corporal Kharak Bahadur Gurung

Father’s name and address: Jasbir Thapa, Lamjung

Rifleman Bahadur Gurung

Father’s name and address: Asu Bahadur Gurung, Lamjung

Rifleman Rana Bahadur Rana

Father’s name and address: Kulman Singh, Serung

Rifleman Pritman Thapa

Father’s name and address: Sarbajit Thapa, Graham

Rifleman Ransur Thapa

Father’s name and address: Purnabir Thapa, Bhirkot

Rifleman Haribaran Thapa

Father’s name and address: Pratiman Thapa, Bhirkot

Lance Corporal Lal Bahadur Gurung

Father’s name and address: Sriman Gurung, Gorkha

Besides the uncertainty of war, the Gurkhas who sailed across the oceans to a completely new country, climate and food must have suffered badly from culture shock. Many had boarded troop ships from Calcutta or Bombay and arrived in Europe at the beginning of winter in 1914. Their main hardship was caused by the extreme cold because they did not have enough warm clothes while in the wet trenches. Many wore military trousers on top of their suruwal.

They had never been trained in trench warfare, and did not know how to dig them. They were not used to fighting in such cold. The Germans found out from the Gurkha prisoners of war that the Nepalis feared the cold more than the enemy they were fighting, according to Alexander Pfeifer’s diary.

Most of the fighting men from Nepal could not read or write, and no one ever wrote their stories for them, so there is very little written documentation of what they went through. There must be so many hidden stories of unknown soldiers that we will never get to hear about. Yet, they are a part of our people’s history, and a forgotten chapter in the history of Nepal.

Those who returned alive from the front, used to dock in Bombay and take the train via Banaras, where they all bought copies of the Nepali Ramayana translated by Bhanubhakta Acharya. One of the major ways in which the holy book got to the far corners of Nepal was through these demobilised Gurkhas returning home.

The Battle of La Bassée lasted three months with the Germans first gaining the upper hand, and then being repulsed by British Army reinforcements from the Lahore Division and Gurkhas. The British suffered more than 20,000 casualties, of which 1,600 were from the Indian Corps, including Gurkhas. The Germans recorded 6,000 killed.

Contemporary map of La Bassée in France, which was captured by the Germans during 1914.

Many of the Gurkhas captured in France and Belgium were transported to prisoner of war camps in Germany. There, some of the prisoners had their voices and songs preserved in early recording machines that had just come into use.

Nepali professor Alaka Atreya Chudal of Vienna University has been translating from Nepali into German some of these testimonies recorded between 1914-1918 in a prisoner of war camp of Halbmondlager in Wünsdorf 40km away from Berlin.

The 100 or so recordings contain Nepali folk tales, songs, poetry, and folk riddles that have immense linguistic and cultural value because they are preserved in audio from more than a century ago. The recordings are now in the archives of Humboldt-Universität in Berlin.

Says Prof Atreya: “These folk material bring out the sorrow, prayers, suffering, longing for home and family of the Gurkha prisoners from long ago.”

 

The Sirmoor Croquet Society is a relatively recent phenomenon, formed with the purpose of bringing together those Sirmoorees who wish to indulge themselves in the Noble Game. Thus far we have gathered together in the leisurely surrounds of The Hurlingham Club, wherein between consuming lunch and afternoon tea on the Terrace, we have indulged in the subtle art of propelling different coloured balls through a series of white hoops! We attire ourselves in ‘whites’ -with a splash of ‘Lali’ or ‘Dicing’ where appropriate – and play Golf and Association Croquet. Unlike cricket we don’t play for the fun of it – and ‘playing the game’ has no part in our desperation to wreak misery and mayhem on our opponents as we take advantage of every opportunity (legal or illegal) to win the game!!

Croquet – an Evil Game

Croquet is popularly regarded as a genteel sport played with exquisite manners by the well-to-do on their beautifully mown lawns. This is a misconception – croquet is in fact one of the most vicious and malicious games known to mankind! Herbert Swope, a legendary American newspaper man and gambler, stated that ‘croquet gives release to all the evil in you’. I don’t think any other activity has ever made me so angry and close to violence. It is a game designed to cause distrust and resentment even among the best of friends. At village level the rules tend to vary according to the whims of the host, the boundaries of the lawn are often vague, cheating is tempting and difficult to spot, and the practise of impeding one’s opponent’s progress by hitting his ball out of play can seem to the victim both cruel and vindictive. It is therefore an excellent game for people like me – who lack athletic prowess but are endowed with low cunning, skulduggery, and ruthlessness. (With apologies to an article published beforehand in ‘The Speccie’)

Perpetrators assess their options

Origin of Croquet

The origins of the modern game have been traced back to 1852 when a game called ‘crooky’ was introduced to England from Ireland where it had been played since the 1830’s. However, eager though we might be to place the blame on the Irish for introducing such a malevolent game to ‘this sceptred isle’, there is much evidence to suggest that the French almost certainly played a game resembling croquet as early as the 14th Century!

Croquet 3 Croquet 2 Croquet 1

Mrs Dhana Dewan, wife of late Capt(QGO) Puran Kumar Dewan, MID, 1/10 GR is now 92 years old but vibrant as ever, she can still fluently speak English, Hindi, Malay and of course Nepali. She currently lives happily with her eldest son Shiva Dewan, daughter Punnya Sitoula and grandchildren in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her second son Major (Retd) Sudan Dewan BEM 2 GR is settled in Glasgow with his wife Sarita, son Asesh and daughter Shaila.

Mrs Dhana Dewan (nee Rai) was in the initial batch of civilian teachers and midwives to be employed by the Brigade of Gurkhas in the early 1950s all of them from Darjeeling. She worked as a teacher at the Gurkha Children School in 1/7 GR, Seremban Malaya for almost four years when she met her husband and got married. She then went to Majidee Barracks in Johore Bahru where she continued teaching in the Services Gurkha Children’s School in 1/10 GR for several years before her husband’s retirement in 1967. Her life as a teacher then a Gurkha wife which resounds the lives of most Gurkha wives commencing from the early days of the Brigade in the Far East is best described in her own words.

“It was normal then to have a large family, ours was no exception and I was the eldest in a family with twelve children. Even so I was fortunate to attend one of the best public high schools in Darjeeling. After completing my IA (intermediate in Arts from Darjeeling Government College, I got my first teaching job at the local Sardeswari Girls’ High School. Not long after I began my new job, one of my students Laxmi Rai (her father was a serving Gurkha officer in the British Army then) one day, told me, “Guruma (teacher) I heard from my father that the British army are recruiting teachers for the Gurkha Children’s Schools in Malaya. If you are interested, I will let my father know.” I was, of course, interested to find out more and following day after school, she took me home to meet her parents. That was when I learnt that her father was from 1/7 Gurkha Rifles and was member of the recruiting team based at Jalapahar Military Cantonment in Darjeeling. He briefed me through the recruitment and interview process. My application was accepted and I was called for an interview, where I still recall the British Officer who was in charge of the recruitment. He was referred to as Whitehead, 7 GR ko Sahib!! It was obvious that there was a huge demand for qualified teachers for the Gurkha schools in Malaya and a good number of applicants had turned up. I was successful and got selected, this was followed by a few trips to the Kutchery (local magistrate’s court) to sort out my personal documents, passport and visa.

In the last week of December 1951, I with my two colleagues boarded the train at Darjeeling station bound for Siliguri. It felt very strange to be going over the Kala Pani (overseas) and we were nervously excited. From Siliguri we travelled to Calcutta (now Kolkata) by overnight train. Early the next morning, we arrived at Sealdah railway station where we were met by a camp representative then taken to the Transit Camp at Barrackpore. We stayed there for three days before sailing on a ship named ‘Santhia’ to Malaya, which was bound sailing from Calcutta, through Rangoon, Penang and Singapore. I cannot remember how long the voyage took but it did dock in Singapore where we spent the night at Ulu Pandan Camp. In those days, Singapore had yet not separated from Malaysia. The following day we travelled by train to Seremban. I am not sure but it probably took us all day and a night to get there.

After we got off the train at Seremban station, we climbed into an army vehicle that was waiting for us to take us to the camp. It was raining lightly. When we arrived at the camp, Mama [Uncle]* Gurkha Captain Ramsingh Lama, who had travelled through with us as our military escort, said to me: “Well Bhanji [Niece]*, you’re now going to stay in the Family Barracks. Because I am a muglish (single man), I am not allowed there. All living arrangements will have been made for you within the line barracks.” Then one of his soldiers came to help pick up my luggage and took me to a Nurse Dorothy Lepcha’s living quarters. It was still raining lightly. Nurse Didi opened the door and called me inside. I had known Dorothy Didi when she used to work at Victoria Hospital in Darjeeling before coming to Malaya. She was about to go on her first home leave in a week’s time. [*In Nepali (Gurkha) culture Daju (elder brother) and Didi (elder sister), Mama (maternal uncle) and Maiju (maternal auntie) is used when addressing your seniors according to their age. It is disrespect to call someone senior by their first name.]

Newly-arrived teachers and midwives.  Dorothy Lepcha is second from left.

After Didi left for India, I was allocated a quarter just in front of her house. The sight of the far away Jelebu hills from the camp reminded me of the Sikkim hills we saw from our village back home and made me melancholy homesick. With the passage of time, I was now settling in well and happy with my new roles as a teacher in Malaya. I soon became more familiar with the place, feeling happy and confident.

A few memories still remain fresh in my mind of those early days as a primary school teacher at 1/7 Gurkha Rifles’ Gurkha Children’ school in Seremban and here I share a few.

(1952). One day when we were in the classroom running Nepali class with the WRVS Memshib (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service. There was one on every unit family line who looked after the welfare of the Gurkha families) when suddenly we heard humming sound of an aeroplane. Trying to keep everybody calm, WRVS said, “Now we don’t know exactly where the next bomb blast will be …..?”. No sooner had she uttered these words than there was a loud bang of an explosion which seemed too close. Fortunately, it was nowhere near our camp though strong enough to shake the grounds and rattle the buildings. This was the first time in my life that I had experienced a bomb blast, I was naturally shaking with fear. I thought to myself, “Oh Lord! Why did I ever come here?”. The WRVS remained calm and tried to comfort us by assuring ‘not to be afraid, we’ll be all right’. We later found out that it was a British plane dropping bombs on the communist rebels operating from the jungles. Although the World War 2 had ended, the British Army were now fighting the communist terrorists who were trying to take over Malaya.

Next morning, the Gurkha Major Jaibahadur Limbu Sahib, while making his routine rounds of the camps, visited our school when I pleaded that I was not interested in my job anymore and I would like to go home. The Gurkha Major said, “Guruma, since you have already signed a contract for three years you are committed to the contract. Alternatively, you have to pay all the money back to the British Sarkar (govt) that you have been paid from day one.” After hearing this I was left with no choice but compelled to keep calm and carry on!

Each morning, the school started at 10 o’clock. It had only four classes. I had to teach the students in Class 3 and 4 while Class 1 and 2 were run by qualified Gurkha wives. All these classes were coeducation. Starting my very first day in the class, I recall a student sitting in the front bench shouting out to me, “Oi Masterni! Alikati sahro bhanna, maile ta kehi sunina ho.” [literal translation: “Hey Miss! Can you speak a bit louder, I didn’t hear anything”] I was so surprised to hear this having come from that part of the world where teachers are addressed by the higher form of Nepali language ‘Tapai’ and here ‘Ta’ (a terminology only used when addressing small kids or your close friends) which is very rude and disrespectful to say the least. Anyway, for the next few months, my time was well spent improving the students’ manners, behaviour and importantly proper use of language when communicating with your elders.

 

Gurkha Children’s School 1/10GR Football Team

Some students were influenced by the smoking habits of their parents. I remember there being one student who used to leave the classroom without my permission almost every day. When he returned to the classroom, he smelled of cigarettes. Finally, one day, I asked him, “Do you smoke?”. “Yes, I do,” was his nonchalant reply. I was shocked to find a nine-year old child smoking cigarette, without realising its affect. However, I did eventually succeed in persuading him to give up his bad smoking habit.

With some of the early Gurkha families on their arrival in Malaya

Although British Malaya was still in a state of emergency, students were occasionally permitted excursions out of camp organised by the school. The visits were often to the nearby rubber plantation, factories and iron mines, all educational trips.

Soldiers from 1/7 GR had a pet goat called Singare (the Horned One). I had heard it was an amazing animal who liked drinking beer and smoking cigarettes! Maybe because it was kept in the Muglish Lines (single soldier barracks) I never had the opportunity to ever meet Singare. 1/7 GR had also caught a tiger cub in the jungle and brought it back to the camp. The tiger cub was called Nepti (flat nosed). I later heard that Nepti was sent to live at London Zoo where she gave birth to two tiger cubs.

Took this picture with Nepti when she was fast asleep!

I then got married on 23 December 1954 and came to live with my husband in his regiment 1/10 Gurkha Rifles at Majidee Barracks, Johore Bahru. There we were given a grand welcome at the railway station by his regimental colleagues, cheering us all the way up to our married quarters!

A grand welcome and wedding reception at Majidee Barracks 1/10GR

I continued with my teaching profession at the Gurkha Children’s School 1/10 GR for almost fourteen years and nearly half of those years I spent in Hong Kong. When we first came to Hong Kong, we stayed at the Norwegian Farm Camp which was then part family lines (later the name changed to Cassino Lines). In 1965, when we came back to Hong Kong for the second time, we lived in Tam Mei camp. From there my husband reached the end of his service and we returned home to India in 1968. On retirement my husband got the job of a Chief Agricultural Instructor at the Resettlement Wing, Dharan Camp that initially drove the move from our home in India to Nepal.

Since my husband passed away in August 2001, I have been living with my children in Kathmandu. I am now 92 years old and receive a Gurkha officer’s widow pension. I look back on my life with great delight, it was such privilege teaching young Gurkha children and guiding them in preparation for their life ahead. I am equally proud and honoured to have had the opportunity to serve in the Brigade of Gurkhas as schoolteacher and a wife of a Gurkha Officer. May God Pashupatinath bless us all.”

Mrs Dewan relaxing at home in Kathmandu (December 2021)

 

Students and teachers, Gurkha Children’s School 1/10GR Tam Mei Camp, 1965

Gurkha children enjoying Christmas Party Cassino Lines Hong Kong 1965

Farewell to WRVS memsaheb

 

Field Marshal Slim’s visit to school in Malaya (Lieutenant Colonel ‘Bunny’ Burnett, later
Major General Brigade of Gurkhas, in attendance).

 

(Two photos above): Gurkha wives enjoying some recreational ‘fun’ shooting
at a Families Day event at Sungei Udang Camp Malacca 1962-3

Families Dashera Party (Bara Khana) at company level

Morning prayers at the Gurkha Family Welfare Centre

Farewell to OC saheb’s memsaheb

Girls playing musical chairs at mela (funfair)

Welcome speech for meeting

Photo 9a Photo 11 Photo 1b Photo 1a Photo 16 Photo 14 Photo 13 Photo 12 Photo 10 Photo 10 Photo 9 Photo 7 Photo 6 Photo 5 Photo 3 Photo 2 Photo 1

I have yet to meet a ghost albeit I have heard many interesting and strange ghost stories some relating to our former army barracks and camps back during the Hong Kong and Malayan days. These ghosts were of course regarded to be Gurkha ghosts, spirits of Gurkha soldiers or their dependants who had passed away in various circumstances. In the unit lines, there were many tales of encounter with spirits of these dead soldiers where wives who were allegedly Boksis (witches) had caused some of these untimely deaths through their black magic. The main targets would be anybody that these ‘boksis’ did not get along with. To counter this black art, we had Jhakris (shaman) from the East and Lamas from the West Nepal, these were soldiers who had obtained this knowledge through their gurus back home before they joined the Army. When the doctor’s medicine did not work the soldiers and their dependants did rely on the help of these Jhakris (shaman) and Lamas – this was an open fact which even the British Officers were aware of.

Based on these tales shared in the Brigade I bring you the first interesting one referred to as the ‘Sungere Bhut ‘ (Pig Ghost) which held fort at the Bailey Bridge that linked the barracks and new Gallipoli families line with the old families’ line in Gallipoli Lines, Hong Kong.

TALE 1

Many spooky tales were told of encounters with this ‘Pig Ghost’ and one in particular refers to a soldier’s experience when he with his wife and their daughter returned to their quarters at the old Gallipoli families lines through this bridge having visited their gaunles in the new Gallipoli families lines. It was near midnight when they were walking along the bridge when they suddenly heard awful grunts of a pig. They did not think twice about it as there were pigs kept by the local Chinese farmers close to the camp. When they reached home, the mother noticed that the daughter had gone pale and was feeling unwell, so she gave here some aspirins to help her rest and sleep. Early next morning the daughter was still poorly so they took her to the Families Hospital. After examining her, the doctor confirmed there was “nothing to worry about” and that it was just a case of mild fever and recommended her to take rest for a few days.

However, her parents did not see any improvement but that she remained very quiet and was hardly eating any food, she seemed to be losing weight by the day and was not her usual self. This continued for a few days and the daughter’s condition gradually worsened. Word got around when his Company 2ic called the soldier to his office and hearing how it all started told the soldier that he was aware of similar cases where the ‘Sungure Bhoot’ (Pig ghost) that haunts the bailey bridge especially during midnight preyed on children and vulnerable souls. The 2ic then advised him to seek the help of a Jhakri (shaman) and fortunately there was one in the same unit. The Jhakri visited the home and performed a healing ritual and lo and behold the daughter’s condition immediately improved and within an hour or so was back to normal! Immediately after this incident, Hukum (an Order) was passed within the Unit Lines to avoid crossing the evil bridge at midnight. Believe it or not!!

TALE 2

Even the bravest of the brave falter for when it comes to ghosts for chopping a ghost’s head is unheard of. So, it was only natural to feel uncomfortable when detailed for guard duty at the Ammunition Compound at the Old Mule Lines at Cassino Lines, Hong Kong. An eerie touch added by the Gurkha cemetery close by.

This was made worse by the Ghosts taking turns as it happened it seemed to be the Chinese ghosts when the Gurkhas were on duty and vice versa. There was certainly lack of communication when the ghostly figures at a given time and on occasions sailed through the compound. The mystery remained alive perhaps due to this barrier in language.

TALE 3

A stone’s throw out on either hand
From that well-ordered road we tread,
And all the world is wild and strange:
Churel and ghoul and Djinn and sprite
Shall bear us company to-night,
For we have reached the Oldest Land
Wherein the Powers of Darkness range.

– Rudyard Kipling ‘From the Dusk to the Dawn’

It was in the early 90’s one recruit was drawn out into the cold night charmed by a ‘churel’ (believed to be the disturbed soul of a woman who dies during childbirth).  This was to be one of the many such nights!

This recruit started to lose weight rapidly and always seemed lost. The RMO suspected it to be a case of TB but it was not so. As it happened one of the ‘gurujis’ who had white witchcraft knowledge sensed the recruit to be influenced by evil spirits. He immediately performed the cleansing ritual when he also came to know that the recruit was indeed possessed by a ‘churel’ and had on many dark nights been drawn out from his bed under a spell and taken to the nearby polo field and at times the athletic track, always dark and quiet areas. It is believed that such victims are entranced by the churel’s beauty and falls deeply in love, slowly affecting his mental and physical state to a very serious extent.

Fortunately for the recruit there was a Corporal on the drill course who was known to be a powerful ‘jhakri’ (shaman) who performed further rituals. It also transpired that had there been further delay in receiving these healing rituals the recruit could succumbed to the evil power of the churel and have lost his life. The verdict was that the lost soul belonged to one of the Gurkha wives who had died during childbirth in the Families Hospital. The joint ritual not only healed the recruit, but they were also able to liberate the lost soul of the dead Gurkha wife. The recruit eventually joined his Regiment.  Many years later he got promoted and was posted back to the Training Depot.

For those not aware, such stories of ‘Jhakris’ and witches are not just myths but were indeed very much rife within the Gurkha families’ lines.

(Note: Names of those involved and Regiment cannot be disclosed due to the Data Protection Act!!)

The last outing of the Season took place at the end of August – but only after Sophie Graham had defied all odds set against her, with a broken-down car, wild fires in the South of France and Covid tests to overcome. But in true Sirmoor fashion she came through with style. Her father Jon Aslett, David Santa-Ollala and Christopher Lavender made up the ‘Four’.

After our traditional `Terrace Lunch’ – taken in the Conservatory because of a chill breeze – we decamped to Lawn 6 equipped with the tools of the trade – mallets liberated from the Croquet Store. The lawns at Hurlingham were in excellent state as usual – and there was an unusual combination tasked with the rolling – see ‘Skeleton Manning’ below!

Play commenced with two rounds of Golf Croquet, with Jon and Sophie displaying much cunning, always seeming to be lined up for the hoop when their turn arrived. David played with a cricketer’s fine judgement, no doubt buoyed by the news that England were 323 for 3 at Headingley, in reply to India being all out for 78 the previous day! The first round saw Sophie and David competing to ‘post out’, with Sophie taking the honours on the second attempt. The second round saw the Aslett’s competing to ‘post out’ and once again Sophie triumphed.

David and Jon then took on Sophie and Christopher in Association Croquet. Given Sophie’s earlier performance this was probably a rather unfair pairing, and after a near faultless start and Sophie neatly ‘peeling’ her partner through the fourth hoop they were soon three hoops to the better and lined up to post out. But as so often the dice can turn, and with some exquisite ‘marauding’ by David, some delicate play around the hoops by Jon, and some terrible misses by Sophie and Christopher there was only one hoop in it! Fittingly, however, it was Sophie who delivered the coup de grace and posted out.

Tea and scones were taken in the Conservatory, and this appropriate indulgence brought the Sirmoor Croquet Society’s 2021 season to a close. Jai Sirmoor!

David and Jon discuss the subtleties of running a hoop.

 

Sophie ‘peeling’ her partner through the ‘Fourth’.

 

‘Skeleton Manning’ in action!

Hurlingham3.4 Hurlingham3.3 Hurlingham3.2 Hurlingham3.1

Meeting ‘Jackers’ at the Main Gate of the Hurlingham Club has become a very pleasant habit this Summer – and so it was at the end of July that a select band of Sirmoorees gathered again at the High Altar of croquet to grace the hallowed lawns. Bruce made the trek from Bristol, Peter and Annie Duffell journeyed from Britford, Christopher and Griselda Lavender from Old Woking, and Mark Pettigrew from south of the River.

We were blessed with good weather for the only day that week and as we consumed our lunch on the Terrace, Peter happily recalled the time he had attended a Ball at Hurlingham as a rather younger man. Sadly, the tale was unaccompanied by any racy anecdotes – perhaps by intent given Annie’s presence! Mark joined us from the tennis courts and in the eye of this observer he must be in line for the Victor Ludorum, as only the week before we had met on the Sirmoor Golf circuit, on his challenging course at Royal Wimbledon.

Having selected our mallets in the croquet store we set up camp adjacent to Lawn 1, suitably decked out with a Sirmoor flag and umbrellas. Play commenced with a game of Golf Croquet, with Mark as the Directing Staff. Mark and Bruce played each other in a private tourney, while Griselda teamed up with Peter, and Annie with Christopher for major event . With each player playing just one ball, and no complicated roquets or croquets, this is a fast moving, fun way to get the measure of the lawn. While Mark triumphed narrowly over Bruce in the Elite Division, there was a dramatic finale in the Premiership – with Griselda and Peter 3-1 to the better as we approached the penultimate hoop. There was even some defeatist talk from Christopher about conceding! But after he had negotiated the fifth hoop, Annie took the game by the scruff of the neck and calmy ran the final Hoop. So it was now 3-3 and the winner would be the first to hit the post. Griselda, Peter and Christopher all failed the test – and it was left to Annie to rather elegantly run her ball through the others to take the match!

With trepidation on the part of some we then decide to try the rather more complicated and Machiavellian code of Association Croquet. The pairings remained the same and after some adroit play around the first hoop Bruce and Mark (who had teamed up together) took a one hoop lead. With Annie and Christopher ‘marauding’ the front pair on the third hoop (Annie’s first ‘maraud’was particularly effective), it seemed that Peter and Griselda were being left behind – but they were merely biding their time! With a late surge (a Duffell speciality it seems) Peter and Griselda swept through the second and third hoops and were threatening to take control of the game. Happily for Mark and Bruce the game was concluded at this point as the attraction of clotted cream and jam scones prevailed. And so Mark and Bruce were crowned the victors and we repaired to the Terrace.

Thus, a most enjoyable day was capped with an indulgent English Tea – before most of us wrestled with the evening traffic heading west out of London; apart from Griselda and Mark – with Griselda following Mark to Wandsworth Bridge and through the back streets to Trinity Road. Mark drove like a ‘bat out of hell, she later recounted!! Jai Sirmoor!

Discussions and deliberations!

 

The memsahebs line up their shots

 

Sirmooris – with ‘Brollies Rampant’!

 

 

 

Picture 5 Picture 4 Picture 3 Picture 2 Picture 1

The President of the Gurkha Brigade Association wrote to the Prime Minister on 15th June about the provision of Covid-19 vaccines to Nepal:

Download (DOCX, 40KB)

Following the 28th July FCDO announcement on bilateral vaccine provisions to various countries (but not Nepal) he has also recently written to both the Times and the Daily Telegraph, although his letters have not yet been published (as at 31st July 2021):

Download (DOCX, 13KB)

He has also written again to the Prime Minister (2nd August):

Download (DOCX, 51KB)

2nd letter to the pm drb

The Sirmoor Croquet season opened on 1st July at Hurlingham- the Mecca of the Noble Game. Our happy band was made up of Jon Aslett and his daughter Sophie Graham, Mark Pettigrew, David and Jo Santa Ollala- all within walking distance of Hurlingham – Christopher Lavender from Woking – and Bruce Jackman who journeyed a wearisome 7 hours from Bristol that day to be with us. Shyabash Hazoor!

We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch accompanied by a bottle of Rose before collecting our mallets and balls and decamping to Lawn 1 – the premier lawn – but as no one seemed to be playing on any other lawn that afternoon our distinguished or undistinguished play went equally unnoticed and unjudged by the Hurlingham hierarchy.

With the benefit of Mark’s gentle guidance, we paired up for Golf Croquet – a fun format with everyone playing in turn. Mark was a bit of an expert in this code – but we were quick learners and we were able to adapt our play to the speed of the beautifully manicured lawn.

We then launched ourselves into the dubious subtleties of Association Croquet, rich as it is with roquets, croquets , and all the associated tactics and rules. With Christopher advising when needed (and perhaps when not needed) the three pairings of Bruce and David, Mark and Jon, and Sophie and Christopher ‘ran the hoops’ taking advantage of additional well-earned hits as they progressed. The highlights were an exquisitely aimed 22 yard roquet by Mark on his partner (Jon’s) ball , and a similarly precise 15 yard roquet some 19 minutes later by Bruce. Jo observed that perhaps the pairing of Christopher and Sophie was the result of poor seeding – and maybe this was so -however all three pairs were on the final hoop by the time Sophie and Christopher posted out – and the tea break was taken.

Tea, and scones with clotted cream and jam, restored our energy and we spent the last period enjoying the less complicated Golf Croquet again. Playing with three pairs proved problematic in that advancing through even one hoop with six players was almost impossible. We therefore split into two games of three players and this brought the afternoon to a close. We then dispersed to our various points of origin – with Bruce having to endure a four hour journey on the M4.
Click on this link for more photographs: http://2ndgoorkhas.com/gallery/sirmoor-club-croquet-july-2021/

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