Campaign Medals of the 2nd Goorkhas
The 42 campaign medals of the 2nd Goorkhas are mostly organised in chronological order, although some of the First and Second World War campaigns occurred simultaneously. Please either scroll down to see them sequentially or click on the relevant link in the index to go directly to the medal’s description.
The Regiment did on occasions send drafts to reinforce other Gurkha Regiments. Individual 2nd Goorkha soldiers therefore became eligible for the award of campaign medals not awarded to the Regiment as a whole.
The main sources for information about the medals are:
- ‘Campaign and Service Medals awarded to Gurkha Regiments in British Service’ published by the Gurkha Museum in 1978, revised November 1996.
- Regimental History of 2nd King Edward VII’s own Goorkhas (The Sirmoor Rifles) Volumes I – IV.
23. Victory Medal.
31. 1939-45 Star
33. Pacific Star
34. Burma Star
35. Italy Star
36. Defence Medal
In 1824 trouble arose in the Native State of Bhurtpoor because the rightful heir, recognized by the British, had been imprisoned by a certain Doorjan Sal. With the help of neighbouring States he created a well-defended fortress at Bhurtpoor with 25,000 Jats, Pathans and Rajputs.
In December 1825 the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Combermere, led a force of 27,000 men and a siege train to surround the enemy’s position with a 24km cordon. On 19 December 1825 elements of three companies of the Sirmoor Battalion formed a detachment about 100 strong to join the cordon and were attached to the 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot.
Combermere launched his attack on 23 December. The Sirmoor Battalion was tasked to capture a temple about 400m from the Eastern or Long Necked Bastion. This was successfully accomplished and subsequently held by the 59th and the Sirmoor Battalion. Meanwhile 100 men were attached to a force which successfully attacked and held the North East or Pathan Bastion, thereby allowing women and children to escape.
For the next 3 weeks the main fortress of Bhurtpoor, still held by Doorjan Sal’s troops, endured an almost constant barrage of artillery fire from every siege gun in Upper India. However, the fortress‘s earthen walls remained intact. On 6 January 1826 Lord Combermere introduced a new tactic: mining. The Sirmoor Battalion was ordered to defend the mining parties. On 15 January a mine was successfully detonated at Long Necked Bastion resulting in a small breach. Gurkhas formed part of the raiding party that exploited it. Meanwhile preparations were in hand for the detonation on 18 January of a huge mine of 10,000 lbs of explosive under the North East or Pathan Bastion.
Plan of Bhurtpoor.
An eye witness gave the following account:
‘Before dawn on 18th January 1826 , all the storming parties were in position……a mine was detonated at the North or Jaginath Gate which brought the defenders to the walls including 800 Pathans to the North East Bastion. Then the mine packed with its 10,000lbs of explosive was fired. The ground heaved and rocked and with a dull, heavy roar half the bastion lurched and rose sullenly into the air….300 of the defenders had immediately been blown to pieces, and even those in our advanced trenches also suffered somewhat – a number being hopelessly buried by descending debris. As soon as the smoke cleared away, the stormers arose and dashed at their respective breaches at the top of which the defenders fought desperately, but were beaten back and the entire line of hitherto impregnable walls was captured …..the whole swept forward into the City and the place was soon in British hands.’
A contemporary print showing the Storming of Bhurtpoor
Doorjan Sal managed to cut his way through the cordon manned by the 14th Foot (Buckinghamshire Regiment) but was captured by British cavalry. The enemy suffered 13,000 killed while British losses amounted to 1100. The Sirmoor Battalion had two killed and four wounded.
The following is an extract from Divisional Orders by General Nicholls dated 19 January 1826:
‘The handsome and gallant advance by the detachment of the Sirmoor Battalion was gallantly and effectively performed…..Captain Fisher’s Sirmoor Battalion is requested to receive the Major General’s very best thanks for the exertions so cheerfully made …’
No medal was initially approved for this battle but 25 years later the Honourable East India Company published a Government General Order dated 14 April 1851 which retrospectively awarded the First India Medal 1799-1826 (or ‘Army of India Medal clasp Bhurtpoor’) to those survivors of the Sirmoor Detachment who were still alive.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order dated 30 April 1842)
The First Afghan War began in 1842 and although the Sirmoor Rifles was ordered to hold itself in readiness to join the Army in Kabul, it was instead deployed to Bareilly where it put down rioting and re-established order.
During the late 1830s the British were convinced that Emir Dost Mohamed of Afghanistan was courting Imperial Russia and had arranged for him to be replaced by the former ruler Shuja Shah Durran. However, after this had been done successive local British commanders became complacent. This resulted in an uprising which in turn led in January 1842 to the disastrous retreat from Kabul.
36 Gurkhas had been serving with 4th Afghan Regiment of Shuja Shah Durran’s Contingent. On the conclusion of the First Afghan War this unit was amalgamated into the Bengal Army of the Honourable East India Company and the Gurkhas were drafted into the Sirmoor Rifles. Although their names are not known, they were eligible to this medal because they had taken part in the punitive campaign of Spring and Summer in 1842 to restore British standing in Afghanistan under the command of General William Nott. (There is a receipt for these medals in the Regimental Letter Book).
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order dated 4 October 1842)
The Battle of Jellalabad was a siege by Afghan tribesmen of an isolated British outpost at Jellalabad about 130km east of Kabul. The siege was lifted after 5 months when the besieged British garrison successfully counter-attacked the Afghans.
The outpost was described as being ‘no more than a wide place in a road with a fort‘ which was held by approximately 2000 troops, mainly from the 13th Foot (The Somerset Light Infantry). After the massacre of the disastrous British retreat from Kabul, a British force led by Brigadier-General Sir William Sale had marched in October 1841 to occupy the fort at Jellalabad. It soon became surrounded by Afghan forces who launched a series of assaults on the British.
One of the officers with Brigadier General Sale was an engineer called Major George Broadfoot. He had commanded a company of sappers and miners which had formed the escort that earlier accompanied the family of Shah Sujah from Delhi to Kabul. On reaching the fort at Jellalabad, Broadfoot assumed responsibility for restoring the defences which were in a ruinous condition. However, having no Sappers and Miners he formed an ad hoc engineer work force from Gurkhas who had been serving with Shah Shuja’s Contingent and had been part of Brigadier General Sale’s force. At the conclusion of the First Afghan War, 23 of these unnamed Gurkhas were drafted into the Sirmoor Rifles and became eligible for this medal.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order dated 12 August 1846)
The Sikh kingdom of Punjab had expanded and been consolidated by Maharajah Ranjit Singh who maintained a wary friendship with the British. Following his death in 1839 the State of Punjab army expanded rapidly to over 80,000. At the same time the Honourable East India Company increased its military strength in those regions adjacent to the Punjab. It also established a new military cantonment at Ferozepur, only a few miles from the River Sutlej, which marked the frontier between British-controlled India and the Punjab.
The unconcealed and seemingly aggressive British military build-up had the effect of increasing tension with acrimonious demands and accusations on both sides. As an Honourable East India Company army commanded by General Sir Hugh Gough began to march towards Ferozepur, on 11 December 1845 the Sikhs responded by crossing the River Sutlej. The British regarded this as a hostile act and war was declared.
In early December 1845 the Sirmoor Battalion had joined the Sutlej Army under General Gough. Their first action took place at on 4 January 1846 at Ludhiana which was reached after a forced march of 43km. Together with a detachment of the Patiala Cavalry they drove off the looting Sikhs and later together with the 50th Foot (The Queen’s Own) held the cantonment.
The 2nd Goorkhas Regimental historian commented that much of the credit for the action at Ludhiana was erroneously given to Colonel Godby’s force which arrived after the Gurkhas and Patiala Cavalry, commenting: ‘A better bit of service has seldom been performed and yet Government never even acknowledged it ! ‘
Later in January 1846 the Sikhs were determined to recapture Ludhiana and again crossed the River Sutlej in order to establish a bridgehead at Sobraon, while at the same time they planned to lay siege to Ludhiana with a force of 7000. The British response was to detach a division under Sir Harry Smith to remove this threat. Although Smith reached Ludhiana before the Sikhs, his force was exhausted having been constantly harassed by Sikh irregular cavalry who captured most of the baggage animals.
Map of the Battle of Aliwal (from the 2nd Goorkhas Regimental History)
The Sirmoor Battalion had been transferred to General Wheeler’s Brigade. The Battle of Aliwal began early on 28 January 1846 with an advance to contact over a 9km front with columns of infantry in the centre and the cavalry out on the flanks ‘as if on the most correct field day‘. The Sikhs had occupied a position along a ridge beside the River Sutlej which ran close to their rear positions making it difficult for them to manoeuvre and disastrous to withdraw. Sir Harry Smith identified the village of Aliwal as the weakest point on the Sikh line which Godby’s and Hick’s Brigades succeeded in capturing. At the same time Wheeler’s Brigade (described in Smith’s official report as ‘Wheeler’s irresistible Brigade‘) came under sustained heavy enemy fire: ‘The Colours of the Sirmoor Battalion were almost shot to pieces, the staff of the King’s Colour was cut in half by a cannon ball and was spliced in the field, while a little later the black Regimental Colour was temporarily captured – the Goorkha Officer carrying it being killed. At once a party of Goorkhas under Havildar Badal Sing Thapa sprang forward and with great gallantry cut their way amongst the enemy, recovering the Colour but not the staff. This was replaced by a bamboo cut in the field.’
The enemy was duly driven back but in doing so lost all cohesion as ‘the debris of the Sikh force reached the far bank and rapidly drew off.’
Out of a strength of 650 All Ranks, the Sirmoor Battalion suffered a total of 49 casualties.
The immediate result of the British victory at Aliwal was that the Sikh Army of 35,000 consolidated their position at Sobraon along side the River Sutlej with a triple line of strongly fortified breastworks. The British required reinforcements to assault this position and General Gough had to wait for Sir Harry Smith’s Division to arrive from Aliwal and a siege train from Delhi.
The battle commenced on 10 February 1846 with a heavy British artillery barrage against the fortifications with General Dick’s Division on the left, General Gilbert’s Division (including the Sirmoor Battalion) in the centre and General Smith’s Division on the right.
The Anglo-Indian Force Crossing the River Sutlej
The British assaulted the Sikh position with a well-coordinated advance to contact with ‘batteries and infantry aiding each other correlatively’. Meanwhile British sappers had made openings in the entrenchments through which the cavalry and infantry were able to engage the Sikhs in fierce close quarter combat, who were forced to withdraw to the boat bridge across the River Sutlej. However, the river had flooded and the ad hoc bridge was useless. Consequently: ‘Field and horse batteries now completed the British success by a heavy cannonade on to the bridge, which broke up, and hundreds and hundreds died from either the guns or drowning, forming a fitting punishment for those who in the earlier part of the battle had sullied their gallantry by slaughtering and mangling every wounded soldier whom fortune of war left at their mercy.’
Meanwhile the Sirmoor Battalion had ‘almost the severest work of the whole action having been driven back three times by the Sikhs, but with a fourth supreme effort managed to effect an entry into the formidable works.’
Out of an initial strength of 610 All Ranks, the Sirmoor Battalion suffered a total of 144 casualties: the Commandant (Commanding Officer) Captain Fisher and 13 Gurkhas were killed and 130 Gurkhas wounded.
General Sir Hugh Gough wrote: ‘I especially noticed the two Goorkha Corps employed under me, viz the Sirmoor and Nassira Battalions, and the determined hardihood and bravery with which they met the Sikhs wherever they opposed them. Soldiers of small stature but indomitable spirit, they vied in ardent courage with grenadiers of our own nation, and armed with the short weapon of their country were a terror to the Sikhs throughout this great conflict. Captain Fisher, the Commandant of the Sirmoor Battalion who fell at the head of his valiant men, was much respected and is lamented by the whole army.’
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order 363 of 1858)
The Indian Mutiny occurred as the result of an accumulation of factors over time rather than any single event, but it is generally acknowledged that the spark that ignited it was the introduction of a new cartridge for the new Enfield rifle. Hindu Sepoys believed it was greased with cow fat, anathema to them because of the dictates of their religion. The Goorkhas did not share the Indian Sepoys’ disgust at handling and biting off the end of these cartridges.
In April 1857 at Meerut, a large military cantonment, the unsympathetic Commanding Officer 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry had ordered 90 men to perform firing drills with the new cartridge, but 85 soldiers refused to do so. They were subject to courts martial and awarded 10 years imprisonment with hard labour. The following day, Sunday 11 May, the sepoys broke into revolt, killing European civilians including women and children and attacking off-duty British soldiers in the bazaar. Fired by their initial success the mutineers set off towards Delhi, the ancient capital of the Mughal Emperor and a strong walled city located 65km away that was not garrisoned by the British.
On 14 May 1857 The Sirmoor Battalion, led by the Commandant (Commanding Officer) Major Reid and comprising 490 Goorkhas, left Dehra Dun and marched to Meerut, after 45km reaching Khree on the Ganges Canal. By 16 May they were 5km short of Roorkee but were ordered not to enter and embarked on 45 boats towards Meerut.
The Commandant of the Sirmoor Battalion, Major Charles Reid, pictured in 1858 as a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel decorated with the CB.
By 18 May The Sirmoor Battalion had reached Nanoo but was ordered to save the garrison of Bulandshahr from the mutineers. Progress along the Ganges Canal was slow with many of the locks damaged by the mutineers, but 18 were captured and tried by drum head courtmartial. 13 were found guilty and shot. The Battalion reached Bulandshahr on the 23 May. It had been completely destroyed by the mutinous 9th Native Infantry who had stolen treasure and moved towards Delhi. Martial law was imposed and a gallows erected in front of the Goorkhas’ position. A search discovered three local sympathisers who were hanged. On 28 May 400 men of the Rampore Horse reached Bulandshahr and although many deserted during the night for Delhi, those who did not were co-opted by Major Reid to join his force. On 30 May The Sirmoor Battalion was joined by an additional 400 cavalrymen and 4 Horse Artillery guns. The whole force carried out a night march of 43km to Ghaziabad where they joined Brigadier General Wilson’s Brigade and met the 60th Rifles for the first time.
Between 4 and 7 June the Sirmoor Battalion plus attachments of two cavalry squadrons and four guns marched from Ghaziabad to Alipore to join General Barnard’s Force. On 8 June the whole Force advanced to contact at night and met with opposition at Badli ke Serai, 11 km from Delhi. After two hours of fierce fighting the enemy withdraw back to Delhi. The Sirmoor Battalion advanced through the Subzimandi (the vegetable market) and by midday had successfully captured The Ridge. They were ordered to hold Hindoo Rao’s house at the Ridge’s southern end and within 1000 m of the Mori Bastion, held by the enemy. Later that afternoon the enemy launched a counterattack but were driven back to the city by the Goorkhas, two companies of the 60th Rifles and Scott’s Battery of the artillery.
On 9 June The Guides (which included one Gurkha Company of its own) joined Reid’s Force and The Ridge came under attack from the rebels’ infantry and artillery. The Ridge again came under attack on the 10 June. On 12 June 100 troopers of the 4th Irregular Horse mutinied and several were killed in the process of trying to join the rebel lines. An enemy force of 5000 again attacked The Ridge on 13 June.
Map of Delhi in 1857, from the 2nd Goorkhas Regimental History. Hindoo Rao’s House is circled in red. The military cantonment is centre top of the map. The northern part of Delhi is bottom right showing the Bridge of Boats over the River Jumna.
On 14 June a recce on behalf of General Barnard was carried out with a view to capturing the city but the plan was rejected on account of a shortage of manpower. On the 15 June an enemy force of 6000 attacked The Ridge and was beaten off. On the 17 June a column under Major Tombs assaulted the enemy’s positions at Kissenganj. The gates were breached and fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place with 300 enemy killed and wounded. The Sirmoor Battalion lost 15 men. On 20 June an attempt was made by 15 Goorkhas to destroy the bridge of boats across the River Jumna, with limited success. The following day, as the enemy attacked the rear of the main British position, the Sirmoor Battalion, 60th Rifles and Guides retook the Subzimandi with considerable difficulty, the position changing hands several times. The enemy incurred 800 casualties, the Sirmoor Battalion 36. By 23 June the Goorkhas had lost 103 killed or wounded.
On 27 June the Sirmoor Battalion had to reinforce 2nd Fusiliers who were being attacked in the Subzimandi. By 15 July the enemy had made 20 unsuccessful attempts to seize The Ridge with forces of up to 800 men. Attacks continued until on 2 August ‘The Great Attack’ took place when an enemy force of 10,000 attacked The Ridge but had to withdraw after six attacks had been repulsed by four companies of the 60th Rifles, the remaining 200 Goorkhas, 310 Guides and a detachment of Coke’s Rifles. Desultory attacks continued during the rest of August. Although subject to enemy artillery fire from the Kissenganj batteries the Goorkhas were able to recover some of the enemy’s spent rounds and fire them back.
Hindoo Rao’s House shortly after the end of the siege with some of the Sirmoor Battalion who held it
The artillery battle was also key. On 7 September British heavy batteries engaged the enemy. On 9 September an additional 24 artillery pieces defended by the Goorkhas engaged the enemy at a distance of 300m which reduced to only 150m during the course of the action. Lieutenant DB Lockhart was recommended for the Victoria Cross but did not receive it. On 11 September the enemy succeed in establishing a new battery opposite The Ridge but the following day the British artillery had almost destroyed the Mori Bastion, although it had not silenced all the enemy guns.
On 14 September 1857 Major Reid’s Column formed up on The Grand Trunk Road opposite the Subzimandi at 4am. The force comprised 200 Goorkhas of the Sirmoor Battalion, Detachments of the 60th Rifles , 61st (South Gloucestershire) and 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiments of Foot, Coke’s Rifles, the Kumaon Battalion (subsequently 3rd Gurkha Rifles), 1st Bengal European Fusiliers, the Jammoo Contingent and a Battery of Royal Horse Artillery. At daylight the enemy attacked the Jammoo Contingent but were beaten off as Reid’s Column advanced towards the Kashmir Gate, where there was fierce fighting. Reid’s plan was simple but effective, with a feint attack at the Kissenganj from the front which disguised the main assault to be launched from the flank and rear. However casualties were severe, amounting to almost a third of the Column, and Reid was severely wounded.
Mopping up operations continued throughout Delhi but the rebels had been soundly defeated. The Sirmoor Battalion had lost 327 All Ranks out of the 490 who had fought during the siege.
The loyalty and professionalism shown by the Sirmoor Battalion during the mutiny firmly established the high reputation of Gurkhas in both the Indian and British Armies, which continues to this day. A very close affiliation with the 60th Rifles was established, resulting in the Sirmoor Battalion being invited to become a Rifle Regiment as well, adopting traditions from the 60th including a faster marching pace than line infantry and distinctions of dress such as rifle green uniforms and red piping (the latter, known as ‘lali’, still being being worn by The Royal Gurkha Rifles today). Rifle Regiments do not carry colours as historically they skirmished outside the line of infantry squares rather than rallying around their regimental standards as part of it, but Queen Victoria, on hearing of the Sirmoor Battalion’s outstanding service to the crown, was pleased to award them a special third colour later replaced by a Truncheon (see separate page on this website describing this in more detail). The Queen’s Truncheon is still carried on parade today by The Royal Gurkha Rifles, the successor Regiment to the Sirmoor Battalion.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order 86 of 1870 – Black Mountain)
On 29 October 1861 an order had been issued to change the name of the Sirmoor Rifles to ‘2nd Goorkhas (The Sirmoor Rifles) Regiment’. On 2 January 1864 it was therefore the newly-named 2nd Goorkhas who were ordered to join the Field Force at Shabqadar, approximately 25km north of Peshawar, as about 6000 Mohmands and other tribes had moved down from the surrounding hills to take up a position opposite Shabqadar Fort. The Field Force engaged the enemy by artillery and then, led by forward companies of the 2nd Goorkhas and the Rifle Brigade, the Force attacked the enemy who broke and fled.
The 2nd Goorkhas remained on the North-West Frontier for four years, based in Rawalpindi, carrying out routine garrison duties and building works in order to keep the peace in the area.
On 10 August 1864 the 2nd Goorkhas were ordered to Khakee in the Pakri valley, about 40km from Abbottabad, where they received two pieces of intelligence: (1) The Soosal Pass, an important feature, was only lightly manned and urgently needed to be reinforced against maraunding tribesmen; (2) A small force under command of Colonel Rothey had been surrounded by ‘several thousand’ tribesmen in the Agor Valley and the Soosal Pass was the only means of communication with his rear echelon.
Holding the Soosal Pass was clearly vital and the 2nd Goorkhas succeeded in reaching the pass at midnight after a very steep climb and remained there for a month.
On 8 September 1868 the 2nd Goorkhas joined 2nd Brigade under General Vaughan at Koongulli and led the Brigade assault to clear the hills separating Agror and Tikari valleys. The Regiment supported 1st Brigade’s successful assault on Chittabut Peak and in due course 2nd Brigade was ordered to hold Chittabut as the 1st Brigade moved on to capture Muchaie Peak. An incident during the Battle is described in the Digest of Service: ‘An incident of the day may be here mentioned to shew the extraordinary muscular power possessed by some of the Goorkhas. As the Regiment swarmed up the Munna-ka-Dunna Hill, an old Naick by name Poorun Ghurtee, not a powerful looking man, came upon a nine Gallon Cask of Rum. He immediately hoisted it upon his shoulder and carried it to the summit, about 500 feet at an angle of something like 45 degrees, not a bad feat considering the weight of the cask was upwards of a hundred and twenty pounds and that he also carried his arms, accoutrements and 40 rounds of service ammunition. [It rained all night and at an elevation of 9000 feet by dawn ‘all were rather numb’]. All hands were piped to grog and partook of the cask of rum rescued from destruction by the old Naick. The contents proved sufficient for one wine glassful to each individual’.
These actions resulted in a tribal jirga or council which brought this campaign to an end. On 12 October 1868 the 2nd Goorkhas were withdrawn and arrangements were made for the Regiment to return to Dehra Dun for the first time since 1863.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order 1295 of 1872)
In 1871 disturbances broke out in Eastern India amongst the Looshai, Howlong and Syloo tribes of the Chittagong Hills in South East Bangladesh/Burma (now Myanmar).
In August 1871 the 2nd Goorkhas were ordered to join General Brownlow’s Column and on 27 October 1871 departed by sea from Calcutta, reaching Chittagong on 4 November 1871. Not only was this a new experience for the Goorkhas, who had never before seen open sea, but also they were going to have learn to live and fight in the jungle for the first time.
On 7 November 1871 the Regiment left Chittagong by river steamers and travelled for 90 miles up the Kornafuli River to Rangamatti. Thereafter the river narrowed and the Regiment continued upstream in a small fleet of boats and dugouts before reaching Demagiri on 18 November. For the next two months the Regiment was tasked with arduous piquet and escort duties, but without having contact with the rebellious tribesmen.
However, on 3 January 1872 the Regiment was ordered to attack a ‘strong and impregnable’ enemy village located in the Towrong Mountains, the stronghold of Lal Gnoora, the chief of the Looshai. After a difficult approach march through dense bamboo forests General Brownlow’s Column formed up 100 m beneath the heavily stockaded enemy village. The 2nd Goorkhas, who led the attack with three companies, were met by cleverly located panjis (sharpened bamboo stakes stuck in the ground) and 10 soldiers including a British Officer were ‘completely disabled’. Major Macintyre leading the left assault group was the first to breach the 3m-high stockade, and closely followed by the Goorkhas quickly cleared the burning village of all the enemy tribesmen. He was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross and Rifleman Inderjit Thapa the Indian Order of Merit 3rd Class. Major Macintyre’s citation read as follows :
‘For his gallant conduct at the storming of the stockaded village of Lalgnoora on 4th January 1872…..Major Donald Macintyre, who was serving at the time as second-in-command, led the assault, and was the first to reach the stockade (on this side from 8 to 9 feet high). He then climbed over and disappeared among the flames and smoke of the burning village, the work of a very short time. The stockade was successfully stormed by this officer under fire, the heaviest the Looshais delivered that day.’
(For more details see the website page listing 2nd Goorkhas Victoria Cross winners here)
The 2nd Goorkhas formed up in India in 1871 prior to leaving for the Looshai Expedition
In the subsequent follow-up operations and skirmishes the 2nd Goorkhas destroyed all the enemy’s stockades as well as burning the Looshais’ grain stores. In February 1872 the Looshai Expedition was over and by 4 April 1872 the Regiment had returned to Dehra Dun.
General Sir Charles Brownlow wrote of his grateful ‘…..sense of the uniform loyalty, courage and good conduct which all ranks displayed in contending for five months with difficulties, privations and exposure of no ordinary nature, in forcing their way through an unknown and formidable country ….’.
The 2nd Goorkhas’ casualties in this campaign were: killed in action 2; wounded 12; died of disease 11.
In 1878 the Regiment undertook its first service in Europe, in Malta and Cyprus as part of the Malta Expeditionary Force, but saw no action and no medals were awarded for the campaign.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order 673 dated 10 December 1880)
In September 1879 the British envoy to Afghanistan Sir Louis Cavagnari and his escort were massacred after an eight-hour siege by 2000 mutinous Afghan troops of the Residency in Kabul.
This event marked a turning point in the Second Afghan War and a military force commanded by Sir Frederick Roberts was rapidly mobilised to capture Kabul and punish the perpetrators.
The 2nd Goorkhas, who had only recently returned to Dehra Dun in June 1879, was now ordered to return to Afghanistan, which it reached in November 1879. It camped at Gandamak as part of General Charles Gough’s Brigade with detachments posted to Lokai, Pezwan and Jugdulluck. On 21 December 1879 in severe winter conditions the Brigade marched to Sherpur, near Kabul. After Christmas the Regiment was ordered to join a column under Colonel Jenkins to carry out punitive measures against tribesmen in the Koh Daman valley, but were unable to do so because of the harsh winter weather.
During the Spring of 1880 the Regiment was responsible for manning outposts along the high ground overlooking the Kabul-Ghunzi road and the Chardeh valley. In late April 1880 a small British force commanded by Colonel Jenkins at Charasiah in the Logar valley was subject to a prolonged attack. Brigadier General Macpherson’s Brigade (which included two companies from the 2nd Goorkhas, the 92nd Highlanders and a Sikh regiment) was ordered to assist. They successfully defeated the Afghans who fled, leaving approximately 450 dead on the battle field, many of whom had died in hand-to-hand fighting with the two companies of Goorkhas who ‘went at the enemy position with a cheer and carried the eminence with the bayonet’.
Meanwhile, following reports of massed tribesmen on the hills above at Sydabad, a strong force which included the 2nd Goorkhas was ordered to drive off the enemy. This was duly achieved with further hand-to-hand fighting. With the situation having now stabilised around Kabul, the British began to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan back to India.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order 673 dated 10 December 1880)
On 27 July 1880 an Afghanistan army numbering 25,000 under the leadership of Ayub Khan had decisively defeated General Burrows’ 1st Infantry Brigade of 2500 at the Battle of Maiwand. The enemy then marched on to Kandahar and laid siege to the British garrison.
The nearest British support lay hundreds of kilometers away in Quetta commanded by Brigadier Phayre and in Kabul commanded by General Roberts. Both were ordered to to march immediately towards Kandahar. Part of Roberts’ Force was 1st Infantry Brigade commanded by General Macpherson VC (late 2nd Goorkhas) which included the 92nd Highlanders, the 24th Punjab Infantry and the 2nd Goorkhas. General Roberts’ Force arrived first having left Kabul on 9 August 1880, reaching Kandahar on 31 August 1880 after a gruelling march of 491km in 23 days.
The enemy were positioned to the west of Kandahar between the Baba Wali Hills (about 1500m high) and the Argandab river at a defile at Baba Wali Kotal. On 1 September 1880 General Roberts with a force of 11,000 troops and 32 guns attacked Ayub Khan’s army of 15,000 Afghan regular troops, tribesmen and 32 guns. MacPherson’s 1st Brigade was ordered to capture the village of Gundimullah Sahibdad with 2nd Goorkhas on the left and 92nd Highlanders on the right. At 10.30am, after two hours of close combat, the village was taken and the Brigade advanced towards the next village of Pir Paimal, where it was joined by the 2nd Brigade. At midday both brigades began to advance and succeeded in capturing the village. Although many of the enemy withdrew the Afghans still resolutely defended their guns until they were rushed by both Goorkhas and Highlanders. After a brief hand-to-hand fight they broke and fled, to be pursued by the British cavalry.
A 2nd Goorkha Rifleman rushed to the Afghans’ artillery and, reaching one of the guns first he sprang on to it waved his cap, crying out in Hindustani ‘This gun belongs to my regiment – 2nd Goorkhas! Prince of Wales!’. He then thrust his cap down the muzzle in order that there should be no dispute as to future ownership. One of the guns was subsequently presented to the 2nd Goorkhas and for over a century afterwards it stood outside the Regimental Quarterguard as a prized trophy of war.
The capture of the ‘Kandahar Cannon’ by a Rifleman of the 2nd Goorkhas, 1 September 1880
This was the final battle of the 2nd Afghan War. The 2nd Goorkhas’ casualties amounted to 8 killed and 29 wounded. Enemy casualties were estimated to be at least 1000.
In the Regimental Journal of 1964, Lieutenant Colonel JS Holy-Hasted lists the Medal Roll of 2GR in 1878-80 as:
- 9 named British Officers, showing which clasps they received.
- For Gurkhas (numbers only):
– Medals 1st Phase: 128
– Medals 2nd Phase: 141
– Medals both Phases: 486
- Total: 416 Kabul clasps, 517 Kandahar clasps.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order 534 of 1880)
Following the disaster at Maiwand disaster on 27 July 1880, General Sir Frederick Roberts was immediately ordered to lead a 4-brigade Field Force from Kabul to Kandahar in order to both relieve the besieged British garrison and to attack the Afghan Army led by Ayub Khan. The 2nd Goorkhas was part of 1st Infantry Brigade, other units in the Brigade being:
• 92nd Highlanders
• 23rd Pioneers
• 24th Punjab Infantry
On 8 August 1880 General Roberts marched out of the Sherpur Cantonment at Kabul and headed south to join the main Kandahar road. The route lay through Ghuznee and Kelat-i-Gilzai. The pace was forced as hard as possible with supplies carried by camel. The days were very hot and the nights very cold; the troops marched out in the early morning to avoid the full heat of the sun, halting for a few minutes every hour with camp pitched at around midday. On 31 August 1880 General Roberts’ Field Force reached Kandahar. This famous march of 23 days with only two halts covered a total distance of 500km, an average of 22km a day. The 350km from Kabul to Kelat-i-Gilzai was covered at a rate of 24km a day largely through country with an indifferent source of water. It was hardly surprising that sick rate was about 500 men per day. The medal was struck in recognition of the troops’ remarkable achievement of covering this distance in such a short time, leading to the relief of Kandahar described above.
General Roberts’ Field Force passing through the Zamburak Kotal on the way from Kabul to Kandahar.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order 275 dated 1891)
The Second Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (2/2GR) was raised in February 1886. Their first operational campaign took place in 1889 when part of the Battalion was deployed for service in the South Looshai Hills. It was part of the Chittagong Field Force commanded by Brigadier General Tregear, which was to operate East of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. There the British had been surveying a possible road route through the hills which would have opened up unexplored territory and, with a line of forts, established a British presence in the area. However the previous year a British survey party had been attacked by tribesmen led by a chief known as Howsata who had killed Lieutenant Stewart and three soldiers of the 100th (Prince of Wales’s) Leinster Regiment. This had been followed by a number of raids by marauding tribes on 24 villages resulting in over 100 deaths.
The British formed the Chittagong Field Force as a ‘cold weather’ punitive force. It consisted of:
• 1st Madras Pioneers
• 2nd Bengal Infantry
• Elements of the 3rd Bengal Infantry and 2nd Goorkhas.
• 2 mountain guns
• 38 elephants
• 1000 Indian coolies
Its headquarters was at Demagiri which elements of the Second Battalion reached after a similar journey to that experienced by the Regiment in 1871 – a march from Dehra Dun to Meerut, train to Calcutta, ship to Chittagong and then by river steamer to Rangamatti and finally a march through ‘low lying, unhealthy forest tracts’ to Demagiri.
The difficult approach march through steep jungle terrain proved to be too much for some of the elephants and coolies despite having recruited an additional 2500 local tribesmen. However, by late February 1889 the Field Force established a firm base at Lung Leh from where fighting patrols were sent out to punish those tribesmen who had carried out the raids. The tribal chief Howsata had since died and his grave revealed that he had been buried with Lieutenant Stewart’s gun.
The route taken by the Chin-Lushai expedition 1889-90, overlaid on a modern map
By mid-March 1889 the season when it was possible to conduct operations was ending. The base at Lung Leh was vacated and handed over to the Frontier Police as the Field Force withdrew to Demagiri before returning to India. On 15 May 1889 the elements of the 2nd Battalion involved reached home at Dehra Dun.
The Battalion Digest of Service records ‘The India Medal of 1854 with clasp ‘Chin-Lushai 1889-90′ was distributed to the Battalion on 16th November  on parade at Pur Camp. The number of medals with clasps gained by the Battalion was 716, exclusive of 31 clasps for officers and men already in possession of the India Medal’.
At the end of October 1889 the Second Battalion was again ordered for service in the Looshai Hills, joining Brigadier General Tregear’s Field Force, only on this occasion it would involve the entire battalion. The Field Force proceeded to the base at Lung Leh, reaching it on 2 January 1890. Here the Battalion was split up with three companies under command of Colonel Skinner being sent to the Northern Looshai Hills while the remainder joined the Burma Force under the command of Brigadier General Penn Symons.
Duties for those Goorkhas who were part of Burma Force were arduous but dull, comprising mainly jungle clearance, road-making and building stockaded positions, yet without being troubled by any tribesmen. A large fortified position known as Fort Tregear was established at Darjow Klang at an elevation of about 1500m. A fighting patrol led by Captain Hall into Chin country discovered Lieutenant Stewart’s head, which was given an appropriate burial.
The three companies sent to the Northern Looshai Hills had two contacts with the Looshai and suffered a few casualties. By March 1890, Brigadier General Tregear withdrew most of his Field Force to India but left two rifle companies at Lung Leh. On 3 April 1890, Lieutenant LW Shakespear, Adjutant of the Battalion, saved Bugler Attia Damai from drowning in the Kornafuli River at Kodalla, for which he was awarded The Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal. On 21 April 1890 the Main Body of the 2nd Battalion reached Dehra Dun again. Meanwhile the two companies left at Lung Leh carried out operations against a ‘turbulent chief’ known as Jacopa and his Looshai tribesmen. He had ambushed a Frontier Police patrol which included two 2nd Goorkha signallers resulting in several sepoys and the two signallers being decapitated. Jacopa’s force was eventually attacked and punished and he was captured.
The Looshai expedition in Mizoram (from the Illustrated London News 1889)
The 2nd Battalion was not sent to the Looshai Hills in 1890 and the Detachment at Fort Tregear returned to Dehra Dun in May 1891.
(Issued on the authority of Army Order 88 of 1 June 1892 and General Order by the Commander-in-Chief 605 of 28 July 1892)
In September 1890 the Maharaja of the small north-eastern Indian Princely State of Manipur was forced to abdicate following a palace coup. The British response was for the Chief Commissioner, James Quinton, together with a small military force to go to Imphal (the capital of Manipur) and arrest the rebels. This was a tragic and spectacular failure resulting on 14 March 1891 in the murder of Quinton and four British Officers and the storming of the Residency while the survivors fled for their lives.
The British authorities immediately assembled three columns which were tasked to ‘exact retribution for these acts of rebellion and massacre’. In early April 1891 the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas, comprising 9 British Officers and 720 Rank and File, was ordered to join Colonel Rennick’s Column at Silchar in Assam, which was more than 2000km from Dehra Dun. This was achieved by a combination of marches, trains and river steamers.
On 15 April 1891 the Column set off on the 250km march to Imphal over difficult jungle terrain in heavy rain. For some reason each rifleman carried a great coat (!) in addition to 170 rounds and waterproof sheets. The pack transport proved to be useless as the Regiment struggled in very difficult conditions with marches lasting 12-15 hours, often at night. Matters worsened with an outbreak of cholera. The Column eventually reached Imphal where having joined up with the other two Columns they discovered that the town had been abandoned by the rebels with both palace and arsenal destroyed. Unlike the other two columns, Colonel Rennick’s Column had not had any contact with the enemy during its approach march to Imphal.
The rebel leaders were duly captured and executed. Meanwhile the Battalion was billeted in a deserted Manipuri village to the north-east of Imphal from where patrols were send out, more for political than military reasons. The Regimental historian noted that ‘the summer passed quietly…..the chief points of interest being the excellent shooting and fishing’.
In September 1891, the Battalion was ordered back to the Brahmaputra River, which was reached on 19 October 1891 and from where it sailed by river steamer to Goalundo. There it entrained to Roorkee and marched to Dehra Dun, arriving on 2 November 1891.
Awarded to all troops who served on the North West Frontier from 10 June 1897 to 6 April 1898 subject to six categories. 1/2GR was eligible on account of category 6 namely ‘To all troops forming part of the garrisons of, and present at the posts on the Samana, and posts beyond Kohat, from Kohat to Parachinar, between 27 August 1897 and 2 October 1897’.
The year 1897 witnessed an almost general insurrection among the tribes on the North West Frontier of India. The tribes involved were the Waziris, Mohmands, Swatis, Afridis and Orakzais who were practically independent and did not accept a new ‘frontier’ which had recently been demarcated by the so called Durand Line – named after a British commission. This growing unrest had not been recognised by the British authorities until June 1897 when an escort of Indian troops was suddenly attacked, and later in August the village of Shabkadar was raided. Belligerent tribesmen had also laid siege to the fortified posts along the Samana Ridge where the British had established 11 posts, the two main ones being Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan.
The British response to this unrest was to mobilize their troops in order to take punitive action. On 13 August 1897, the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR) was ordered to join 3rd Reserve Brigade at Rawalpindi, but being below strength because of men away on leave in Nepal, it was reinforced by two Gurkha Officers and 108 Gurkha Other Ranks from the 2nd Battalion.
On 31 August 1897, exhausted after a gruelling march with several cases of sunstroke, 1/2GR reached Kohat which was to be the base of the forthcoming campaign. However, on arrival it was immediately sent on another long march of 40km towards Hangu, where an attack by the Orakzais tribesmen was expected, in order to join Colonel Lawrence’s Infantry Brigade, which consisted of:
• 18th The Royal Irish Regiment
• 2nd Punjab Infantry
• 1st Battalion 2nd Goorkhas
By 7 September 1/2GR had moved on to the Samana Ridge which overlooked Hangu and after some skirmishes eventually reached Fort Lockhart from where an estimated force comprising 10,000 tribesmen could be seen making its way along the Khanki Valley.
1/2GR remained at Fort Lockhart and was able to celebrate Delhi Day with 3GR. There then followed a lull in hostilities while arrangements were made for the Battalion to participate in the forthcoming advance into the Tirah in order to conduct operations against the Mohmands.
Awarded to all troops forming part of the Tirah Expeditionary Force who proceeded beyond either Kohat or Peshawar between 2 October 1897 and 31 January 1898. Note that this clasp was almost always awarded to men who already had the clasp for TIRAH 1897-98, hence the 2 clasps shown in the picture.
On 10 October 1897 1/2GR was at Shinaori as part of 3rd Brigade under Brigadier General Kempster together with:
• 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment
• 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders
• 15th Sikhs.
The Brigade was part of the First Division under Brigadier General Penn Symons, who commanded the Main Column of the Tirah Field Force under the overall command of Lieutenant General Sir William Lockhart. This force would later be described as ‘the flower of the Army in India’.
On 18 October Lieutenant General Sir Power Palmer issued Divisional Orders for two columns to capture the Dargai Heights, which rose to over 2100m and were occupied by Afridi tribesmen. The Right Column (Brigadier General Westmacott, Commander 4th Brigade) was to advance up the main road and launch a frontal attack while the Left Column (3rd Brigade) was to launch an attack from the left via a mountain mule track.
At 0430 hrs the two columns left Fort Lockhart, but after 8km the route taken by 3rd Brigade became too steep for guns and mules, which delayed them. By 9am 1/2GR, now 2.5km west of Dargai, had come under fire, but by 1200 hrs the Battalion had captured the enemy position and met up with 4th Brigade. 3rd Brigade’s delay meant the success could not be exploited, and lack of water led to the position being abandoned by 1700 hrs, only to be reoccupied by tribesmen who not only harassed the withdrawing British troops but also significantly fortified the position in anticipation of another British attack.
On 20 October a larger British force, now supported by artillery, began another assault on Dargai. The attack was to be led by 1/2GR with The Dorsetshire Regiment in support and The Gordon Highlanders and The Derbyshire Regiment in reserve. Although the attacking force followed the same route taken by 4th Brigade on the previous day, for some reason information about an open saddle located just above the ridge line beneath Dargai had not been made clear to 3rd Brigade. As the advancing Goorkhas and Dorsets reached the ridge and began to assemble just below it for the assault, the enemy held their fire, knowing the would shortly have an excellent target.
This view of the Chagru Kotal was sketched by Melton Prior at Shinawari Fort, a staging post of the Tirah Field Force. The Dargai Heights can be seen in the centre of the picture, in the distance. Prior noted in the bottom right-hand corner a reference to the battle of Chagru Kotal. This was how the battle was referred to before the more popular name of Dargai was adopted.
Extracts from an eye witness account best describe what happened next :
‘…When all was ready the Commandant, Colonel Eaton Travers, stepped out in front, drew his sword and called on his men to follow him. As the men scrambled up and poured over the top , they came into view of the loopholes above where instantly the whole line of sangars burst into smoke and flame and a torrent of bullets from front, right and left tore through the ranks; men fell literally in heaps. Some 500 breech-loading rifles were pumping lead at a range of a little over 200 yards on to a strip of ground the size of two tennis courts, and the crowded ranks of the leading regiment struggling through this terrible zone of fire melted away, leaving a trail of bodies ….
Major Judge now sprang into the open to lead another advance, and gallantly his men responded; many more fell and others with heads down and arms across the face as though in a hailstorm, broke out of the crush [and]…sought cover where there was none.
Another rush now gathered; Captain Robinson headed it, reached cover half way, and after a moment’s halt he was up again and went back into the pitiless fire which rained on sound and stricken alike. He then led yet another effort across only to fall mortally wounded.
Now the Dorsets massing on the Left began to repeat the process; now an officer, now a sergeant, sprang up to lead a rush, the ground, as each group appeared, being lashed into dust and splinters.
At 1300 hrs the supports had began to run out of ammunition and a message was sent by heliograph to the Divisional Commander: ‘150 killed, the attack has died out, and the enemy above are confident in their ability to hold Dargai against all comers’. But his reply was an order to the Gordons and 3rd Sikhs to reinforce the attack.
Meanwhile everyone was firing away at the loop holes above, but with little success in harming the Afridis for the angle was about what is required for a rocketing pheasant and the loopholes were not very distinguishable. The artillery had been firing with great accuracy but owing to the fact that the three out of the four batteries were at least 1000 feet below the hostile position, and the ground in the rear sloped away sharply ,they could not do much harm morally or materially.
At 1440 hrs the Gordons and 3rd Sikhs formed up below the ridge line and with a heavy artillery barrage lasting for 3 minutes Colonel Mathias, the Commanding Officer of The Gordons, stepped in front of his regiment and led the rush of men, headed by their pipers. A terrific fire burst out from above and numbers fell, but the irresistible rush of Highlanders, Sikhs and Goorkhas carried such strength across to those waiting under the cliffs that the Afridis, seeing the day was over for them, ceased firing and began to vacate their position.’
Mention must be made of the gallant leadership displayed by Lieutenant Colonel Mathias, Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders, who personally led the charge of Highlanders as they joined the Gurkhas sheltering in the comparative safety afforded by the foothills below the heights. These two regiments, accompanied by a handful of men from The Dorsetshire and The Derbyshire Regiments, slowly made their way up the hillside and as they did so the Afridi defenders above them broke and began to vacate their positions. After 6 exhausting hours the action was over but as the 2nd Goorkhas diarist succinctly wrote: ‘The action at Dargai firmly cemented the friendship between the 2nd Goorkhas and 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders (old 75th) which had commenced with their 2nd Battalion (92nd) in the First Afghan War, our Goorkhas having not only the greatest admiration for the Highlanders’ gallantry but gratitude for the latter’s exertions in carrying down our dead and wounded to the Chagru Kotal, a duty the Battalion itself was unable to perform owing to its being required to hold the enemy’s position.
An inspection revealed very few enemy casualties while the British had suffered 208 of which 2nd Goorkhas had lost Major Judge and Captain Robinson as well as a Gurkha Officer and 15 Gurkha Other Ranks killed and 50 men wounded .
This map illustrates the area of operations of the Tirah campaign.
On 21 October 1897 1/2GR moved down the spur from Dargai towards Karappa as part of 2nd Division, who were soon joined by 1st Division under General Sir William Lockhart. From there the British force moved on towards Gandaki with the enemy sighted on the surrounding hills necessitating the deployment of piquets. From Gandaki and despite desultory opposition, the British having taken and opened the Sanpagha and Arhanga Passes advanced into the Mastura Valley. The Divisional HQ was established at Maidan. From there 1/2GR patrolled vigorously against the constantly marauding tribesmen who were forever harassing rearguards and piquets.
On 13 November the 3rd Infantry Brigade moved into the Waran Valley having secured the surrounding high ground where small parties of enemy were observed, but there were no contacts. 3 days later the Brigade was ordered back to Maidan but unfortunately a rifle company of The Dorsetshire Regiment got lost and was attacked, losing several men. 1/2GR had 8 casualties including Lieutenant GM Wylie and three Gurkha Other Ranks killed.
From 20 November 1897 to 4 April 1898 3rd Infantry Brigade, including 1/2GR, was on continuous operational service in the particularly challenging terrain of Afghanistan during mid-winter while being harassed by marauding Afridi tribesmen. The pattern of operations (known as ‘convoy duties’) was repeated as the British moved through steep defiles towards various enemy villages. Piquets had to be deployed along the heights to cover the movement of the Main Body of troops in the valleys. Yet throughout the campaign the enterprising enemy would follow the British who would always be vulnerable to attack wherever there were halts or bivouacs. In addition, the rearguard of any force, whether it was a column or company, would frequently be harassed by the enemy.
During the Tirah Campaign 1/2GR was involved in no fewer than 32 major contacts exclusive of piquet skirmishes and coming under enemy fire while in camp or bivouac, and participated in 19 rear guard actions. Casualties during the Tirah Campaign were 139: killed 30; died of wounds four; wounded 87, died of disease 18.
Awarded to all troops forming part of the garrisons of, and present at, the posts on the Samana and posts beyond Kohat, from Kohat to Parachinar, between 27 August 1897 and 2 October 1897, and to such troops who took part in subsequent action on the Samana up to 2 October 1897. Note that this clasp was almost always awarded to men who already had clasps for TIRAH 1897-98 and PUNJAB FRONTIER 1897-98, hence the three clasps shown in the picture.
The Samana Mountain Range, at heights between 1800m and 2100m, runs for approximately 48km from Hangu to Samana Suk between Khanki Valley in the North and Miranzai Valley in the South. It lies in the Hangu District of the Khyber and represents the Southern boundary of the Tirah. During the 1890s the British had established a line of outposts and forts along the range, the largest being Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan.
During August and September 1897 all 11 British or Frontier Police posts or forts were attacked by marauding tribesmen. 1/2GR had arrived in the region of the Samana Hills on 31 August 1897 and remained there defending locations such as Dhar Fort on 7 September, Fort Gulistan on 13 September and Fort Lockhart on 14 September. The Battalion left the Samana Ridge after the action at Dargai on 21 October when it moved to Karappa and the Sanpagha Pass.
(Issued on the authority of Government General Order 332 dated 17 April 1903)
On 3 December 1901, the 1st Battalion 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR) was ordered to mobilize for operations in Waziristan as part of the Reserve Brigade at Tonk. As the Battalion was under strength it was reinforced by 50 All Ranks from the 2nd Battalion (2/2GR) and 61 All Ranks from 1st Battalion 3rd Gurkha Rifles (1/3GR).
On arrival at Tonk, 1/2GR was ordered to Datta Khel in the Tochi Valley to join a Raiding Column under Colonel Tonnochy comprising:
• 2nd Punjab Infantry
• 5th Punjab Infantry
• 1st Battalion 2nd Goorkhas
• 2 guns, Mountain Artillery.
The Column’s task was to form an aggressive or punitive raiding party into Mahsud country. This would act both as a blockade against the tribesmen as well as destroying their villages and rounding up their livestock. On 1 January 1902, in intense cold weather and at an altitude between 1500m and 1800m, the Column entered Mahsud country from the North. Coming under enemy sniper fire and incurring slight casualties, the Column’s progress was slowed by captured cattle as it carried out its policy of burning villages during the course of its march.
On 5 January 1902, a strong Column including 450 All Ranks of 1/2GR covered a total of 35km as it burnt several villages and 2towers, but on its return to camp the rearguard was attacked and 1/2GR lost one killed and two wounded.
Similar operations continued for the next few days until the Column was disbanded. On 10 January 1902 1/2GR marched to Miranshah where it remained until 14 March 1902. After news had been received that the Waziri Blockade had been lifted, the Battalion returned to Dehra Dun.
The British expedition to Tibet began in December 1903 and lasted until September 1904. It was intended to counter Russia’s perceived ambitions in the East and initiated by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, who believed that the Dalai Lama intended to end Tibet’s neutrality and to place his country within the sphere of Russian influence.
With approval of the British Government in London, the Tibet Frontier Commission led by Col Francis Younghusband was sent to negotiate with both the Chinese and Tibetans in order to establish a trade agreement. Meanwhile, in support of the Commission, the British formed a military expeditionary force in Sikkim under command of Brigadier General James Macdonald.
The 2nd Goorkhas did not fight as a unit in this campaign but Lieutenant Basil Nicholl was seconded to 1st Battalion 8th Gurkha Rifles, Captain Frankie Ross was appointed Commandant of the 2nd Coolie Corps, and Captain Etienne Boileau and Lieutenant Kenneth Wigram were seconded to the Transport Company in command of cart and yak transports. In addition, 62 men from the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas took part in the campaign as porters.
As well as the 2nd Goorkhas listed above, the Expeditionary Force consisted of:
• 19th Punjab Infantry
• 40th Pathans
• 1st Battalion 8th Gurkha Rifles
• 23rd and 32nd Sikh Pioneers
• Mountain artillery and Maxim machine guns
• Support troops and porters familiar with high altitudes such as Pathans, Gurkhas and Sherpas
The total strength was 3000 troops and 7000 porters. They fought their way to Gyantse and eventually reached Lhasa in August 1904. Although the Dalai Lama escaped, thousands of Tibetan troops were mown down by modern rifles and Maxim machine guns in their attempt to block the British advance.
At Lhasa the Commission forced Tibetan officials to sign the Treaty of Lhasa before withdrawing back to Sikkim. Its main provisions were the opening of Tibet to British trade, payment by the Tibetans of 7,500,000 rupee indemnity to the British (later reduced by two-thirds), cession of the Chumbi Valley to the British until payment was received, recognition of the Sikkim-Tibet border and, critically, an agreement that Tibet would not enter into relations with other foreign powers.
British casualties amounted to 202 killed in action and 411 non-combatant deaths. It was estimated 2000-3000 Tibetans were killed.
In March 1911 the murder of the Political Officer and a British doctor by local tribesmen in Sadiya District of the Abor Hills region in North East India resulted in the formation of the Abor Expeditionary Force at Kobo in Upper Assam under the command of Maj Gen Sir Hamilton Bowers. The Force comprised :
• 1st Battalion 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR)
• 1st Battalion 8th Gurkha Rifles (1/8GR)
• No 1 Company Sappers and Miners
• 32nd Sikh Pioneers
• Lakimpur Military Police Detachment (Gurkhas)
• Maxim Gun Detachment Assam Valley Light Horse
The total number of troops was 3000 all ranks. Because of the difficult terrain 5000 porters were hired to replace the usual pack animals.
The three objectives of the Expeditionary Force were: to reduce the Abor clans to submission; establish political relations with the clans; and carry out survey work. Two Columns were formed: the ‘Main’ or Right Column, commanded by Major General Bowers, included one company of 1/2GR; the ‘Ledum‘ or Left Column was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Fisher, Commandant 1/2GR, with the remainder of his Battalion. The columns advanced by following the River Dihang for about 65km towards Bhutan. They made slow progress in very difficult conditions, with sporadic contact with the enemy. As their stockades were captured, any Abor village in the vicinity was destroyed and burnt.
Gurkhas outside a burning village, Abor Expedition 1911 (National Army Museum)
1/2GR, reinforced by three Gurkha Officers and 100 Gurkha Other Ranks from the 2nd Battalion, left Dehra Dun and after travelling by rail and steamer reached Kobo on 6 October 1911. On leaving Kobo they quickly encountered the dense Assam jungle with its steep hills and ravines and absence of paths. The very difficult going was made almost impossible by incessant rain. In addition, and contrary to the Regiment’s experience in north-west India, with no local supplies available ‘every scrap of food had to be carried, which entailed long lines of transport coolies and endless convoy escorts’. Furthermore, by mid-November 1911 30% of the rank & file of the Expeditionary Force were suffering from dysentery or malaria.
The Abor tribesmen were lightly armed with primitive bows with poisoned arrows and spears. They were skilled at laying ambushes and adept at building stockades defended by panji sticks (sharpened bamboo stakes stuck in the ground at a dangerous angle). They frequently rolled down rocks on the soldiers, known as ‘rock shoots’.
By the end of December 1911, with many of their villages destroyed, numbers killed and wounded and their food supplies having been confiscated or destroyed, the Abor tribesmen began to negotiate for a peaceful end to the hostilities. This was achieved and the military offensive ended.
From January to April 1912 the third and final objective of the Expeditionary Force was carried out with the exploration and mapping of the Abor Hills. In late April 1912 the Expeditionary Force was disbanded and 1/2GR returned to Dehra Dun in early May 1912.
Total casualties suffered by 1/2GR were three Gurkha Other Ranks killed and seven wounded plus several (number not specified) who died from disease.
Major General Sir Hamilton Bowers recorded in his despatches :
‘This corps [1/2/GR] well maintained its reputation for efficiency both on the Ledum Column and in guarding Lines of Communications. An excellent spirit pervades the Regiment.’
Awarded to all those who served in France and Belgium and had been under fire during the period 5 August – 22 Nov 1914.
On 4 August 1914 Great Britain declared war against Germany. Contingency plans had been in place for some time to send Indian Army troops to reinforce the Home (British) Expeditionary Force, or send them to Egypt to release troops from there for the same purpose. In the event it was decided to send the Indian Corps to France. It consisted of two Divisions (Lahore and Meerut) each with three brigades. The 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (2/2GR) was in the Dehra Dun Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General C Johnson, part of the Meerut Division. Other units in the Brigade were:
• 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders
• 6th Jat Light Infantry
• 1/9th Gurkha Rifles
On 1 September 1914 2/2GR, reinforced by two Gurkha Officers and 165 Gurkha Other Ranks from 1/2GR, left Dehra Dun for Bombay. They reached Marseilles on 12 October 1914. After a short period of issuing cold weather clothing and equipment and attending briefings on the latest British tactics and weapons, the Battalion travelled by train from Marseilles via Orleans and Calais to the Reserve Area of the British Expeditionary Force or the ‘Zone of Operations‘. On 28 October 1914 they arrived at Merville. They then undertook the actions described below, each section representing a Regimental battle honour.
LA BASSÉE 1914 (located 1.1km north of Neuve Chapelle)
On 29 October 1914 2/2GR occupied positions in the British Line to the North of Neuve Chapelle, where they came under fire from high explosive shells for the first time and suffered casualties. The Regimental diarist described the ground as being ‘a forlorn desolate country of a low lying area stretching out flat for miles, ….in a sea of mud, interspersed with pools of water formed by flooded shell holes …..no revetting material was available ….troops stood and moved frequently in knee deep in mud and water ….dug outs were frail and continually blown to bits by shells ….life under these conditions was of utter discomfort, wallowing in mud and filth…’
The morning of 2 November 1914 ‘opened with a perfect tornado of high explosive shells directed on the trenches of 2/2 GR’ resulting in ‘violent explosions obliterating trench and parapet and blowing men high in the air and burying others. As the survivors moved back to occupy reserve trenches, counter-attacks were launched against the enemy resulting in stiff hand-to-hand fighting which temporarily pushed the enemy back, only for them to regroup and overwhelm the Goorkhas.’
The action was summarized by the Regimental diarist: ‘So ended for us a disastrous, but gallantly fought action against superior numbers far better provided with the modern machinery of war.’
The casualties for this day were ‘deplorably heavy’: seven British Officers killed and one wounded; four Gurkha Officers killed and three wounded; 31 Gurkha Other Ranks killed, 64 wounded and 37 missing.
The impact of losing so many British Officers at La Bassée on the Battalion’s first day of action in the First World War cannot be overstated. The Official History of the Indian Corps commented:
‘The heroism of the British Officers has seldom been more brilliantly demonstrated than on this occasion. Not a single British Officer of the 2nd Goorkhas in the front trenches got back alive, several being killed while leading attacks against vastly superior numbers. The bravery displayed by All Ranks fully sustained the great reputation of this Regiment.’
FESTUBERT 1914 (located 2km south-west of Neuve Chapelle)
The Meerut Division was ordered to defend the village of Festubert. On 13 November 1914 2/2GR was attached to the Garhwal Brigade. In action on 21 November 1914 ‘both our machine guns became useless, the water in their jackets having frozen …..frostbite proved to be a new and unpleasant foe ..’. However, because 2/2GR was still recovering from the heavy losses incurred at the action at La Bassée, it was not deployed in any large-scale actions.
The 2nd Battalion Digest of Service records:‘On the 14th January 1919, when the Battalion was stationed at Tank on the North-West Frontier] the Battalion was inspected by General Sir A Arthur Barrett GCB KCSI KCVO ADC, Commanding Northern Army, who presented the 1914 Stars to all recipients present with the exception of a few whose Stars had not yet been received. General Barrett made the following address which was read out to the men in the vernacular by the OC: “Officers, NCOs and men of the 2nd/2nd Goorkhas, I am very glad to have this opportunity of presenting these medals to you. I wish for your sakes that they might have been given by HM The King Emperor himself. But as this is not possible, I must do my best to take his place and tell you what a great name you have made for yourselves in all the hard fighting that you have been through and how much you have added to the good name of the fine Regiment to which you belong which has now for more than a hundred years been taking a glorious part in many campaigns in different parts of the world. I can assure you that the British Empire is deeply grateful to you for all that you have done to help her in a time of great trouble and danger and that your good deeds will never be forgotten. This medal which I am now giving you is one which I hope you will always feel proud to wear and in time to come it should remain in possession of your families in memory of the gallant deeds of their forefathers. I congratulate you heartily and wish you long life and prosperity to enjoy the honour that you have earned and deserved so well.”‘
It further records: ‘On January 16th 1920, when the Battalion was in Dehra Dun information was received of the grant of a clasp to officers, NCOs and men who had been awarded the 1914 Star and who had actually served under the enemy’s fire between the qualifying dates. Nearly every man in the Battalion who was in France at that time is eligible for this clasp.’
Awarded to those who saw service in any theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 31 December 1915, other than those who qualified for the 1914 Star. Note that the obverse of this medal differs from the 1914 star because the scroll across the crossed swords is inscribed ‘1914-15’.
Actions qualifying men for this medal are described in the following sections, each of which again represents a Regimental battle honour (with the exception of Gallipoli).
GIVENCHY 1914 (located 3.7km south-south-west of Neuve Chapelle)
With the French under pressure at Arras, the British were ordered to provide relief by attacking the Germans at Givenchy. The outline plan was for the Meerut Division to open operations with the Garhwal Brigade leading, to be followed by the Dehra Dun Brigade.
On 19 December 1914 2/2GR, who had suffered from heavy enemy shelling, spent all night digging in heavy rain ‘which frequently washed down the walls of our trenches, smothering the rifles in mud’. Meanwhile the German artillery continued to concentrate their formidable fire power onto the trenches of 2/2GR who, absolutely exhausted, were finally relieved on 23 December 1914.
2nd Battalion British Officers, with their French interpreter, in France in 1915
The village of Neuve Chapelle had changed hands several times during the preceding months and had recently been fortified by the enemy. Between the village and the British front line the ground had become ‘a morass of tenacious mud’ intersected by waterlogged ditches. The attack planned for 10 March 1915 involved the 8th British Division (part of 4th Corps) and the Indian Corps. It was to be the first deliberately-planned British offensive to date on the Western Front.
2/2GR, as part of the Dehra Dun Brigade, was in support and ordered to be ready to exploit any advance made by the Garhwal Brigade which, following up a terrific bombardment, was successful. (It is worthy of note that the expenditure of artillery ammunition on this first day was estimated to have been 30% of all the field gun ammunition in the First Army). Unfortunately, 1/39th Garhwal Rifles had moved off the line of advance and the resultant loss of momentum meant the opportunity for 2/2GR to press home the attack before nightfall was lost. After the initial shock the German defence managed to recover at the same time as the advancing British and Indian troops became beset by delays, loss of communications and disorganisation. Nevertheless, the 2nd Battalion pressed forward with the attack late in the afternoon, and by dusk had a foothold in the wood, which appeared to be empty of enemy. They were withdrawn after last light to positions behind the Des Layes river.
Map from the Regimental History showing the battlefield and 2nd Battalion positions on 10th March.
On 11 March 2/2GR was ordered to renew the attack, but this was delayed by fog, reinforced and well-concealed enemy machine guns, and the difficulties being experienced by the neighbouring British brigade which found itself checked by the Germans. The resultant loss of initiative meant 2/2GR was forced to wait all day incurring casualties and was not withdrawn until the early hours of 12 March.
The battle of Neuve Chapelle showed that trench defences could be breached if the attack was carefully prepared and disguised to achieve surprise, albeit at the expense of exceedingly heavy losses: the Indian Corps incurring more than 4000. 2/2GR casualties were: two British Officers wounded and one missing; two Gurkha Officers killed and one wounded; and 17 Gurkha Other Ranks killed, 41 wounded and 27 missing.
The Brigade Commander, Brigadier Jacobs (later Field Marshal Sir Claude Jacobs), stated:
‘The Gurkha battalions (2/2GR and 1/9GR) had an opportunity of making up for the terrible ordeals they had been through in the earlier days of the war,and they took full advantage of it. Their spirits were high ,and nothing could stop their dash.’
2nd Battalion Gurkha Officers in France, 1915
FESTUBERT 1915 (5.5km south-west of Neuve Chapelle)
On 10th May the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, had ordered a general attack by the 1st and Indian Corps to seize important railway centres supplying the enemy and as deception for an attack to the south by the French 10th Army. On 10th May the 2nd Battalion advanced on a Brigade three-battalion front. A heavy artillery bombardment did not suppress enemy machine-gun fire and several officers and men were killed when they went over the top, other casualties being caused by shells from the second British bombardment, some of which fell short on the attacking British forces. Riflemen Gorea Gurung and Alam Sing Chettrie are known to to have reached the German trenches but enemy resistance proved too strong for any large-scale success to be achieved. Rifleman Anarupa Rana was recommended for the Victoria Cross for his bravery in pulling back wounded men to safety while under fire, but was instead awarded the Indian Order of Merit 2nd class.
Anarupa Rana as a Subedar (Captain) in 1939; as a Rifleman in 1915 he was recommended for, but not awarded the Victoria Cross
The attack stalled and was halted late in the morning and the 2nd Battalion was relieved by elements of 1/9GR, only some 200 of whom could reach the frontline because of the damage caused by bombardments and the number of dead and wounded blocking the trenches. The 2nd Battalion’s total casualties had been four British and two Gurkha Officers killed, two Gurkha Officers wounded, 25 Other Ranks killed, 62 wounded and 6 missing.
Further unsuccessful attacks took place on the 11th, 15th and 22nd May, but the 2nd Battalion did not fight during the remainder of the Battle of Festubert because of its high rate of casualties in the first stage of the battle. The Meerut Division, of which the Dehra Dun Brigade containing the 2nd Battalion was a part, suffered 2500 casualties.
LOOS 1915 (1.1km north-east of Neuve Chapelle)
The French planned to launch an attack in the Champagne region and disrupt the Germans’ Line of Communication. In support, the Indian Corps was to attack the enemy line to the north of Neuve Chapelle, the Meerut Division leading with the Dehra Dun Brigade in reserve.
This was the first occasion that 2/2GR experienced gas. Despite very detailed planning its deployment on 25 September 1915 was anything but successful. The weather was described as ‘heavy rain and mist followed by high winds’. At 5am a stray German shell blew off the heads of the gas cylinders and the 6am assault was met by a ‘blizzard of bullets’ resulting in the Dehra Dun Brigade being driven back. At 2.30pm the advance was called off.
Loos was to be the last major action for 2/2GR. The Battalion spent another 14 days in the front line suffering from occasional sniper fire and on 2 November 1915 was finally withdrawn. It embarked from Marseilles on 9 November 1915 and reached Egypt on 17 November.
Extract from a letter written by Major General C W Jacob, General Officer Commanding Meerut Division, to Lieutenant Colonel Boileau Commandant (= Commanding Officer) 2/2 GR dated 12 November 1915:
‘…….. I was very sorry to find you and your gallant Battalion had gone when I returned from leave. I should like to have seen you all before you started, and to tell you again how grateful I am for all the good work the 2nd Goorkhas have done in France.
When I look back on what you have been through and the strenuous times you have had both in fighting the Germans and contending with the weather, I realize what sterling good stuff there is in All Ranks in your Battalion. You have deserved well of your country, and no Commander could wish to have finer troops.’
Total Casualties in France were: 16 British officers killed, three wounded and one missing; 10 Gurkha officers killed, 7 wounded, two missing; 135 Gurkha other ranks killed, 303 wounded, 106 missing.
In January and February 1915 the Turks and their Arab allies had attacked Egypt, but had been unable to overcome the defences of the Suez Canal. 2/2 GR, which reached Port Said in November 1915, now became part of the British Army in Egypt and was immediately deployed to No 3 Section Suez Canal Defence whose area of responsibility stretched from Port Said to Kantara.
In early December 1915 2/2GR was tasked to form part of a Moveable Column comprising both cavalry (Mysore State Lancers) and camelry (Bikaner Camel Corps) in order to send out fighting and reconnaissance patrols, provide armoured train escorts, observation and night piquets.
The Battalion ended 1915 having moved south to occupy the Suez Section of the Canal Defence which the Battalion diarist described as being ‘devoid of any stirring interest’.
On 10 February 1916 2/2GR was relieved by 58th Vaughan Rifles (Frontier Force) and embarked on 17 February for Karachi. On 3 March 1916 the 2nd Battalion reached Dehra Dun after a period of more than 18 months overseas on active service.
On 18 August 1915 2/2 GR sent one British Officer, two Gurkha officers and 100 Gurkha Other Ranks to the 4th Gurkha Rifles for deployment in Gallipoli. They reached the peninsula on 13 September 1915 where they formed part of the Divisional Reserve, reinforcing the front line trenches of 2nd Battalion 10th Gurkhas, 1st Battalion 6th Gurkhas and 1st Battalion 5th Gurkhas in wretched conditions. After the successful withdrawal was carried out on 19 December 1915 they rejoined 2/2GR in Egypt. Although not a Regimental battle honour, it was a bravely fought campaign which would have qualified the men concerned for the 1914-1915 Star if they had not already fought elsewhere.
The 1st Battalion had spent the latter part of 1914 and all of 1915 at Dehra Dun. However, as mentioned above, 167 officers and men were seconded to the 2nd Battalion and earned the 1914 Star. A further 100 men were sent as reinforcements to 1/5GR at Gallipoli. They arrived in Egypt too late to take part in the campaign and instead of being attached to 2/2 GR in Egypt they remained with 1/5GR until September 1916. Documentary evidence is hard to find, but the assumption is that they therefore qualified for the 1914-1915 Star.
It was originally intended to award campaign clasps with this medal, as had been done with the Queen’s South Africa Medal, which had 26 clasps. However, because 79 clasps were recommended by the Army and 68 clasps by the Royal Navy this scheme was abandoned as impractical.
As well as being awarded to those taking part in the actions described below, the British War Medal was also awarded to five British Officers who served only in India (who were not awarded the Victory Medal)
MESOPTAMIA 1916 -1918
Turkey had entered the war in October 1915 and after their exploits at Gallipoli had deployed to Mesopotamia to protect the Baghdad-Basra oil pipe line and railway. In response the British 6th Division had advanced up the River Euphrates from Basra towards Baghdad but met fierce opposition. It was surrounded at Kut el Amara, 160km south-east of Baghdad. 1st Battalion 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR) initially deployed as part of the force to relieve it.
824 ranks of the 1st Battalion (1/2GR) left India and reached Basra on 18 February 1916 to become part of 37th Indian Brigade. Other units in the Brigade were:
• 1st/4th Battalion The Somerset Light Infantry
• 36th Sikhs
On 29 February 1916 the Brigade, part of 14th Division, moved up the River Tigris by paddleboat and river steamers towing barges before transferring to ‘mahelas’ (local boats). They were warned for an attack on 8 March 1916 against the Turks at Dujailah Redoubt. This was part of a strategic plan to relieve the besieged 6th Division. Unfortunately all the British assaults, against superior numbers, failed and 37th Brigade was withdrawn to Senna via Wadi. For its first action in the First World War 1/2 GR was to suffer a baptism of fire not dissimilar to that of 2/2GR in France, incurring a large number of casualties: three British Officers killed out of a total of 92 all ranks killed and 108 wounded.
1/2GR, while still getting casualties from enemy snipers, then spent the next six weeks beside the River Tigris in low-lying country susceptible to flooding as part of the Divisional Reserve before a planned final push to relieve the Kut el Amara garrison. Sadly the garrison eventually fell with losses suffered by the relieving forces exceeding 20,000, many dying of wounds and sickness and ‘hopeless[ly] inadequate medical and transport deficiencies’.
1/2GR was relieved and with a much reduced strength of only 383 (compared with the 824 it had arrived with only two months earlier) found itself carrying out loading/unloading fatigues at Sheikh Saad, described as a ‘pestilent place… ….appalling dirty etc’. By June 1916 the Battalion had returned to Es Sinn, not far from the Dujailah Redoubt. An average temperature of 40°C and a high level of sickness caused operations to be curtailed until September. (At this time the 1st Battalion had 170 men in hospital with scurvy alone). After a period of prisoner exchanges and intensive training, 1/2GR was ordered on 12 November 1916 to relieve the 82nd Punjabis near Magasis Fort on the south bank of the River Tigris, and to carry out aggressive patrolling.
KUT EL AMARA 1917
The British began their new offensive on 13 December 1916. 37th Indian Brigade as part of 13th Division was ordered to advance and to cross the River Hai, a tributary of the River Tigris. There then followed almost 6 weeks of moves and counter-moves as the British forced the Turks to vacate their positions on the south of the River Tigris. 1/2GR was eventually to occupy trenches to the west of the River Hai.
On 3 February 1917 1/2GR and 1st/4th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment led the Brigade assault towards a Turkish stronghold known as The Liquorice Factory located on the south bank of the River Tigris, but met with fierce resistance before seizing the objective. As 37th Indian Brigade consolidated, 1/2GR was ordered back to Kala Haji Fahan having suffered a high number of casualties.
Brigadier Carey Commanding 37th Indian Brigade wrote :
‘….I consider 1/2nd Goorkhas to have particularly distinguished itself in recent operations….they attacked the Turkish positions and despite having seen their trenches full of wounded Sikhs two days earlier, attacked with the greatest gallantry and determination….’
The Turks had now been driven off the south bank of the River Tigris and 1/2GR began to train for an opposed river crossing, which was expected to be very challenging. Even the orders used the weak phrase ‘crossing would be attempted’ rather than the more usual assertive language such as ‘crossing will be made’.
The plan was for 7th Division, with 37th Indian Brigade leading, to make a surprise crossing of the River Tigris at the Dahar and Shumran bends about 10km upstream of Kut on 23 February 1917. As a result of heavy rain the river had swollen and was at least 400m wide at the crossing point chosen for 1/2GR.
Behind the cover of a bund (bank) and in darkness the Battalion struggled to manhandle their boats towards the river bank. At 05.40hrs 1/2GR launched its first boat out of a total of 17 . Each boat comprised 5 oarsmen (provided by men from either the 1/4th Battalion Hampshire Regt or 1st King George V’s Own Bengal Sappers and Miners) and 10 Goorkhas. The first wave reached the north bank despite coming under accurate enemy fire but subsequent boats were not as successful with several being badly shot up: ‘The last boat to make the crossing with Jemadar Manbahadur Gurung had all its oarsmen from the Sappers and Miners killed or wounded before they got half way across and, drifting back, returned to the Battalion’.
At 0930 hrs 1/2GR was ordered not to make any further attempts at their particular crossing point. Meanwhile the Sappers and Miners had succeeded in constructing a pontoon bridge and by 5pm a bridgehead was eventually established on the north bank of the River Tigris, incurring many casualties.
At 0600 hrs on 24 February 1917 both 36th and 37th Indian Brigades were ordered to break out from the overnight bridgehead and to attack the enemy. 1/2GR was initially in support but soon encountered stiff opposition. The British advanced north for approx 3km before consolidating on higher ground as the 36th Indian Brigade relieved the 37th Indian Brigade.
By 24 February 1917 the Turkish Army had vacated Kut el Amara and was now in full retreat towards Baghdad . Unfortunately the Indian Cavalry Division, having crossed the River Tigris, was unable to cut off the retreating Turks. 1/2GR was to find itself in the rear guard of a long column of advancing troops of the 7th Division which stretched for more than 5km.
1/2GR continued to march towards Baghdad passing through Rawiyat, Azizia and Ctesiphon before on 11 March 1917 reaching Diala, 12km south of Baghdad and located on a tributary of the River Tigris. Baghdad had been occupied without enemy opposition although it was described by the Goorkha riflemen as ‘a place not worth fighting for’.
On 27 March 1917 1/2GR marched to Baquba, 50km north-east of Baghdad, to meet a threat of an enemy force of 6000 Turks trying to attack the British line of communication advancing up the River Tigris. By the end of April 1917 operations were again brought to a close by the heat. With the railhead now having reached Baquba there was a welcome improvement in medicines and rations.
On 13 October 1917 1/2GR joined Brigadier Maclachlan’s Column for operations in the Jebel Hamrin range as the 13th Division attempted to link up with the Russians in coordinated Allied activity against the Turks. However 1/2GR was spared much of this action and was sent further east of Baghdad to Mirjana where after having received reinforcements the strength of the Battalion became 17 British Officers, 17 Gurkha Officers, 1140 Gurkha Other Ranks and 88 ‘followers’ (attached civilians in administrative roles).
For much of its time in Persia the Battalion split up in small detachments.
On 30 May 1918 orders were received to send 2 detachments by ancient motor transport along a combination of desert and mountainous roads over 1500m passes towards West Persia and eventually the Caspian Sea. Persia was nominally neutral but sympathetic to the Germans and Turks, anti-Russian and anti-British.
Establishing a British presence was not without incident as a Moveable Column attempted to maintain control over a local war lord culminating in a fierce fight at Resht, a city of 40,000 inhabitants, between the local garrison and a force led by Captain Guy McCleverty of 1/2GR with elements of his own Battalion and 1st/4th Battalion The Hampshire Regiment.
By August 1918 1/2GR was deployed as protection to the long British Lines of Communication which stretched back to Mesopotamia. After fighting in several skirmishes the Battalion was eventually consolidated at Zinjan where it heard in early November 1918 the ‘cheering news of the collapse of the Turkish Army to be shortly followed by the signing of the Armistice’.
The First World War may have ended but 1/2GR, as part of a widely dispersed 36th Indian Brigade, now found themselves entering a new campaign against the Russian Bolsheviks.
Total 1st Battalion casualties from May 1916 to December 1918 were: 8 British Officers killed and 13 wounded; four Gurkha Officers killed, eight wounded and one missing, 174 Gurkha Other Ranks killed, 393 wounded and 41 missing.
Having returned to Dehra Dun from Egypt in March 1916, 2/2GR was ordered in January 1917 to Burhan near Rawalpindi to join the 16th Indian Division. The rest of the year was spent training both at Burhan and in the Murree Hills before in early January 1918 the Battalion was deployed to Tank on the North West Frontier ‘known for its bare surroundings, great heat, prevalence of appalling dust storms and scanty water supply’.
Meanwhile disturbances had arisen in Baluchistan where the Marri tribe had risen in revolt. 2/2 GR was ordered to Duki to join the Marri Field Force commanded by Brigadier T H Hardy, comprising:
• 1st Battalion The South Lancashire Regiment
• 2nd Battalion 2nd Goorkhas
• 3rd Skinner’s Horse
• 107th Pioneers
• Number 3 Mountain Battery
On 22 March 1918 the Force seized the Watwangi Pass with little opposition in country described as being ‘very difficult with steep, bare rugged hills and broken valleys with scanty vegetation’. Only one notable action took place, on 4 April 1918 when 2/2GR incurred only light casualties. However, over 100 enemy tribesmen were killed, the revolt was quashed and the Marri Field Force was disbanded.
2/2GR returned to Tank but still had to provide detachments to Pezu, Sheikh Budin, Dera Ismail Khan, Jandola, Girni, Jatta and elsewhere, all described as ‘being places no one would ever desire to see again’.
On 12 June 1917 orders were received to raise a 3rd Battalion to the 2nd Goorkhas (3/2GR) and on 11 December 1917 it moved to Peshawar to join 1st Indian Infantry Brigade commanded by Major General LC Dunsterville (Rudyard Kipling’s schoolfriend and the model for ‘Stalky’ in his stories involving that character). 3/2GR remained at Peshawar until May 1918 and the outbreak of the 3rd Afghan War.
Issued to all who had already been awarded the 1914 or 1914-15 Stars and most of those who had the British War Medal (but not the five British Officers of the Regiment serving in India who were awarded the British War Medal but not the Victory Medal). In the case of the 2nd Goorkhas it was awarded to those who had served in the 1st and 2nd Battalions in the campaigns and actions described above.
The 2nd Battalion Digest of Service records: ‘On 17th February  the Brigade Commander presented Victory Medals to the Battalion on parade [at Landi Kotal on the North-West Frontier]. There were 120 recipients.’
Some individuals in the 3rd Battalion who reinforced the 1st and 2nd Battalions were also eligible for this medal.
The following decorations were awarded to British Officers , Gurkha Officers and Gurkha Other Ranks during the First World War 1914 – 1918.
Companion of the Order of the Bath 3
Companion of the Order of St Michael & St George 5
Companion of the Star of India 1
Companion of the Indian Empire 2
Companion of the British Empire 3
Officer of the British Empire 5
Distinguished Service Order 11
Bar to the Distinguished Service Order 1
Military Cross 19
Albert Medal in gold 1
Indian Order of Merit 24
Indian Distinguished Service Medal 44
Foreign Decorations 17
The 3rd Afghan War began on 2 May 1919 when an Afghan Force crossed the border at Kotal and descended on the Khyber Pass. On 6 May the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (2/2GR) was ordered to mobilize at Dera Ismael Khan and warned for operations in Derajat District.
2/2GR was deployed with a squadron of the 27th Light Cavalry to Murtaza to assist in the withdrawal of civil officials from various outposts such as Gomal and Sarwakai. The Battalion then marched to Khirgi to form part of a Column commanded by Brigadier Miles and tasked to defend the River Zam during the Relief of Jandola. On 6 June 1919 a detachment of 2/2GR took part in an action at Girni in which two Gurkha Other Ranks were wounded. In July 1919 there was another brief action at Murtaza.
In August 1919 2/2GR was deployed to provide protection against the Mahsuds because the Mahsud Waziris had carried out attacks on British convoys and outposts. There was another action at Girni resulting in one Gurkha Other Rank being killed and two wounded.
As trouble was brewing in Scinde, on 23 October 2/2 GR was ordered to Hyderabad, Scinde and Karachi ‘as a protective measure’ – much to their relief as this enabled them to leave dust and discomfort of Manzai and Waziristan behind them.
Total casualties during this campaign were two Gurkha Other Ranks killed, four wounded and four died of disease.
In May 1918 the 3rd Battalion (3/2GR) moved to Landi Kotalas part of the Peshawar Flying Column, but the hopes of this newly-formed unit of seeing action were dashed when it was ordered back to Peshawar on internal security duties. Despite not joining the 2nd Battalion in Waziristan, 3/2GR sent detachments to outposts around Peshawar such as Jamrud Fort, Cherat, Narai Khwar Fort and Badni Bridge. There was only one small offensive action at Narai Khwar Fort.
In February 1920, on completion of its duties in Peshawar, 3/2GR returned to Dehra Dun and was disbanded on 3 October 1920.
In 1919 the Waziris took advantage of unrest in Afghanistan following the Third Anglo-Afghan War to launch minor raids against British garrisons, who responded with forays against the tribesmen. The campaign, which lasted throughout 1920 and into 1921 was not helped by the disbandment of Indian Army units following the First World War which meant that troop levels were lower than usual.
In 1921 there was a change of policy with the establishment of a permanent garrison of regular troops at Razmak. The 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (2/2GR), which had been warned for another garrison tour of duty in the Khyber, left Dehra Dun on 6 April 1921 and deployed to Landi Kotal as part of 1st Indian Infantry Brigade, where it remained for the rest of the year and until August 1922 – a time described by the diarist as being ‘the unremitting watch on the Afghanistan frontier’.
The policy of establishing permanent garrisons in Waziristan, known as the new ‘Forward Policy’, sought to reduce and eventually to eliminate tribal uprisings. Much effort was also spent in an extensive road building programme throughout Waziristan from December 1921 to March 1924.
In August 1922 2/2GR moved to Landikhana in the Khyber Pass, the furthest outpost on the Indian/Afghanistan frontier and described as ‘that not over-salubrious spot’ for a four month tour of duty.
On 15 January 1924 the 1st Battalion (1/2GR) deployed to Razmak for a tour of garrison duties as part of 7th Infantry Brigade. They took part in the Razmak Column which on one occasion marched to Sarwekai and back and encountered sniper fire from Mahsud tribesmen. The rest of its tour of duty was occupied with road building and garrison duties.
(Awarded to those who served in NOPERFORCE or North Persia Force from 10 August – 31 December 1920).
The 1st Battalion had ended the First World War in Persia and was ordered to remain in that theatre of operations on account of the intrigues of the Russian Bolsheviks with the Persians, while the British supported the Russian Volunteer Army. By 1920 the Russian Bolsheviks were gaining ground over their fellow countrymen and challenging the Anglo-Persian Agreement. On 18 May 1920 this deteriorating situation had come to a head at the Caspian Sea port of Enzeli from which 1/2GR was ordered to withdraw to Resht. In June 1920 1/2GR were withdrawn from Resht to Menzil to prepare defensive positions against a possible attack from the Russian Bolsheviks.
By July 1920 1/2GR was part of 36th Indian Brigade whose other units were:
• Battalions of the The Berkshire Regiment, The York and Lancaster Regiment and The Royal Irish Fusiliers.
• Guides Cavalry
• 42nd Deoli Regt
• 122nd Rajputana Infantry
The Battalion actively patrolled by armoured car along the various routes fanning out from Menzil with occasional contacts with the enemy at Damash, Obar and Loshan. On 3 August 1920 Menzil was evacuated and the Brigade concentrated at the town of Kasvin (which had a population of 40,000). On 21 August 1920 a force of Russian Volunteers and Persian Cossacks succeeded in capturing Menzil but later failed to capture Enzeli. By Delhi Day (14 September) 1920 a force of 3500 Russian Bolsheviks had reoccupied Menzil and were terrorizing the surrounding country. By early November 1920 they had driven out the Persian Cossacks.
On 18 November 1920 the advancing Russian Bolsheviks were pushed back beyond Imam Zadeh Hachem by 122nd Rajputana Infantry and 1/2GR (who lost two killed and two wounded). By the end of November 1920 1/2GR was back at Menzil described as ‘the worst spot by reason of the everlasting hurricanes – its name signifies ‘the home of a thousand winds’.’
Through that winter the Battalion was deployed to Rustamabad, Jubin and Ganje where it held the advanced piquet lines. During December 1920 there were several contacts with the Bosheviks including Naglebar Ridge where Havildar Mitralal Thapa single handedly ‘gallantly captured an enemy machine gun killing three of its team’.
The Battalion’s last contact in North Persia took place on 9 January 1921 at Jamshidabad where a fighting patrol led by Subedar Tilbir Thapa killed 60 enemy, captured 27 prisoners and a Lewis gun. He was awarded Indian Order of Merit (2nd Class).
On 19 June 1921 the Battalion finally reached Dehra Dun, having left on 10 February 1916. It had been on continuous active service for 5 years and 4 months.
During the Spring of 1937 the Faqir of Ipi, a militant tribal leader from Waziristan (described as ‘a perennial reiver’) had instigated a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the British. On 17 May 1937 1/2GR, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Tuker, was ordered to Waziristan and at Dosali joined 3rd Indian Brigade which also contained:
• A Battalion of The Norfolk Regiment
• 2nd/4th Battalion Bombay Grenadiers.
Despite aggressive patrolling it was unable to have any contact with the enemy, so much so that a puja (Hindu prayer) was said to the Queen’s Truncheon to break the spell.
On 12 August 1937 1/2GR was ordered to Razani to relieve 3rd/15th Battalion Punjab Regiment. This particular sector continued to be active because of the presence of the Faqir of Ipi and the Battalion was subject to sniping as it initially adopted a defensive policy. However, Colonel Tuker switched to a more offensive strategy which denied the tribesmen any undetected movement and immediately brought results through aggressive patrolling. On 25 September 1937 a very successful ambush took place with 20 – 30 killed enemy and an award of an immediate MC to Jemadar Panchsuba Gurung.
Shortly afterwards 1/2GR joined the Tochi Column (TOCOL), a punitive force comprising 5 battalions ordered to destroy the Manzar Khel tribe village of Mamirogha. The reason for the strength of the column was that an enemy force of approx 800 was known to be in the area. The diarist wrote ….‘it was the first (but assuredly not the last) occasion upon which the CO refused to commit his men to what he regarded as an unsound and dangerous operation’. Colonel Tuker wrote ‘This sort of fiddling punishment is only an irritant, not a real lesson or example. The Army seldom should be called upon to punish a village but, if necessary, the village should be blotted out’.
During the winter of 1937 the enemy avoided 1/2GR , but training continued even in heavy blizzards until 1 February 1938 when the Battalion moved back to Fort Sandeman in Baluchistan. It continued to put into practice the Tuker legacy which became known as The Sirmoor System with its emphasis on leadership (ruthlessly tested at all levels), familiarity with modern weapon and communication systems, progressive tactical training and a raising of educational standards. 1/2GR was to remain at Fort Sandeman until 18 March 1940 when it returned to Dehra Dun after 3 years on the North West Frontier.
1st Battalion picquet, North-West Frontier, 1937
At the outbreak of the Second World War the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (2/2/GR) was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Gough, described as ‘one of the most aggressive and dynamic officers of the Regiment’. On 1 October 1939 the Battalion deployed to Waziristan as part of 4th Indian Brigade. There were some minor contacts but the diarist wrote that 1 January 1940 ‘….found the Battalion pursuing the usual futile life forced upon any unit stationed in Waziristan in these days of political peace’.
2/2GR experienced similar frustration to that experienced by 1/2GR in 1937. Despite two years of intensive offensive training there was no enemy to fight and road building was a poor substitute. The first three months of 1940 were described as quiet. 4th Indian Brigade was disbanded and 2/2GR moved back to Razmak.
In July 1940 2/2GR formed the rearguard of a punitive column to destroy Asad Khel villages and met with opposition at Razani where Rifleman Surbir Thapa was awarded a posthumous IOM. As the Pathans became more hostile 2/2GR continued to provide road protection and in September 1940 there was a successful ambush at Dandi when ‘a pestiferous gang disintegrated and no further hostility was encountered’.
2/2GR remained at Razmak during the winter months. In December 1940 the Battalion was on piquet duties and was sniped at on 17 out of 21 nights, losing 1 x killed and 1 x wounded.
The early months of 1941 passed quietly and in early April 1941 2/2GR returned to Dehra Dun.
The 1939-45 Star was the first in a series of nine stars issued for service in the Second World War. It was awarded to personnel who had completed 6 months service in specified operational commands overseas between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945.
The 1st Battalion 2nd Goorkhas qualified because of its service in Waziristan, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy and Greece.
The 2nd Battalion qualified because of service in Waziristan, Malaya and Singapore.
The 3rd and 4th Battalions qualified because of service in Waziristan and Burma and the 5th Battalion because of service in Waziristan.
The Star was awarded for entry into an operational area in North Africa between 10 June 1940 to 12 May 1943 with a bar for service in the 8th Army.
The Africa Star without the 8th Army Bar was awarded to all British Officers and Gurkhas soldiers who were still in Reinforcement Camps in Egypt and had not joined 1/2GR before cessation of operations.
IRAN and CYPRUS
On 17 July 1941 the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR) embarked aboard HMT Lancashire and left Bombay for Basra where it was deployed to defend the Anglo–Iranian oilfields.
On 27 August 1941 the Battalion crossed the Shatt-el-Arab and advanced towards Ahwaz, but before any contact was made the local Iranian commander asked for an armistice. 1/2GR then moved to Kut Abdullah from where it continued to search for the enemy. C Company captured 924 of them before the Battalion returned to Abadan for oil field guarding duties. It then moved through Baghdad and on to Nineveh for the next five months where ‘day after day the Battalion toiled at the defences’.
Captain Ramsay Brown, Lieutenant Ormsby and Subedar-Major Narbahadur Gurung in Iraq, 1941.
In January 1942 1/2GR moved further East to Erbil in Kurdistan, but in April 1942 moved back to RAF Habbaniyah from where it travelled to the Palestinian port of Haifa. Instead of joining the 4th Indian Division in Egypt the Battalion was sent to Cyprus, where they had served in 1878.
As Cyprus was part of the Greek archipelago it was considered a threat to an invasion by Axis troops. 1/2GR as part of 7th Indian Infantry Brigade formed a mobile reaction force together with:
• Elements of the Household Cavalry
• The Yorkshire Hussars
• 31st Field Regiment Royal Artillery.
However no invasion materialised and after four months 1/2GR left for Egypt.
On 26 August 1942 7th Indian Infantry Brigade arrived in Egypt and was encamped at Mena, beside the Pyramids. The brigade consisted of:
• 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment
• 4th/16th Battalion Punjab Regiment
• 1st Battalion 2nd Goorkhas
A truly shocking accident occurred at Mena on 28 August 1942. A mine demonstration went tragically wrong resulting in 68 men of the Battalion being killed and a further 85 wounded, more than were killed and wounded in any subsequent battle.
Meanwhile on 30 August 1942 the enemy opened the battle in his last bid for Egypt, but this move had been foreseen and a counterstroke planned.
On 31 August 1942 7th Indian Infantry Brigade led the move into the Western Desert as part of 4th Indian Division commanded by Major General Francis Tuker, a former officer of the 2nd Goorkhas. On 17 September 1942 1/2GR relieved 1st Battalion 1st Punjab Regiment on part of a very extensive Front Line approximately 25km long between the South African Division along the sea shore to the North and the Free French to the South. For the next month 1/2GR probed the enemy’s positions with numerous night time reconnaissance patrols. An opportunity was taken to salvage British 2-pounder guns which were reconditioned and discreetly incorporated into the fire power of the anti-tank platoon, nicknamed affectionately the ‘Royal Sirmoor Artillery’!
The ‘Royal Sirmoor Artillery’
Plans were now in place for the 8th Army’s assault on the enemy, and 4th Indian Division was allotted a containing role as the main thrust was to be along the coast. However, 1/2GR was ordered to take part in a strong raid on Point 62 on Ruweisat Ridge as part of a deception plan. On 23 October 1942, led by Lieutenant ‘Chico’ Wylie Carrick and travelling in carriers, C Company crossed the Front Line and reached the strongly defended objective. A fierce fight ensued but casualties amounted to 14 missing including Wylie Carrick.
The XXX Corps Commander General Oliver Leese wrote ‘Satisfied with gallant raid by 1st/2nd Gurkhas’.
4th Indian Division shortened its front by 5km and was ordered to take over the South African sector in the north. Remorseless Allied pressure drew the German panzer divisions into a shallow pocket. On 2 November 1942 7th Indian Brigade was moved to relieve 5th Indian Brigade on Myteria Ridge and the next day, behind a monumental barrage, opened an 8km lane through minefields. On 5 November 1942 D Company 1/2GR formed a ‘roaming column’. Exploiting the aftermath of the battle they captured much Italian weaponry and prisoners: 100 officers and 2192 other ranks for only two wounded. On 6 November 1942 7th Indian Brigade swept the area of Sidi Namid for pockets of enemy until heavy rain prevented this. 1/2GR was given the task of clearing the booby-trapped area of Dier el Beida of mines, weapons and vehicles and had five Gurkha Other Ranks killed in doing so.
1/2GR then moved by rail to Mersa Matruh before being transported by lorries towards Tobruk.
On 20 December 1942 1/2GR was located South of El Adem airfield. The Battalion embarked on a period of intensive training, with rifle companies practising street fighting in Tobruk. Meanwhile the 8th Army had driven the enemy back to Tunisia and on 3 March 1943, 1/2GR began the long drive through Cyrenica towards Tripoli and on towards the frontier. On 12 March 1943 they reached Medenine in the foothills of the Matmata hills in Tunisia.
On 14 March 1943 there was a particularly successful night fighting patrol which accounted for 15 enemy killed with only four Gurkhas wounded. This was a precursor to the 8th Army’s assault on the Mareth Line which called for 4th Indian Division to exploit any successes in the opening attack. On 23 March 1943 1/2GR moved to the foothills of the Matmata massif and met with enemy minefields of ‘exceptional magnitude and density’ making for very slow progress. 7th Indian Brigade eventually passed through the entrance to the Hallouf Pass along whose Northern slopes there was a difficult route which led down to the Gabes plain. With 1/2GR leading, the Brigade pushed on, over-running an Italian rear guard, shortly after which it was learnt that 36 hours earlier British armour had burst through the enemy’s left flank at El Hamma.
After exploiting the break-through of the Mareth Line, the 8th Army was held by the enemy’s new defensive line which followed the line of Wadi Akarit. This stretched for 120 miles from the coast in the East to the salt marshes and 150m-higher ground in the west. The initial plan was to breakthrough this coastal corridor with 4th Indian Division on the right. However Major General Tuker persuaded General Montgomery to change the plan. Instead, 4th Indian Division would assault towards Fatnassa and by capturing the highest ground would pierce the enemy’s flank and render the enemy’s western positions untenable.
For 4th Indian Division, this was to be a very ambitious and bold move in having to carry out a night assault against a well-defended enemy position occupying the high ground. 7th Indian Brigade was to spearhead the attack with 1/2GR selected to seize Point 275 and destroy the enemy on the main crests of the massif. The plan was for A Company to seize Point 275 while B and C Companies would overrun the main massif to the North and D Company would advance with 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment to exploit the high ground between A and C Companies.
At 1900 on 5 April 1943 the approach march began. H hour was at 2330hrs. 1/2GR quietly closed in on the enemy positions which towered above them until the killing of a sentry gave the alarm and the enemy opened fire. The Germans quickly scrambled aircraft whose flares illuminated the battlefield as 1/2GR ruthlessly set about clearing the position with fierce hand-to-hand fighting. The feature was eventually taken, the all-important high ground to the west being seized two hours before the 8th Army’s main assault, timed for dawn. Nevertheless the enemy still continued to shell and to mount unsuccessful counterattacks throughout the following day until by 0300hrs on 7 April 1943 ‘a silence settled over Fatnassa’.
As the Regimental history states: ‘Major General Tuker’s faith in his old battalion had been vindicated, but there were casualties: 5 wounded British Officers, 3 wounded Gurkha Officers, 14 Gurkha Other Ranks killed and 32 wounded’. On 7 April 1943 Tuker wrote to General Sir Alan Hartley, Deputy Commander-in-Chief India: ‘Today I have been over the battlefield. I marvel at the skill of the men who captured the bastion of hills. I think the battle is over for us…in fact the enemy has fled. It was a very great feat and not due to my plan in any way.’
It was during the Battle of Wadi Akarit that Subedar Lalbahadur Thapa won a well-deserved Victoria Cross. As Commander of 16 Platoon in D Company he had been recommended for an immediate Military Cross, but the Army Commander had personally changed the citation to recommend a Victoria Cross. (See more details on this page of the website).
Subedar Lalbahadur Thapa describing how he got the Victoria Cross to young Gurkhas.
DJEBEL EL MEIDA
As the 8th Army continued its pursuit of the enemy withdrawing towards Tunis and the North African bridgehead, 4th Indian Brigade had been warned for another operation to dislodge the enemy from the high ground to the West thereby enabling an armoured thrust along the coast.
On 19 April 1943 5th Indian Brigade assaulted Djebel Garci on the left and 5th New Zealand Brigade assaulted Tacrouna on the right. The ensuing fighting was some of the fiercest of the North African campaign. 7th Indian Brigade in the centre was mercifully spared the initial ordeal suffered by the two flank brigades. Nevertheless, both 1/2GR and 4th Battalion 16th Punjab Regiment were soon sucked into the fighting raging on the mountain tops.
It became evident after 36 hours of intense fighting on the Djebel Garci that it offered small gains for great losses and the push through the mountains was abandoned. 4th Indian Division was ordered to move to the Enfidaville Gap and to renew the offensive along the foothills above the foreshore.
On 27 April 1943 7th Indian Brigade moved up to reserve battle positions north-west of Enfidaville with 1/2GR on the right, 4th Battalion 16th Punjab Regiment on the left and 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment in reserve. The plan involved a tremendous artillery barrage ahead of an infantry attack. During this time 1/2GR remained in an exposed position for 3 days and suffered from enemy harassing artillery fire incurring 32 casualties (two-thirds of the number lost at the Battle of Wadi Akarit). On 29 April 1943 the Germans launched a counter-attack against 2 positions recently lost to 56th (London) Infantry Division which still left 1/2GR in an exposed position and incurring a further 27 casualties.
However on 30 April 1943, following a visit to HQ 8th Army by General Alexander, Deputy Commander-in-Chief North Africa, new orders were issued for various formations, including 4th Indian Division, to drive 200 miles and join the British 1st Army which was advancing from the West.
On 30 April 1943 1/2GR left Enfidaville and drove through the night through Kaiouran, Sbeitla and Le Kef to Medjez el Bab where it joined the British 1st Army. ‘The contrast was extreme….with their new vehicles and equipment this Army might have belonged to another nation as into this ordered scene swept down-at-heel elements of 8th Army.…’
On 5 May 1943 5th Indian Brigade led the way on a long approach march, followed by 7th Indian Bde with 1/2GR leading. ‘Before dawn the battle opened with the massed fire of hundreds of guns.…..at first light hundreds of planes streaked out of the south at zero height to smash at any pocket of enemy resistance which might have survived the shelling.’
1/2GR, advancing through chin-high cornfields, met up with 1st Battalion 9th Gurkhas (1/9GR) from 5th Indian Brigade and soon struck an open front, but the front line was smashed and the enemy gone. 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment passed through 1/2GR before Tunis fell to 7th Armoured Division.
The war in Africa was all but over and for the next few days 4th Indian Division joined in rounding up remnants of the trapped Axis Armies. 1/2GR was ordered to cut the road from Tunis to St Marie du Zit where Lieutenant Colonel Showers stumbled across HQ Afrika Corps and no less a personage than the Commander-in-Chief Axis forces in Africa, General von Arnim, who later surrendered to Major General Tuker.
On 18 May 1943 1/2GR began the 500-mile journey back to Tripoli. On 16 June 1943 they paraded for a surprise visit of His Majesty King George VI who bestowed the Victoria Cross on Subedar Lalbahadur Thapa.
Lieutenant Colonel James Showers, Subedar Major Narbahadur Gurung, Subedar Lalbahadur Thapa and others on parade for the review of the 1st Battalion by King George VI on 16 June 1943.
On 22 June 1943 1/2GR left for Egypt, reaching Alexandria on 8 July 1943. The Battalion carried out normal training until 10 September 1943 when it moved to Palestine as part of 4th Indian Division, which had become a mountain warfare division. On 11 October 1943 1/2GR moved to Syria for mountain warfare training before returning to Egypt from where, on 1 December 1943, the battalion embarked at Port Tewfiq for Taranto, Italy.
Awarded for operational service in the Pacific theatre of war from 8 December 1941 to 15 August 1945.
The 2nd Battalion (2/2GR) returned from the NW Frontier in April 1941 to become part of 28th Infantry Brigade whose other units were:
• 2nd Battalion of the 1st King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (2/1GR)
• 2nd Battalion of the 9th Gurkha Rifles (2/9GR).
The Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Woollcombe, comprised 16 British Officers, 22 Gurkha Officers, 831 Gurkha Other Ranks and 69 civilian camp followers. They embarked on 23 August 1941 from Bombay and on 4 September 1941 disembarked at Port Swettenham in Malaya, from where they moved to Ipoh and immediately commenced intensive jungle warfare training.
However, it was not until the end of November 1941 that the threat from Japan became real with the reported sighting of the Japanese fleet in the Gulf of Cambodia, and on 8 December 1941 the first bombs fell on Singapore.
The plan for the defence of Malaya was based upon a violation of Thai neutrality which would result in the British occupying two forward defensive positions. The first, known as the Ledge Line, was located 47km north of the Thai-Malaya frontier and the second, known as the Jitra Line, was located 25km south of the frontier. Neither position had been properly fortified and the Japanese infantry, who were lightly armed, advanced with extraordinary audacity and mobility and ‘laughed at the orthodox panoply of the British army’. They proved to be an elusive enemy.
On 9 December 1941 2/2GR left Ipoh and moved North to join 11th Indian Division on the Jitra Line along the River Bata. 15th Brigade was right forward with 2/2GR in support. 6th Brigade held the left flank.
The position was described thus: ‘Jitra might have held up a ponderous 18th century army, but not a force as mobile and tenacious as the Japanese’. Indeed, the skill and energy of the enemy soon placed 11th Indian Division in jeopardy, as although the 2 forward brigades remained cohesive the enemy was swarming to their rear. The first day’s fighting had resulted in significant casualties and 2/2GR which was ‘only lightly engaged’ lost 70 Gurkha Other Ranks.
On 12 December 1941 the Division began to withdraw the 20km back to the River Kedah to the South of Alor Star. 2/2GR was sent to Langgar to cover the right flank of the divisional withdrawal before being ordered a further 29km south to Jehun. When the exhausted Battalion finally arrived it was informed that the Alor Star position had been abandoned in favour of a new defensive line another 8km to the south at Gurun, described as a ‘wide front and hopelessly undermanned’.
The situation continued to worsen as 2/2GR was ordered to establish new defensive positions which were only ever temporary. From Gurun the Battalion was dispatched a further 20km south to Sungai Patani from where it moved another 10km south to the River Muda.
Here the 11th Indian Division diarist wrote ‘..the Division by this time was little more than a division in name. In 4 days it had retreated 110km. Apart from numerical losses there had been grave losses of arms, equipment, carriers and vehicles. The men were themselves dead beat, badly short of food and desperately short of sleep. Many were sick with fever and many more were suffering from suppurating sores.’
On 16 December 1941 2/2GR reached Parit Buntar. They formed a new defensive line 50km south of Gurun along the River Krian and there provided welcome cover for stragglers. This proved to be another short-lived stay. After learning that the enemy had by now landed 5 divisions in Malaya, the Army Commander authorized further withdrawal and reorganization south of the River Perak. 2/2GR moved to Sungei Siput where it joined the 11th Indian Division reserve before moving south again back to Ipoh, which they had only left a week earlier.
On 23 December 1941 2/2GR moved 65km south from Ipoh to Chenderaing in the Kampar area of the Cameron Highlands foothills, described as the strongest defensive position of any in occupied Malaya. Unmolested by the enemy 2/2GR quickly recovered with rest and decent rations and worked hard on preparing a strong defensive position while also covering the withdrawal of 12th Brigade into 11th Indian Division’s area.
On 30 December 1941 the Japanese, coming up against a solid defensive position, reverted to their customary tactics of infiltration in small groups through the jungle into 11th Indian Division’s area. Despite fierce fighting the Kampar positions remained intact. However on 1 January 1942 the Japanese succeeded in entering the Perak estuary by boat and were soon active in 11th Indian Division’s rear. As a result 2/2GR was sent 80km miles south to the Slim River area.
The Battalion was allocated an area with a 16km front between the coast and Trolac, 8km west of a bridge over Slim River. Attempts were made to establish a defensive system in depth but essential materials were in very short supply and all ranks were in the last stages of exhaustion: ‘the men were fought out’. Meanwhile, on 7 January 1942, after removing obstacles, the indefatigable Japanese brought forward a force of approximately 30 tanks as a spearhead. This burst through, seized the bridge and within a few hours 11th Indian Division temporarily ceased to exist .
2/2GR linked up with 2/9GR and both were soon in contact with the enemy at Slim River railway station where ‘the scene was of utmost confusion’. B and D Companies had been deployed as a covering screen in front of the destroyed railway bridge along which for several hours the withdrawing troops in single file had made steady and slow progress across the damaged girders. Eventually the Gurkhas crossed the bridge themselves and were transported 24km South to Rasa on the Sungei Selangor.
While B and D Companies covered the destroyed bridge HQ Company led by Lieutenant Norman Speers tried to find another ford. They eventually used a slippery fallen tree as a footing and despite several men being drowned some 50 managed to get across. Those who turned back were captured. Less than half the company reached safety. The civilian camp follower Pirag, the British Officers’ Mess ‘masalchi’ or ‘grinder of spices’ was evidently a strong swimmer because ‘he heroically and continuously plunged in to the river to bring drowning men ashore’.
A and C Companies were the last troops to arrive at the river and soon found themselves under fire as they desperately searched for a crossing. Captain Pip Dallas-Smith constructed a lifeline of rifle slings which proved to be successful as only a few men were washed downstream. Once ashore this party turned south towards the jungle clad ridges where it met up with stragglers from 2/9GR. After a very uncomfortable night and a very steep climb over a 600m ridge line followed by an equally difficult descent, the group soon realised the place was swarming with Japanese. As such a large body men constituted a risk and it was agreed to separate the two groups of Gurkhas.
As 2/9GR moved off, A and C Companies moved south to follow the Burnam River, but the railway bridge had been blown and in country that was bare and covered with marshland and with alert enemy everywhere they were forced to return to the cover of the jungle. In their rapidly weakening condition they were surprised when a Gurkha who had been captured (and disarmed) by the Japanese walked into their position. Apparently he had made his way southwards without too much difficulty having obtained food from villages. Based upon his experience, the group decided to split up into small groups and head south.
At noon on 9 January 1942 came the sad parting as in threes and fours the men trudged away. Few managed to escape although many subsisted for weeks before being captured. The three British Officers were captured on 21 February 1942 on the west coast trying to reach Sumatra.
Total casualties during the withdrawal were three British Officers, six Gurkha Officers and 196 Gurkha Other Ranks missing.
Map of Malaya showing the Japanese advance
On 8 January 1942 the abandonment of the mainland to the enemy was announced and all troops were ordered to fall back to Singapore.
The bridge at Sungei Selangor was blown and on 9 January 1942 a depleted 2/2GR reached Serandah, 30km north of Kuala Lumpur, where it took up defensive position until the Japanese assisted by dive bombers forced them back to Sungei Choh where there was complete chaos as elements and remnants of many forward units attempted to pull back.
2/2GR broke off and withdrew a further 4km to Rawang before boarding lorries which took them southwards for a 160km passing through Kuala Lumpur before reaching Tampin. It seemed as if the worst might be over as the troops approached Johore because they met with reinforcements who had come from Australia and India. However any appearance of safety was illusory as the Japanese were to soon launch new assaults from the north-east as well as incursions to the rear of 11th Indian Division.
On 12 January 1942 2/2GR found itself as one of the divisional rearguard units north of Tampin. The following day they travelled on vehicles the 200km to Pontian Kechil, located only 40kms from the Straits of Johore. 28th Indian Brigade had been allotted a long stretch of coast line to defend against possible enemy sea borne incursions. For the next 6 days all was quiet in 2/2GR’s sector as a ferocious battle ensued in the north but on 22 January 1942 the Japanese broke through and pushed on to Batu Pahat, only 65km from Pontian Kechil. During the next few days hundreds of survivors began to withdraw through 2/2GR’s holding position which was soon engaged by the pursuing enemy. On 29 January 1942 the bridges were blown and 2/2GR withdrew another 15km along the Skudai Road and formed a new holding position at milestone 27 with elements from 2/9GR. Fighting had been heavy to the north-east from where 22nd Indian Brigade began to withdraw back to the Skudai Road, but with the Japanese threat everywhere ’28th Indian Brigade reverted to North-West Frontier tactics by picqueting the road closely with holding companies while the balance of withdrawing troops leap frogged to the rear’.
At midnight 30 January 2/2GR crossed the Straits into Singapore and the Battalion deployed to the Naval Base on the north-east of the island. The regimental diarist wrote ‘Thus ended the 52 days’ ordeal and a retirement of almost 900km from Jitra to Singapore. More fortunate than many formations for more than 7 weeks they had engaged in a critical series of blocking operations ….on those occasions when the enemy closed the Japanese encountered adversaries unshaken by fanaticism or ferocity. Neither hunger, exposure nor fatigue had broken their spirits nor diminished their will to fight on. In so far as the Gurkha battalions are concerned no apology for the Malayan debacle is necessary’.
The Singapore Garrison comprised 85,000 troops responsible for an unfortified coastline of 130km. 11th Indian Division was responsible for the Naval Base and approx 8km of the northern coast with 18th (British) Division on the Right and two Australian brigades on the left directly in front of the causeway over the Straits. 2/2GR was allocated the left hand sector of the Divisional perimeter which was increased to 3.6km. On 3 February the Battalion was reinforced by one British Officer and 71 Gurkha Other Ranks.
The Commandant (Commanding Officer) of 2/2GR, Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Woollcombe, was by now very ill with jungle sores. He was ordered to join a party of key personnel with first-hand knowledge of fighting the Japanese who were to return to India to brief the General Headquarters staff there on the disastrous Malayan campaign. After handing over the Battalion to the Second-in-Command, Major Derek Robertson, he left on a commandeered harbour launch that ran out of fuel on the way to Sumatra. After a long walk he joined a Dutch ship which was then torpedoed. He did not survive.
On 5 February 1942 the lull ended as enemy were observed on the mainland foreshore and the Naval Base was shelled, but requests for counter battery fire were refused because of lack of ammunition. In addition, the mainland water reservoirs had been cut off and the enemy increased his air attacks, predominately against civilian targets .
On 6 February the enemy laid a smoke screen along the Straits and for the next two days the Australian brigades were subject to intense artillery bombardment. At 2300 hrs on 8 February the Japanese landed on the island and by first light had established a bridgehead on 2.5km of foreshore. What was not initially known was that the Australians had withdrawn which left 2/2GR very exposed. A combination of reinforcements were ordered to fill the open flank left by the Australians and 2/2GR fighting patrols succeeded in restoring the situation. However, promises of a Divisional counter-attack came to nothing as 8th Indian Brigade could not find sufficient rifles to cover the entire gap vacated by the Australians. At the same time Japanese were seen to the rear of the Naval Base .
At 1200 hrs on 11 February it was decided that 28th Indian Brigade’s original position was untenable, but as units moved to take up new positions there were reports of increased enemy activity as Japanese consolidated in the former Australian sector and pushed on towards Singapore Town. Meanwhile 2/2GR now found themselves being driven eastwards and up against the burning oil tanks in the centre of the Naval Base.
By 1600 hrs on 11 February a new defensive line had been established but it meant 11th and 18th Divisions were now squeezed into the north-east corner of the island. However, later that evening a new plan was issued to abandon the northern portion of the island and to form a tight perimeter around Singapore Town.
By first light 12 February 2/2GR was near Nee Soon awaiting confirmation of its position in the new perimeter. At 1200 hrs they set off and, as described by Major Robertson: ‘…we were forced back on the highway. The congestion resembled roads in the vicinity of Epsom on the evening of Derby Day. Parked with vehicles of every description head to tail, gun positions on either side, anti-tank guns on the road, infantry moving up, infantry moving down. We presented a strange and sorry sight; everyone dead tired with many asleep as they walked, dirty, unshaven, wearing almost every variety of head and foot gear…’
On 13 February, having spent part of the night near gun lines and subject to enemy counter battery fire, 2/2GR and 2/9GR dispersed to a rubber plantation and after having dug in experienced an uneventful 24 hours.
15 February broke with gunfire from all sides. Singapore Town was also under ruthless bombardment from the air. As 2/2GR adjusted its perimeter a despatch rider from 53rd Brigade arrived with a message: ‘At 1600 all troops under command will cease fire but will remain in their present positions….there will be no destruction of arms or equipment but all secret papers codes will be destroyed’.
On 17 February 1942 at 0715 hrs the Battalion came on parade for the last time. Major Robertson placed the Battalion under command of Subedar Major Hari Sing Bohra who, accompanied by the Adjutant, led the column to the point where it merged into the main stream of prisoners moving to the assigned concentration area.
2/2GR was to remain in captivity as prisoners of war from 17 February 1942 to 8 September 1945. A total of 146 All Ranks including five British Officers and five Gurkha officers lost their lives during this time.
Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Woollcombe, Commandant 2nd Battalion, who was lost at sea after the fall of Singapore.
Subedar Major Hari Sing Bohra, the senior Gurkha Officer of the 2nd Battalion, who died of maltreatment in Japanese captivity while defending his men.
Awarded to those with qualifying service in the Burma campaign from 11 December 1941 and in those parts of Bengal or Assam East of the Brahmaputra.
In October 1940 the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (3/2GR) was re-raised in Dehra Dun with 200 Gurkha ranks provided by each of the two senior battalions. In April 1941 3/2GR deployed to Fort Sandeman in Baluchistan but it was woefully ill-equipped with no mortars, few machine guns and no wireless sets.
In June 1942 3/2GR was ordered to report to 77th Indian Brigade at Patheria in the Saugur jungles. It was to form part of a new Special Force under command of Brigadier Orde Wingate, later known as Chindits, which would carry out long range penetration in independent operations behind enemy lines. Besides 3/2GR, the Force comprised:
• 13th Battalion The King’s Regiment (Liverpool)
• 2nd Burma Rifles
• 142nd Commando Company
3/2GR consisted of 26 British Officers, 35 Gurkha Officers, 1289 Gurkha Other Ranks and 38 attached. This large number included a mule train of 505 all ranks, many of whom were recruits from the 10th Gurkha Rifles.
After an extensive period of training 77th Indian Brigade was organised in two groups, each comprising four columns and a HQ. Columns One to Four were all Gurkha columns, each consisting of an infantry company, a muleteer company, a sabotage detachment of commandos, a platoon of the Burma Rifles, and sections of Royal Signals and RAF. Columns One to Four were loosely based on A, B, C and D Companies of 3/2GR respectively, although some reorganisation took place to share limited expertise equitably as many of the officers and men were very young and inexperienced. Interviews with veterans indicate that 3/2GR did not use company designations from mid-1942 until the end of 1943, referring to themselves as belonging to this or that Column instead.
All columns concentrated at Dimapur in mid-January 1943 before embarking on a very strenuous march of 200km to Imphal, from where on 6 February 1943 they marched towards the River Chindwin, each man carrying a pack of 70lbs or more.
Men of 3/2GR who took part in the Chindit operation
On 15 February 1943 One Column moved to the south-east and at the River Pabaing had their first contact with the enemy. Although the mules bolted they were fortunately rescued by Two Column who were nearby. One Column then moved on to attack the railway station at Kyaikthin.
Having to surmount the high jungle-clad escarpment proved to be very tough going with mules. The column made a series of exhausting marches. It ran out of food but the Burmese platoon was able to obtain rations from local villages until RAF air resupply could be obtained. By the end of February 1943 One Column had reached the Burma Railway north of Kyaikthin, ahead of a planned move to Taunguan to join up with Two Column but the latter had been badly ambushed en route and the plan was abandoned.
On 7 March 1943 One Column crossed the River Irrawaddy to the South of Tagaung and moved towards Kyaukaing for another RAF resupply. On 17 March contact was made with Three Column as One Column marched towards Myitson, but it was discovered to be garrisoned by 700 Japanese. On 26 March One Column crossed the River Nam Mit below Pago and continued to move east but progress was very slow because of the dense jungle. On 29 March, when the Column had reached Pada, orders were received to return to India less all heavy kit including mortars, medium machine-guns and anti-tank rifles which had to be destroyed and dumped. Only seven mules were retained, but the remainder which had been let loose continued to follow the Column. This soon attracted the attention of the Japanese who attacked the rearguard.
One Column changed its westerly direction and moved south before carrying out a wide detour and eventually headed north-west. On 10 April, as One Column was crossing the River Shweli at Mangla, it came under enemy fire and suffered casualties. Because of this contact One Column moved east for 3 days without food then turned south before returning westwards towards Mangla. By now all ranks were at the point of collapse and the decision was made to return to India by the shortest possible route. However, this took the Column through scrub- covered country devoid of water. They made slow progress towards the River Irrawaddy, reaching Singyat on 25 April where it was learnt that the Japanese were patrolling the river. The Column split into smaller groups and, using two small fishing boats laden to the gunwales with 30 men on each trip, they crossed during the night. At dawn the Japanese arrived and opened fire on the two boats making the final trip. Only a platoon commander and a single Rifleman survived.
Of the dispersed small groups some were fortunate and reached India in May 1943, while others were captured and of many there was no further trace.
The exploits of Subedar Major Siblal Thapa’s group were remarkable. After crossing the Irrawaddy on 25 April 1943 he ended up with a group of 80 men. He successfully led this group back to One Column’s original entry route from Taungaung to Kyaikthin. It was 14 days since their last solid meal and all were utterly exhausted, taking two days to cover only 16km. Finally on 8 May they reached the River Chindwin and were ferried across with the help of boats manned by 3rd Battalion 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF) (3/5GR). It later transpired there was a Japanese patrol only 4km upstream.
Two Column initially followed the route taken by One Column and shared in the arduous climb over the jungle escarpment and the slow descent into the Burma plain. Orders were received to destroy Kyaikthin railway station 65km to the east. On 28 February Two Column reached Yindaik, the terminus of the railway which ran west from Kyaikthin. At 2200hrs on 1 March Two Column marched down the railway line but the advance had just began when enemy fire opened up from both flanks and in front. Two Column had walked into an enemy ambush. The fighting lasted for two hours, the mules stampeded and, as the Japanese began to gain the upper hand, Two Column withdrew and the scattered groups tried to make their way back to the rendezvous point at Taunguan, 25km east of the ambush location.
Naik Premsingh Gurung and Rifleman Kulbahadur Thapa of Two Column
This contact marked the end of Two Column as a viable force, having lost half its strength, reserve ammunition, medical and signals equipment. Continually harassed by the enemy the remnants of Two Column, remaining as a single unit, retraced its steps back over the River Chindwin.
Three Column consisted of 165 all ranks of C Company 3/2GR. On 15 February 1943 together with Four Column, they marched northwards towards Tonhe before crossing the River Chindwin. Shortly afterwards they received a RAF resupply drop including a mail bag which was intercepted by the Japanese, who now discovered the purpose of the Chindit Expedition. However, although there was evidence of enemy movement Three Column made no contact as it marched towards the Mandalay-Myitkynia railway. After climbing over the Zibyutaungdan escarpment they reached the Mu valley from where the Column prepared to carry out railway demolition either side of Nankan station.
On 6 March the first bridge was successfully blown at 1400 hrs, but a large enemy patrol was encountered shortly before the second bridge could be blown. A long firefight ensued for the rest of that day and into the night as the Japanese reinforced Nankan. Nevertheless, at roll call the following day not a man from Three Column was missing although their action had resulted in 14 enemy being killed, three lorries destroyed and three box girder bridges blown, vindicating Chindit tactics.
Three Column was given a new objective 300km away, the Gokteik bridge on the Mandalay-Maymyo railway. Their crossing of the Irrawaddy was opposed and they incurred casualties – four killed and four wounded – but using only foursmall dugout canoes, 370 men managed to cross a river over a kilometer wide and resume the march. After another resupply by air, the Column reached Pago on the River Shweli where there were reports of the enemy. This resulted in a successful ambush that accounted for 30 Japanese. Three Column then moved on towards the towering barrier of the Mangin mountain range in oppressive heat while being constantly pursued by the Japanese.
The RAF could no longer supply columns so far east and the order was given for Three Column to return to India. With the Japanese closely following them, Three Column toyed with the idea moving further east towards the Kodaung Hill Tracts and into China but their attempt to cross the River Shweli was thwarted by the enemy. They decided to wait for a final air resupply before dividing into nine groups each of 40 men and instructed to plot their own return routes.
Out of 360 All Ranks only 205 eventually re-crossed the River Chindwin, bringing stories of exceptional hardships, dangers, hunger, thirst, weariness, cruelty by the Japanese, pitiful panic, strong discipline and unbelievable courage.
Lieutenant Nick Neill of 3/2GR
On 15 February Four Column marched north with Three Column and crossed the River Chindwin at Tonhe. They then marched eastwards to Tonmakeng to await air resupply before moving off to climb up the Zibyutaungdan escarpment and descend to the Mu Valley. Brigadier Wingate became impatient at the slow speed Four Column was taking despite the inevitable ‘telescoping’ when a large body of men and pack animals move through difficult country in single file. On 2 March patrols from the Burma Rifles were sent out to ascertain enemy movements, one of which was ambushed.
As the other Chindit columns had made good progress in the south-east, Four Column was then ordered to move south along the base of the mountains towards the area of Wuntho-Bonchaung. While doing so the long column was ambushed and although casualties were not heavy it marked the end of Four Column as a formed body because the Japanese knew their whereabouts, their radios had failed, and their rations were much reduced with no prospect of foraging from frightened villages. Four Column was ordered to return to India which it did successfully .
Major Calvert who led Three Column wrote: ‘My column underwent great physical endurance tests and hardships which would gave tried the finest troops in the world. I cannot show too much admiration of the way these young Gurkhas (and many were often very young) marched great distances over difficult country, bore heavy loads and fought time and time again with out cracking up. They outfought and outmarched troops who were first class and tenacious enemies’.
As the Regimental History describes it: ‘The emaciated , exhausted and fever-raddled handfuls which straggled back across the Chindwin as survivors of the Wingate expedition represented no more than the wreck of 3/2 GR’.
Having recovered, reorganised and retrained, in October 1943 3/2GR joined 74th Indian Brigade of the 25th Indian Division at Conjeeveram, 100km south of Madras (now known as Chennai). Other units in the Brigade were:
• 6th Battalion The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
• 14th Battalion 10th Baluch Regiment
On 21 March 1944 3/2GR occupied the Razabil fortress sector of Maungdaw base in Burma. Two days later the position was shelled by Japanese artillery. Throughout the following 3 months and in the height of the monsoon 3/2GR sent out patrols to gather intelligence about the enemy, not only southwards along the Arakan coastal strip but also as long range penetration patrols inland. The brigade formed a patrolling unit known as Bolster Force. One patrol in early July 1944, comprising detachments from 3/2GR, 6th Battalion The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and with artillery support, accounted for 34 enemy killed.
Men of 3/2GR embarking in local boats in the Arakan.
Attention now focused on the enemy concentrated on the Mayu hills to the south of the Maungdaw Road, and in particular the escarpment with two features known as Point 1433 and Tiger. Their capture, entrusted to 3/2GR, was to be the preliminary objective of the autumn offensive. A firm base was therefore established in the mountains to the east of the enemy position, which was attacked from that direction with B Company on the right facing Tiger and A and C Companies on the left facing Point 1433.
At 0500hrs on 8 September 1944 the divisional artillery opened up and 3/2GR moved to the assault. B Company met with very fierce opposition. The Japanese proved to be too numerous and the objective was not taken. Meanwhile, A and C Companies, despite over-running the forward enemy positions, were forced to consolidate in a circle around Point 1433 and Major Steve Stephenson, commanding C Company, was killed. The forward companies were reinforced by D Company of 3/2GR, 17th Battalion 15th Mahratta Light Infantry and 14th Battalion 10th Baluch Regiment as the casualties were recovered.
Throughout 9 September, as enemy harassing fire ranged over the rifle company areas, the two objectives remained under siege. For the next 48 hours the Japanese bunkers were subject to constant artillery fire until, on 12 September, both Point 1433 and Tiger were taken. However, during the night of 11/12 September 1944 the survivors had slipped away down the Western slopes. Despite having endured continuous bombardment for 4 days only a handful of enemy dead were found and yet 3/2GR had lost 17 killed and 74 wounded.
The Corps objective was to push the enemy south down the Arakan peninsula to be followed by the capture of Akyab. 74th Indian Brigade was ordered to clear the coast line for about 80km from Maungdaw to Foul Point. With 3/2GR leading the brigade moved southwards. Although there was much evidence of enemy activity there were no serious contacts. The 3 infantry battalions leap-frogged each other in their move towards Akyab, but frequently had to close up as the Brigade crossed the various rivers or many chaungs.
On 3 January 1945 a seaborne assault of Akyab took place with 74th Indian Brigade in support of 3rd Commando Brigade. It was an amphibious operation in which not a shot was fired. The first wave of 3/2GR came ashore at 1030 hrs only to discover Akyab to be a ‘dead town with everything destroyed and decayed …..not a civilian walked the streets……rank tropical vegetation had overgrown many of the bombed ruins…’.
Following on from the success of the Akyab landing it was decided to carry out a similar operation with another seaborne assault to the rear of the withdrawing enemy further south at the Myebon peninsula, despite the fact that the surrounding maze of islands, deltas and channels had never been accurately surveyed.
On 12 January 3rd Commando Brigade under cover of intense air and naval bombardment established a bridgehead South of Myebon in the face of fierce enemy opposition. On the same day 74th Indian Brigade including 3/2GR sailed from Foul Point in the cruiser HMS Phoebe to 20km off the Myebon beaches. There 3/2GR was transferred to minesweepers before another transfer to landing craft for the final kilometer. 3/2GR followed the route taken by the Commandos and were soon in contact with the enemy and incurred casualties as they attempted to capture Point 262 – the stump of a pagoda which had been converted into a formidable bunker. On 17 January 1945 D Company supported by the tanks of the 19th King George V’s Own Lancers launched a successful attack, captured the position and later repelled several enemy counter-attacks. 3/2GR casualties amounted to nine wounded whereas the Japanese lost 62 killed. The Commandant, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Panton, wrote: ‘A wonderful performance of reckless daring and light-hearted gallantry mixed with very fine fieldcraft.’
On 21 January 3/2GR assumed responsibility for the Pegauk area and began to patrol further east towards Kangaw. At the same time 3rd Commando Brigade approached Kangaw by boat from the South via the Doingban Chaung and established a bridgehead on the East bank of the Kyanganaw River. 3/2GR then moved across the swamp to occupy the west bank opposite the bridgehead. A protracted period of intense fighting took place around Kangaw but this did not directly involve 3/2GR. After three weeks the stubborn Japanese eventually broke and fled leaving 2000 dead around Kangaw, but only to withdraw 20km and concentrate at a new position at Kvweguseik.
Instead of launching a frontal assault from the North against Kvweguseik the plan was for yet another amphibious landing, this time at Ruywa some 50km to the south of Myebon. Once established there, the aim would be to strike north along the coast and seize Tamandu, an important staging post on the enemy’s lines of communications.
3rd Battalion mortars in action in Burma.
On 16 February 1945 the landings at Ruywa achieved complete surprise. 3/2GR sailed from Myebon on HMIS Jumna and disembarked at Ruywa ‘prepared to give battle on a fantastic terrain of mangrove swamp, mud flats and intermittent chaungs, with solid ground mounting inland in an interminable series of knife edged jungle clad ridges’. These ridges ran to the east of the road and constituted major obstacles. Each had to be taken before 74th Indian Brigade could advance northwards. Some were occupied, such as features known as Gurung and Pun, whereas others had been abandoned such as Rana or Point 898. As there was now deemed to be more pressing demands on Allied airpower it was impressed upon 74th Indian Brigade that they must advance and capture the village of Tamandu within the next three days.
On 4 March the Brigade crossed the final water obstacle before Tamandu and moved to dislodge the enemy in the high ground to the East known as Snowdon. By dusk the position was occupied by 3/2GR with D Company to the south, A Company with a platoon at both ends of the high ground and an ambush on the Dalet-An Road. B Company was located between Snowdon and the road while C Coy and Battalion HQ remained in the undergrowth alongside the road.
During the night some enemy were killed on C Company’s perimeter and A Company’s ambush was successful. The Japanese made a determined effort and succeeded in retaking Snowdon East. At first light Battalion HQ moved onto Snowdon West and B Company was ordered to regain Snowdon East. Low-lying mist delayed operations but at 1415hrs on 5 March 1945, after a six minute artillery concentration, B Company attacked Snowdon East where it was met by a ferocious Japanese defence. By 1700hrs, with talk of consolidation, B Company was reinforced and the position was eventually taken.
During this action Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung displayed extraordinary leadership, tenacity and courage in the leading section of the leading platoon and was deservedly awarded the Victoria Cross. (See more details on this page of the website).
When the fighting finished there was little left of B Company which had sustained 11 killed and 34 wounded, but 66 Japanese had been killed. The line of the Tamandu road from Ruywa had been won, but at a considerable cost to the Battalion of 100 casualties.
The Regimental history gave an apt description of the 3rd Battalion’s experience in the Burma Campaign:
‘To wait, to march, to fight, to hunger and to thirst, to bear burdens, to wait, to march and to fight again –such was the interminable ambit of the days ….and yet withal the officers and men of the Third Battalion found a fierce satisfaction – a thrill of consummation – in this campaign’.
The 4th Battalion had been raised on 3 March 1941 at Dehra Dun. In January 1942 it deployed to the North-West Frontier serving in Manzai, Wana and forts at Bannu, Mirali and Kajuri, the last of which resulted in the new unit’s first casualty. In July 1943 they moved to Razmak where on 12 December they had a series of successful contacts against the Mahsud tribesmen, killing 17 and wounding 13. 1944 was mostly taken up with combined arms training and manoeuvres (in which Major Norman Lockey lost an eye) until finally, in September 1944, 4/2GR was warned for active service which came ‘as an almost unbelievable surprise.’
On 27 February 1945 4/2GR entrained to Dimapur in Assam from where it was transported via Kohima and Imphal and crossed the River Chindwin at Kalewa. On 26 March 1945 the battalion crossed the River Irrawaddy before reaching Dwehla. It had covered 800km in 10 days. Here it joined 80th Indian Infantry Brigade, part of 20th Indian Division, where it was tasked to patrol extensively and to lay ambushes.
On 31 March 4/2GR was sent to the Tynkken-Thaungewe area and on 3 April became part of 32nd Indian Infantry Brigade together with:
• 9th Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment.
• 3rd Battalion 8th Gurkha Rifles (3/8GR)
The Battalion was later deployed 30km south towards the Myittha area astride the Mandalay-Rangoon road. It continued to send out patrols, some having contact with the enemy. On 7 April 4/2GR marched to Kume where it learnt that 20th Indian Division had been selected to push down the Irrawaddy Valley towards Rangoon, a distance of 600km. There were only 30 days until the expected outbreak of the monsoon.
On 11 April the move south began. 4/2GR embussed to Meiktila from where on 15 April it reached Taungdwingyi, 100km south of Meiktila, and established a patrol base resulting in the capture and killing of both Indian National Army (INA) volunteers and Japanese. On 20 April it moved to Myingun on the banks of the Irrawaddy and had several successful ambushes resulting in 36 enemy killed and 10 prisoners. On 22 April it moved further South to Sinbaungwe and on towards Nyangbintha where there had been reports of a concentration of INA troops. After a short firefight a complete battalion amounting to 45 officers, 455 other ranks and weapons was captured.
On 29 April 4/2GR continued to move south and reached Allanmyo before being transported further towards Prome. Meanwhile the Mandalay-Rangoon road had become the axis of advance for IV British Corps (commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Geoffrey Scoones, late 2nd Goorkhas) and the now trapped enemy had little hope of escape.
20th Indian Div continued its drive southwards. On 5 May 1945 4/2GR was ordered to capture Tanbingon and to prevent any Japanese from escaping to the east. For this operation ‘Kitcol’ was formed with 4/2GR (commanded by Lieutenant Colonel john Kitson) supported by a Squadron of the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards), a Battery 9th Field Regiment Royal Artillery and a section of Sappers & Miners. The Column was ordered to Ondaw in order to close possible escape routes over the Pegu Yoma Mountains. As they moved along the axis of advance there were contacts with the enemy. Destroyed bridges delayed the advance as armour had to wait for engineers to repair them. Colonel Kitson lamented ‘we all longed to have our mules again’.
Despite these delays and after passing through Ondaw, the Column was keen to continue pursuing the retreating enemy amongst the nearby foothills. However, as Rangoon had fallen to another successful amphibious landing on 2 May, the drive down the River Irrawaddy by 20th Indian Division was abandoned and it was instead tasked to form a wide screen in order to capture or destroy any Japanese formations trying to escape from the Arakan or Central Burma.
Kitcol was therefore recalled and on 12 May 4/2GR was allotted a 20km front to the West of the Prome road between Okpo and Minhla. For a week the Battalion sent out fighting patrols, laid ambushes and carried out searches but no Japanese were encountered. As the monsoon broke the area of responsibility was changed and on 21 May Battalion HQ moved south to Thayetpinzeik, about 5km east of Okpo. The Battalion was now actively patrolling in torrential rain and having to contend with swollen chaungs in the Satpok Forest Reserve, but there were contacts with the enemy at Tamangy and Aingdaingbon which resulted in a number of enemy being killed.
On 1 June 1945 , intelligence was received that the enemy had reoccupied Tanbingon as they had moved out of their hiding places in the jungle covered foothills of the Pegu Yomas in search of food. Reports suggested there were 400 Japanese between the village and the foothills to the East and 4/2GR sent out reconnaissance patrols to ascertain the enemy strength.
On 6 June 4/2GR moved back into the foothills leaving D Company to the west of Tanbingon at Teinhymok while A and B Companies, having harboured to the south, then moved to the north and east in preparation for a dawn attack. As B Company moved into position, a platoon was detailed to lay an ambush on the track leading into the village from the East. This platoon surprised and killed 14 enemy found in two standing patrol locations. The remainder of B Company was ambushed by the Japanese but immediately responded and accounted for 16 in the counter-attack.
B Company then turned to face a new threat of Japanese reinforcements from the east. A Company was ordered to attack Tanbingon from the north but after initial success it met with tenacious enemy resistance to the south-east. Following up behind an artillery rolling barrage, D Company was ordered to attack the objective from the south-west and succeeded in capturing the village.
During daylight hours of 7 June the intense enemy resistance, including unsuccessful counter-attacks continued to the east in front of B Company and to the south-east in front of A Company. By nightfall a firm perimeter had been established on the east side of the village and first light revealed a total of 76 Japanese killed for the loss of one British officer (Major Peter Collins) and seven Gurkha Other Ranks killed and 11 wounded. Major Collins, son of Brigadier LP Collins late 2nd Goorkhas, was recommended for the Victoria Cross but was mentioned in despatches instead.
On 9 June a successful ambush killed none enemy on the Tanbingon-Ondaw track, thought to be the advance party of another large enemy force. On 11 June 4/2GR successfully attacked Point 217 and captured the village of Ondaw, resulting in more Japanese casualties. Over the next two weeks the Battalion continued to actively patrol and search for the enemy in the area around Tabingon and into the Pegu Yomas foothills until on 27 June the Battalion handed over responsibility to the 1st Battalion of the 1st King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (1/1GR) and was transported to Tharrawaddy .
The Battalion’s campaign in Burma had lasted 3 months, advanced almost 500kms and engaged the enemy on a score of occasions with conspicuous success. In addition to Indian renegades a total of 225 dead Japanese had been counted, with many more having perished in the chaungs or in the jungle. The battalion had lost one British Officer and had 20 Gurkha Other Ranks killed and 65 wounded.
35. ITALY STAR
Awarded for operational service on land in Italy, Sicily, Greece, Yugislavia, the Aegean area etc at any time between 11 June 1943 and 8 May 1945.
ITALY 1944 -1945
On 1 December 1943 the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR) had embarked at Port Tewfiq at the Southern end of the Suez Canal and on 8 December 1943 arrived at Taranto, Italy. The Battalion was part of 7th Indian Infantry Brigade alongside:
• 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment
• 2nd Royal Battalion/11th Sikh Regiment
• A battalion of the 16th Punjab Regiment.
Almost immediately groups of British and Gurkha Officers carried out ‘front line inoculation’ visits with 8th Indian Division and learnt that the free movement of the North Africa campaign had now been replaced by a continuous and solidly held front occupied by offensively-minded Germans. On 15 January 1944 1/2GR relieved the 28th Maori Battalion near Lanciano in preparation for a full scale assault on the strongly-held defensive position of Orsogna situated on the left flank of the 8th Army. The positions occupied by 1/2GR were very exposed, without integration or mutual support and close to the enemy who overlooked the approaching ground. However, before any major assault could take place 4th Indian Division was ordered to spearhead the attack on a new objective 100 km to the west – the Cassino massif.
CASSINO 1 and MONASTERY HILL
On 1 February 1944 , 7th Indian Brigade moved by a circuitous route via Naples, Caserta and Capua to Baia. On 10 February 1/2GR arrived at San Michele, a small hamlet in the Eastern Rapido foothills. A massive mountain wall dominated the landscape, 900m high and about 5km away, rising to the snow-capped 1800m-high peak of Monte Cairo. But it was the lower western feature of Monte Cassino together with its monastery which controlled the main road to Rome.
Earlier, in January, II US Corps had fought a great battle against this mountain fortress and seized the high ground to the rear or east of the monastery as well as occuping Snake’s Head, a protuberant position at the western extremity, but the Americans had been unable to take Point 593, which was less than 1400m from the monastery .
On the night of 11 February 1/2GR, supported by 200 laden mules, crossed the Rapido Valley and reached the Brigade Concentration Area. In due course the US troops on Snake’s Head were relieved and reconnaissance was carried out for the proposed assault on Point 593. It was at this point that the formidable challenge facing 1/2GR became apparent, namely ‘an assault across unknown ground against enemies of unknown strength ensconced behind invisible fortifications’.
On 15 February the USAAF bombed the monastery. It was damaged but the fortifications were left intact and as this aerial bombardment had not been coordinated with either Allied artillery or infantry assault it proved to be ineffective. Later that night 1/2GR moved to the Assembly Area along a narrow track jammed with descending American troops and mules. The following day 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment failed to capture Point 593.
On 16 February 1943 1/2GR advanced towards the Monastery from the north. A Company on the left was to capture point 445; B Company (left centre) was to attack the north side of the monastery; C Company on the right was to clear the road and attack the north-east side of the monastery, and D Company on the right was to attack the south-east side of the monastery.
1/2GR’s battlefield was the low ground in front of the Cassino Monastery.
The battle began at 2359 hrs with another attempt to seize Point 593, but just as 1/2GR moved off an enemy mortar round hit the signal platoon which badly wounded the Signals Officer and disabled Battalion communications. As the companies topped the crest and began their advance they were met by ‘instant pandemonium from devastating fire from well-concealed enemy machine-gun groups’. Orders had stipulated that in event of coming under fire companies were not to pause but rather to push on to the scrub. Unfortunately, and unknown to the Battalion, this scrub was full of anti-personnel mines, booby traps and tripwires. Within a few minutes two-thirds of B and C Companies had been lost as casualties – three British Officers killed or missing, one Gurkha Officer killed, 34 Gurkha Other Ranks killed and 104 wounded. The next day, 17 February, 1/2GR somehow managed to find shelter among the rough slopes in front of the monastery before being withdrawn to the Brigade reserve positions.
Not only had the assaults on the Monastery and Point 593 failed, but 2nd New Zealand Division was unable to capture Cassino Town. The situation demanded a new tactical plan. While this was being developed the troops of both 5th and 7th Indian Infantry Brigades remained in their meager shelters for the next 40 days, in continuous bad weather and subject to constant enemy shelling, with the Division sustaining an average of 45 casualties a day.
On 27 March 1944 1/2GR left the Cassino battlefield and moved to Venafro for well-deserved rest, but by 11 April it was again back in the Front Line opposite Orsogna where enemy fighting patrols were being encountered almost every night. After another short time out of the line 1/2GR was soon returned to the Adriatic Front where the German patrols and raiding parties ‘were still pestiferous’. By 20 May the battalion had been moved to the Arielli sector north-west of Orsogna.
As the first Italian troops entered the war on the side of the Allies they were sent to the Adriatic Front. Some relieved 1/2GR and on 8 June the Battalion was ordered to move to Tollo on the River Arielli. Although the enemy had been withdrawn 1/2GR still suffered casualties from mines.
The Battalion then continued its advance in pursuit of the withdrawing enemy but still had contacts with the German rearguard as it moved northwards to Chieta, passed through Ripa where it met with ‘surging crowds of enraptured Italians amid salvoes of acclamation, cascades of flowers, kisses and embraces’ and pushed on towards Pescara. On 11 June the battalion was relieved and deployed away from the coast to the ski resort of Monte Mileto to carry out mountain warfare training.
On 7 July the Battalion moved across Italy towards Umbertide in the wooded valleys of the foothills of the High Apennines. On 8 July 7th Indian Infantry Brigade assumed responsibilities west of the River Tiber and the new direction of the advance was set as north-west towards Arezzo.
Although the Germans were withdrawing without offering much determined resistance they ‘still remained in a surly mood’ as their rearguard delayed the advancing troops. 1/2GR’s line of advance went from Monte Bastiaola through Pino to Poggio Civetella, where it entered ‘a wilderness of forest and undergrowth of rocky ridges and deep ravines’, to the east to Topo, arriving at Piantrano on 11 July before returning to the line at Monte Favolto via the Jacob’s Ladder jeep track.
The plan was for 4th Indian Division to deny the enemy the mountains to the east and south-east of Arezzo, enabling 10 British Corps to seize the town and open the way into the upper Arno valley. On 18 July 1/2GR was ordered to seize Piana di Maggio, a 250m high crescent-shaped ridge the capture of which would cut the line of the enemy’s withdrawal.
1/2GR carried out a three-company night attack with A Company on the left, C Company centre and B Company right. All companies faced difficult approaches over steep ground. Communications were lost but by dawn both A and B Companies had captured their objectives. The following day, 19 July, D Company succeeded in capturing the centre ground and despite fierce enemy counter-attacks the position was taken, but victory was tempered by a relatively high number of casualties: one British Officer killed; 17 Gurkha Other Ranks killed and 35 wounded.
The diarist wrote: ‘The First Battalion had every reason to be gratified by its performance in the advance through Central Italy. It had successfully encompassed the hazards and rigours of combined mountain and jungle warfare. To march long distances at night without straying and without confusion, to preserve contact with flanks and rear amid forests and undergrowth, to ford rivers, clamber precipitous slopes and scale pinnacles ……are feats possible only to men superbly trained and confident in their leaders.’
As the enemy had abandoned Arezzo both 4th and 10th Indian Divisions had pushed through the mountains to the east. 7th Indian Infantry Brigade’s axis of advance swung to the west as 1/2GR was relieved by 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment. However the Battalion soon returned to the line and advanced through Castiglion on 3 August and Castellina, where a platoon under Jemadar Tekbahadur Thapa surprised an enemy observation post ‘and 2 Germans were cut down, the stalwart jemadar himself accounting for one head’. At Poggia Lacesta on 5 August the Battalion’s front was widened to 2500m, but the advance was then halted because it had been decided that 4th Indian Division should deploy back to the Adriatic Front.
Secrecy was the watchword of the forthcoming operation. All 4th Indian divisional insignia was removed and when 1/2GR moved off from Chiuisi to the South West of Lake Trasimento a large rear party stayed behind to simulate continuing occupation of the camp. On 24 August 1/2GR left Sigillo and motored very slowly along the much demolished Flaminian Way to form part of 8th Army’s Western flank, passing through Urbino before reaching Valdozzo and Cavallina which overlooked the Foglia valley.
Picture presented to Major General Holworthy, commanding 4th Indian Division,
by the people of Urbino in 1944. It is now in the Gurkha Museum.
Across the Foglia valley lay the panorama of the Gothic Line battlefield. In due course, 1/2GR was to participate in the gradual advance northwards along the eastern foothills of the Apennines.
On 1 September after consolidating at Santa Barbara, 1/2GR moved on to take Auditore, although a ‘blue on blue’ contact had caused unnecessary casualties at Battalion HQ. The next day pressure was maintained as the Battalion prepared to assault the San Giovanni feature. A bold plan necessitated seizing various well-defended enemy positions but as C Company made its advance to contact ‘it was as if every spandau in Germany opened fire’. After determined fighting Point 581 was eventually taken. The plan had called upon armoured support at first light but this was delayed by bad weather and lack of cover, which enabled the enemy to mount a strong counter attack which was beaten off by a combination of courageous fighting by the Gurkhas, accurate shelling by a medium artillery battery and the eventual arrival of heavy fire from the tanks. Nevertheless the enemy continued to fight back vigorously and continued to shell or mortar any ground lost to the advancing 7th Indian Infantry Brigade which invariably resulted in casualties.
POGGIO SAN GIOVANNI
On 6 September, after a long and arduous climb, 1/2GR fighting patrols had cleared Monte San Giovanni. By now the Battalion front covered 4500m. To the north both 46th and 56th British Divisions were heavily engaged in attempting to breach the Gothic Line. On 10 September 1/2GR was relieved by the Divisional Cavalry Regiment, The Central India Horse. When they continued, the Allied advance not only had the axis been shifted towards the north-west but the weather had broken, with bitterly cold autumnal rains making movement along crumbling roads under constant enemy shell fire particularly dangerous.
On 16 September 1/2GR was tasked to capture Trebbio and Monte Altavelio. Despite a determined enemy counter- attack at Trebbio both positions were taken with 30 enemy killed and many wounded at a cost of only 10 wounded Gurkha Other Ranks. The action, led by Lieutenant Joe Carney, was described by the diarist as being a ‘wild Donnybrook in the dark’.
Included in 1/2GR’s casualty list for this action is a certain ‘Madame Chianti’, the nom de guerre of a farmer’s wife wounded while protecting her wine barrels against Tunisian muleteers!
1st Battalion British Officers after Monte Cassino
1/2GR was later relieved again by The Central India Horse as 4th Indian Division continued to push on towards the north-west and into the State of San Marino. The Battalion rejoined the battle on 21 September in the foothills in the area of Valdragona/Domagnano. On 25 September it moved towards Verucchio before crossing the River Marecchia.
7th Indian Infantry Brigade now moved to occupy the front between 11th Brigade to the south and 46th British Division to the North. The plan was to exploit the breach in the Gothic Line and to continue the advance to the north-west.
On 26 September both Reggiano and Tribbola were heavily shelled as 1/2GR crossed the start line at night. They soon met with substantial enemy forces and the following day it became apparent that the Battalion was somewhat exposed, having selected a start line which was in fact the German front line. Reinforcements were also held up by accurate enemy shelling. D Company was ordered to assault Reggiano and after fierce fighting succeeded in just holding the objective. However the order in response to a D Company request for reinforcements was unfortunately not received so having incurred heavy casualties and with ammunition running low the Company was forced to withdraw. It is to the credit of the enemy that when stretcher parties brought in the dead and wounded the following day they held fire.
The rain fell continuously and despite sending out fighting patrols 1/2GR was unable to improve the situation or exploit any further. However, with the arrival of reinforcements from 46th Division the enemy did eventually pull back as 1/2GR occupied the ridge between Tribbola and Montalbano. The Battalion had endured 8 days continuously in the open – soaked, trenches filled with water and nightly mule and porter trains from Battalion HQ to the forward companies taking as much as eight hours. The diarist described the conditions to being ‘an ordeal almost as severe as that of Cassino’.
On 3 October 1/2GR was withdrawn to Morciano before moving back to Orvieto via Perugia where they learnt that 4th Indian Division had been selected for service in Greece.
GREECE & MACEDONIA
‘For 1000 years Macedonia and Thrace had known little peace. A polyglot population had made feuding its first industry. An unstable economy had fed unrest and during the war years starvation, violence and the Bulgarian influx had accentuated the traditional turbulence.’
The immediate problem in Greece was to do with the Greek communists’ attempt to maintain overall control of the country as the Macedonian Communist Corps (ELAS) made Greece untenable. Following the German withdrawal in October 1944 the communists and royalist Greek guerillas were brought together under British auspices in an uneasy coalition which did not last long and resulted in civil war. A complicating factor had been the German decision to raise local security battalions from those who opposed the communists but the Greeks loathed them more than they hated the German forces of occupation.
4th Indian Division was cast in the unhappy roles of both buffer and umpire between the factions. On 5 November 1944 the Division left Taranto for Skaithos in the Northern Sporades. The docks had been demolished by the Germans so 1/2GR was taken ashore by assorted landing craft and barges.
At a hastily convened conference on 20 November the Divisional Commander attempted without success to find an agreement between the rival factions. The situation only deteriorated further when orders were received to reconstitute a local militia and to disarm ELAS, a force of 8000 well-armed and disciplined men in the area of Salonika. This in effect ended any pretence of co-operation between the communists and the Allied troops.
On 3 December ELAS attacked the Naval HQ in Pireaus. In anticipation of possible unrest in Salonika 7th Indian Infantry Brigade remained alert but deployed behind a defensive perimeter as ELAS controlled all access. However despite rumours of a possible ELAS attack nothing materialised and with news of ELAS setbacks in Athens , the blockade was lifted.
Meanwhile the nascent national government struggled to impose its will on a Greece divided between the communists, who tended to find support in the urban areas, and the royalist sympathizers from the rural population. By February 1945 a truce boundary was established whereby ELAS forces would be disarmed and National Guard units would assume authority. British troops would be held in reserve.
1/2GR had a very large area of responsibility with rifle companies dispersed over more than 150kms from Drama and Xanthe in north-east Macedonia to Polygiros to the south-east of Salonika and to Alexandroupolis close to the Turkish border. Tasks included searching for arms and ammunition but the National Guardsmen who were inclined to be quick on the trigger with communists and over-lenient with royalists had taken over nearly all the duties .
During the latter half of 1945 , while 4th Indian Division in other parts of Northern Greece was forced to deal with political disturbances and factional banditry, 1/2GR’s area was singularly peaceful.
On 27 January 1946 1/2GR embarked on HMT Carthage and arrived at Karachi on 7 February before eventually reaching Dehra Dun on 10 February 1946. The Battalion had lost 322 All Ranks during the Second World War. The diarist wrote: ‘The story of the First Battalion’s four-and-a-half years’ service abroad has been described as a glorious odyssey. Through Iran, Iraq, Cyprus, Palestine, Egypt, Cyrenica, Tripolitania, Tunisia, Italy and Greece , the roads led to battles won and battles lost, to battles planned and never fought, to the extirpation of enemies and the protection of friends, to great rigours and pleasant ease, sustained by unswerving loyalty to their Regiment and by surpassing pride and confidence in themselves, the officers and men of the First Battalion compiled a record of service unsurpassed in the annals of any army.’
Awarded to service personnel for 3 years’ service at home , one year’s service in a non-operational area (e.g. India) or 6 months’ service overseas in territories subjected to air attack or otherwise closely threatened.
Only the 1st Battalion qualified for the award of this medal, on the basis of the following deployments:
• NW Frontier (3 Sep 1939 – 18 Mar 1940)
• India (18 Mar 1940 – 17 Jul 1940)
• Iran, Iraq, Cyprus (26 Jul 1940 – 26 Aug 1942)
• Egypt, Libya, Tunisia (26 Aug 1942 – 8 Jul 1943)
• Palestine, Lebanon (10 Sep 43 – 12 Nov 1943)
• Italy (8 Dec 1943 – 05 Nov 1944)
• Greece (10 Nov 1944 – 8 May 1945)
Awarded to all full-time personnel of the armed forces wherever they were serving, so long as they had served for at least 28 days between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945.
All five Battalions of the 2nd Goorkhas qualified for the award of this medal, as did personnel in the Regimental Centre in India (some of whom served there throughout the war).
Awarded to officers and men of the Indian forces for 3 years’ non operational service in India. In effect, it took the place of the Defence Medal in respect of Indian forces.
The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Battalions of the 2nd Goorkhas qualified for this award, as did personnel serving in the Regimental Centre.
The following decorations were awarded to British Officers , Gurkha Officers and Gurkha Other Ranks for services during the Second World War 1939 -1945:
Victoria Cross 2
Knight Commander of the Indian Empire 1
Knight Commander of the Bath 1
Knight Commander of the British Empire 1
Companion of the Order of the Bath 2
Companion of the Order of the Star of India 2
Commander of the Order of the British Empire 1
Officer of the British Empire 2
Member of the British Empire 11
Distinguished Service Order 8
Bar to the Distinguished Service Order 4
Indian Order of Merit 17
Military Cross 25
Bar to Military Cross 2
Indian Distinguished Service Medal 53
Military Medal 46
Mentioned in Despatches 115
Gallantry Cards 11
Star of Nepal (awarded to Subedar Lalbahadur Thapa VC) 1
Medal of Nepal (awarded to Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung VC) 1
Other Foreign Decorations 4
Awarded to military personnel for service in SE Asia after the Japanese surrender from 3rd September 1945 to 28th January 1946.
Early in 1945 the Japanese had established a puppet regime in French Indochina, but the arrival of British paratroops in late August 1945, followed by the first elements of 20th Indian Division, encouraged the released French officials to stage a coup d’etat which restored the previous colonial regime. This caused the indigenous population to revolt against the French and to declare a general strike.
20th Indian Division had been given the responsiblility for mopping up the Japanese troops and the establishment of law and order south of the 16th Parallel.
On 2 October 1945, 4th Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (4/2GR) left Rangoon together with other units comprising 2300 all ranks. On 10 October they arrived off Saigon to find a particularly volatile and dangerous local situation as the Nationalists had called the population to arms. With so few British troops available the General Officer Commanding (GOC) had to employ Japanese prisoners of war on a wide range of duties as 32nd and 80th Indian Infantry Brigades established defensive positions against the Nationalists, who resented the British presence.
4/2GR embarked on a period of ‘desultory warfare, of patrolling against sniping, grenade throwing etc’ which the Commandant (Commanding Officer) described thus: ‘our day-to-day activities were strenuous but they did not make history.….the country was ideal for guerilla tactics where the Nationalist always had the first shot’.
The employment of the Japanese troops created a curious situation: ‘They seemed to realize that the best way out of a bad situation was to help us. On many occasions we acted as the guns while the Japanese played the role of the beaters. We sometimes suspected them of letting the birds get away, but with their help we rounded up quite a number of rebels’.
As it became known that French troops were due in November 1945, the Nationalists intensified their resistance. Sniping increased and several fierce contacts with ambushes and sweeps resulting in the death of 50 armed rebels and more than 2000 taken into custody.
The arrival of 9th French Division should have released 20th Indian Division for its prescribed duty of disarming and repatriating Japanese troops, but the French General Officer Commanding deployed his troops to Cambodia and other outlying provinces. 4/2GR was therefore obliged to continue with its routine of Internal Security work with continued snipings, bombings, arson, searches and arrests.
On 15 December a major operation was launched against a Nationalist stronghold on Hanh Pu Island, resulting in the death of 30 Nationalists, the capture 400 prisoners and a seizure of armaments and equipment. 4/2GR casualties amounted to one Gurkha Officer wounded, one Gurkha Other Rank killed and three wounded.
On 27 December 1945 4/2GR left Saigon for Jesselton, British North Borneo.
4/2GR embarking in Saigon.
BRITISH NORTH BORNEO (SABAH)
Jesselton Force comprised 4/2GR plus a detachment of the Royal Engineers, a section of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and a Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers workshop. They arrived on 31 December 1945 at Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) with the task of taking care of 12,000 Japanese prisoners of war and 1600 Japanese civilians, including women and children.
Life was described as being an idyllic interlude being ‘so simple with all these docile Japanese to do one’s bidding and with few attempts to escape’. The Japanese were employed as tailors, bootmakers, armourers, carpenters, motor mechanics, barbers and drivers, and Japanese divers caught fresh fish. The only trouble was their high sickness rate due to hardship and under-nourishment with initially 200 deaths per month, but this figure was eventually halved .
The repatriation of the Japanese was finally completed by the middle of April 1946 when 4/2GR moved to the island of Labuan from where the Battalion left on 26 May 1946 for India .
Awarded to military personnel for one day or more of service in Malaya and Singapore against communist guerilla forces from 16th June 1948 to 31st July 1960.
The events of the Second World War had created a new political atmosphere which was to be exploited by communist sympathizers. In the newly formed Federation of Malaya, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) saw an opportunity to replicate what had taken place in China by terrorizing small communities to form a network of ‘liberated areas’ which in turn would create a ‘liberated country’. This would be achieved by way of an armed revolt by the Malayan Races Liberation Army (MLRA). In 1948 this force comprised approximately 4500 mostly Chinese who embarked upon a campaign of murder, terrorism and damage to property. On 18 June 1948 the Government declared a State of Emergency.
A much depleted 1st Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR) arrived in Singapore from India in March 1948. Its first operation of the Emergency took place at Bukit Panjang, Singapore but by October 1948 the Battalion was active in the Segamat area of Johore. From this moment and for almost all the next 10 years the Battalion embarked on a regime of deploying fighting patrols, many of rifle company strength to search for evidence of Communist Terrorists (CTs) such as camps, resting places, food dumps, ammunition caches and cultivation with a view to killing or capturing them. It was a campaign which often relied upon Police intelligence, which was meagre at first.
Some of the patrols produced spectacular results while others, not for lack of trying, were less successful and ‘spent several frustrating months on and off in the jungle and rubber plantations without being able to hit the CTs hard’.
By 1950 the campaign in Malaya hung in the balance but the appointment of Lieutenant General Briggs as Director of Operations resulted in a new strategy of isolating the Communist Terrorists (CTs) from the local population who supported them. This entailed not only the resettlement of approximately 500,000 Chinese but also the denial of food supplies to the CTs, sapping their morale and forcing them to live in the jungle.
During every year of the coming decade 1/2GR was to be deployed on almost continuous operations in the southern Malay State of Johore, from Segamat in the North West to Kota Tinggi in the East and Penggerang in the south east.
An example of a 1st Battalion action which was extremely successful took place in January 1950 in the Segamat area. On the basis of Police Special Branch intelligence B Company under Major Peter Richardson was tasked to search for the camp near Labis of the notorious and ruthless No 7 Company MLRA. On 22nd January 1950, moving through an overgrown rubber plantation beside a swamp, B Company came across the CT camp and after a fierce fire fight a total of 35 CTs were killed – the highest number achieved in a single action for the entire Emergency.
1/2GR may have been fortunate in having from 1950 its new home, Slim Barracks, over the causeway in Singapore, but it was not until 1958 after almost a decade of continuous jungle warfare that the battalion left the Malay peninsula for Hong Kong.
The 2nd Battalion (2/2GR) arrived in Singapore from India in March 1948, also much reduced in numbers. It then travelled by train to Ipoh in the State of Perak. By coincidence their new camp was where many had previously been held as prisoners of war by the Japanese.
Even before the State of Emergency had officially been declared 2/2GR was engaged on operations in the Grik area of Perak against ‘bandits’, as widespread Communist unrest was beginning to break out throughout the Malay Peninsula.
2/2GR made an impressive start to the campaign in July 1948 with an attack on a CT camp South of Ipoh resulting in death of seven CTs. Shortly afterwards Detachments sent from the Battalion to join the newly-formed Ferret Force also had a successful time (Ferret Force consisted of Gurkha, British and Malay troops commanded by officers with previous experience of operational jungle warfare in Burma or Malaya with Force 136 during the Second World War).
Just as the 1st Battalion was experiencing a hard life in the State of Johore, 2/2GR also had a similarly demanding time fighting the elusive CT in the jungles of the State of Perak, with operations extending to the North at Sungei Siput and to the South at Tanjong Malim and Slim River as well as amongst the Western foothills of the Cameron Highlands which lay East of the road and railway running from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.
An example of a successful 2nd Battalion action was one which took place at Sungei Siput in August 1953 following a CT ambush of a Police patrol. After searching in primary jungle for more than 10 hours, a platoon commanded by a Corporal discovered evidence of the CTs. This information led to a well coordinated pursuit by D Company (Major Nick Neill) and the eventual discovery of the CT’s camp site. In the ensuing attack six CTs were killed with weapons, ammuntion and packs seized.
The 2nd Battalion’s time in Malaya was divided by a tour of duty in Hong Kong from 1953–1955.
The Malayan Emergency ended officially on 31 July 1960. It had not only been the longest campaign in which the Regiment had ever fought but it had also been totally successful. In no other country in the South East Asia were the communists completely defeated.
Total casualties in the Regiment during the Emergency were: killed in Action 53, killed on Active Service 22 and countless wounded.
Awarded to those troops present in the theatre of operations for one day or more between 8-23 December 1962.
The Brunei Revolt began on 8 December 1962 when the insurgents, a militia group known as the National Army of North Kalimantan (TNKU – Tentera Nasional Kalimantan Utara), launched attacks to capture The Sultan and all the police stations and oil fields across Brunei and East Sarawak.
The TNKU was an anti-colonialist group supported by Indonesia whose aim was the establishment of a new state consisting of Brunei, North Borneo and Sarawak which would be independent of Malaysia.
The rebels had limited initial success in Brunei Town but succeeded in seizing the towns of Tutong, Bangar and Kuala Belait plus the strategically important town of Seria with its oilfield, as well as Limbang in Sarawak.
As Brunei was a British Protectorate the acting High Commissioner sought urgent assistance from HQ Far East Command. However the military in Singapore were ill-prepared for an immediate operational deployment. The standby major infantry unit was 1st Battalion The Queen’s Own Highlanders, but it was under strength with troops deployed on anti-piracy duties in North Borneo. The task was therefore given to the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR) who did not even possess a copy of the relevant operation orders. The situation may have been serious but the lack of preparation bordered on the farcical: it was a Saturday and the HQ FARELF map storeman had gone to the beach and the transport to take the first wave of 261 officers and men to RAF Changi and RAF Selatar only became available after school children had been brought home for lunch!
The 1st Battalion emplanes in Singapore for Brunei
1/2GR was fortunate that TNKU had failed to carry out several important tasks such as capturing the Sultan or securing the airfield at Brunei Town. As a result the RAF was able to land the bulk of the first wave under Major Tony Lloyd-Williams, flying in 3 Beverley aircraft, at the airfield outside Brunei Town while larger aircraft flew on to the neighbouring island of Labuan.
Nevertheless by 2300 on 8th December 1962, only 21 hours after the outbreak of the revolt, the ‘Initial Force’ was deployed in Brunei Town – which considering that in Singapore neither the Army or RAF units had been at any stage of readiness was a considerable achievement.
However , the immediate task facing ‘Intial Force ‘ was particularly daunting, given that it had suddenly arrived at night in an unfamiliar south-east Asian town without even the benefit of maps or local knowledge. Matters were further complicated by rumours of the approach of a large rebel force, as the ‘Initial Force’ received its demanding orders from the Commissioner of the Brunei Police to secure Brunei Town, recapture the Seria oilfield, relieve the Panaga and Kuala Belait police stations and to guard the Sultan .
‘Initial Force’ established its HQ in the Main Police Station and began to consolidate its position in Brunei Town when information was received that the rebels had seized European hostages in Panaga. C Company was immediately ordered to move in commandeered PWD trucks to Seria and Kuala Belait but en route it met with rebel opposition at Tutong where in the ensuing firefight seven Gurkhas were wounded while seven rebels were killed, 20 wounded and 108 taken prisoner. Following this aggressive action C Company was subsequently ordered to return to Brunei Town.
Meanwhile, the situation in Brunei Town during the early hours of 9 December 1962 remained confused with a detachment from HQ Company together with D Company (which had approached the town from the airfield) both involved in firefights with the rebels. However, by first light D Company had successfully cleared the rebel positions where it was discovered that at least 24 rebels had been killed.
Over the next few days ‘Initial Force’ was reinforced by the remainder of the Battalion and HQ 99 Gurkha Infantry Brigade assumed overall command of the situation. With Brunei Town secure the Security Forces turned their attention to other areas of the State. B Company assisted the 1st Battalion The Queen’s Own Highlanders to regain control of Seria, Panaga and Kuala Belait and elements of A Company assisted Harrisson’s Force in denying possible jungle escape routes to Sarawak and Indonesia. The final action took place on 13/14 December 1962 when a force of rebels tried to infiltrate into Tutong but were successfully ambushed by C and D Companies resulting in 26 rebels being killed .
1/2GR remained in Brunei until early February 1963 on mopping-up duties which given the jungle terrain and the worst flooding in living memory proved to be very strenuous. Major Bob Watterton was awarded The Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal for saving many lives on the flooded Limbang river.
During its tour in Brunei 1/2GR accounted for 65 x rebels killed and 783 captured and surrendered. Gurkha casualties amounted to one British Officer killed, three Gurkha Officers wounded, one Gurkha Other Rank killed and 14 wounded.
Awarded to Service personnel who served for at least 30 days between 24th December 1962 and 11th August 1966 in the Indonesian – Malaysian Confrontation.
The Borneo Confrontation was a violent conflict that originated from Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia, and in particular the inclusion of the previous British protectorates of Sarawak and Sabah, then known as British North Borneo, on the island of Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia). The terrain was particularly challenging being mainly a vast expanse of jungle and mountains covered by tropical rain forests broken up by a myriad of rivers, streams and swamps. An important precursor to the campaign had been the Brunei Revolt in December 1962.
The campaign in Borneo was in effect an undeclared war initiated by Indonesia, which had embarked upon a campaign of armed infiltration from Indonesian Kalimantan across itsborder, which formed a natural watershed, into Sabah and Sarawak, with the aim of halting the creation of the proposed State of Malaysia. This was to be achieved by developing a network of guerrilla cells throughout British Borneo which in time might create ‘liberated areas’.
A Belvedere helicopter at a 2nd Goorkha location in Borneo
Initially Indonesia relied upon local volunteers or Independent Border Terrorists (IBTs) but later the enemy’s infiltration forces along the border were reinforced by regular troops. The British response was significant, with the deployment of a regular roulement of both regionally-based troops as well as those from the UK based Army Strategic Command and major commitments from Australian, Malaysian and New Zealand forces. At its height there were approximately 17,000 servicemen in Borneo with another 10,000 immediately available elsewhere in South East Asia and Hong Kong.
By September 1963 military responsibilities in East Malysia were divided between three brigades: West, in the Third Division of Sarawak; Central in the Second Division and East in the First Division. In 1964 the British commenced covert operations across the border into Indonesian Kalimantan under the code name Operation CLARET. The main challenges facing any incursion into Kalimantan, other than the need for secrecy, was the ability to get back over the border without being cut off by the enemy as well as the possible handicap of having to carry casualties.
Major General Walter Walker, the Director of Operations, who had commanded battalions of the 8th and 6th Gurkha Rifles, had an overall plan for company and platoon bases to be held by the least number of soldiers required to defend them. The remaining troops had to aggressively patrol and ambush by day in order to dominate the area and to ambush near their bases at night. As a result the enemy never knew where to attack or which areas to avoid.
Both the First and Second Battalions of the 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR and 2/2GR) carried out successful operational tours during the Borneo Confrontation campaign.
West Brigade (3 Commando Brigade), August 1963 –February 1964
1/2GR arrived in the Third Division of Sarawak in August 1963. The Battalion was spread far and wide amongst the largest of Sarawak’s administrative divisions with almost 500 km separating Battalion HQ in Sibu to the farthest outpost.
No sooner was the battalion in position than C Company under Major John Mole had a successful contact near Song. A few weeks later the events which took place at Long Jawi proved to be another fine example of those qualities of leadership and courage long associated with the 2nd Goorkhas. The Border Scout post at Long Jawi was manned by 21 scouts who had been reinforced by two policemen and seven Gurkhas commanded by Lance Corporal Tejbahadur Gurung.
A new defensive position had just been constructed away from the village longhouse when on 28 September 1963 the Indonesians attacked the border post and killed both a Gurkha and a policeman, wounded another soldier and policeman as well either wounding or capturing most of the Border Scouts. With the wounded policemen and a Border Scout, plus five Gurkhas including himself, Lance Corporal Tejbahadur deployed this small group to defend as best their position against an enemy force estimated to be 100 strong. After a firefight lasting three hours and with ammunition about to run out and two men already wounded, the group managed to carry out a difficult withdrawal just before the Indonesians mounted a counter attack on the abandoned position. Despite being hindered by the two casualties, who had to be left behind hidden in the jungle, after a four-day march the exhausted survivors eventually reached Belaga and delivered their report.
Tejbahadur Gurung MM, taken in 1969 by which time he had been promoted to Lieutenant.
The reaction by 1/2GR was immediate and with the use of both RN and RAF helicopters, a reinforced C Company was inserted into the jungle around Long Jawi in order establish river ambushes and prevent the Indonesian troops from crossing the border back into Kalimantan. These proved to be extremely successful with one accounting for at least 26 enemy. For the next month or so, the Battalion maintained a presence in the area in its pursuit of the enemy. Lance Corporal Tejbahadur was awarded the Military Medal.
The main lesson which was learnt from Long Jawi from the British and Malaysian point of view was that it changed the concept of Confrontation from being defensive into one of controlled aggression.
Central Brigade (51 Infantry Brigade), July 1964 – January 1965
1/2GR left the Third Division in February 1964 for Singapore and then Hong Kong but was soon back on operations in Borneo and responsible for another vast area which covered part of the Fifth Division of Sarawak, southern Sabah and Brunei .
During this tour there were three notable actions. The first took place between 5th and 9th September 1964 when A Company under Major Digby Willoughby was tasked with destroying the enemy camp in Nantakor, located across the border in Kalimantan. With the help of local tribesmen, A Company undertook a very demanding approach march up the steep mountain slopes and in heavy rain and low cloud to the Assembly Area west of the enemy position. The plan depended upon both silence and sufficient time to get into position but because the Gurkhas’ approach was compromised they had to assault the objective immediately despite the dense foliage and heavy fire from an enemy machine gun. This was eventually silenced before the Indonesians launched their counter attack only for it to be repulsed, and after about an hour the enemy withdrew and their camp was captured. As a result of the Gurkhas’ courage, help from local tribesmen and surprise, the operation was a success and the enemy position was never again occupied.
Operation with Wessex helicopters in Borneo
The second action took place on 30th December 1964 on the border ridge to the South of Ba Kelalan when the rear of an ambush position laid by a platoon from C Company (Captain Bruce Jackman) was discovered by an enemy Commando company which quickly surrounded the Gurkhas. In the ensuing hours, without the benefit of either artillery or mortar support, the platoon was forced to conserve ammunition as their increasingly tenuous position was held against a much larger force. The platoon clearly needed to be reinforced as soon as possible but no helicopters were immediately available. A relief force comprising another platoon was sent but it faced at least a five-hour march. Eventually helicopters did become available and were immediately tasked to lift the relief force to the ambush position. Shortly afterwards to everyone’s surprise a lone RAF Javelin aircraft appeared to give support. As the ambush position was too close to the border it could only sweep low over the position but by switching on its afterburners convinced the Indonesians that the ensuing noise were bombs. The bluff worked!
The third action again involved C Company who had been given permission to destroy the Indonesian camp at Long Medan. This was a classic Operation Claret task, with approval to attack a particular military objective in Kalimantan but with two limitations: first, any subsequent exploitation was strictly forbidden and second, the actual attack was to last no more than one hour to prevent any possible cut off by Indonesian troops. On 30 January 1965 and after a particularly strenuous approach march, a force comprising the reinforced rifle company crossed the border and by first light had reached the enemy camp. In the ensuing firefight the objective was successfully cleared but C Company was fortunate that the enemy had left only a section (about 10 men) to defend the fortified camp. However, the enemy reacted quickly and the Gurkhas were soon under attack from a variety of heavy weapons such as a 12.7mm anti-aircraft gun, 60mm mortars and two medium machine guns. As the observation post was in low cloud there could be no artillery support but C Company, by concentrating its machine guns, managed to take out both the anti-aircraft gun and machine guns and gradually gained the initiative. Sadly one Gurkha was killed but the company counted eight dead enemy on the position and subsequent reports stated as many 32 Indonesians had been killed.
Central Brigade (51 Infantry Brigade), July 1965 – January 1966
On completion of its second tour in January 1965, 1/2GR left Borneo and returned to Hong Kong from where in July 1965 it returned to its previous area of operations.
The Battalion’s return to a familiar area coincided with intelligence reports of enemy replacements and reinforcements. During this tour there were 2 notable actions. The first took place from 4–15th August when A Company (Captain Peter Duffell ) and the Reconnaissance Platoon (Lieutenant Bill Smart) were tasked to destroy an enemy camp located on the swampy banks of Sungei Agisan across the border in Kalimantan that was hemmed in by a series of 1200m high ridges. The company was divided into assault and support groups with the Reconnaissance Platoon tasked to lay an ambush as a cut off about 1800m South of the enemy camp. All groups were lifted in by helicopter before embarking upon a strenous and stealthy four-day approach march. On the morning of 9th August, and with the benefit of complete surprise, A Company attacked the unsuspecting enemy and captured the camp. A counter-attack was swiftly dealt with and by 1000hrs the Company began the long march back to meet the helicopters at the landing point. Meanwhile, the Reconnaissance Platoon’s ambush proved successful and accounted for nine enemy withdrawing from their abandoned camp. It was estimated that out of a garrison of 60 only 21 survived.
The other notable action occurred when in September 1965 , D Company (Captain Lalbahadur Pun) took advantage of a softening of the rules governing Operation Claret operations to put out a strong reconnaissance patrol in the Labang area of Kalimantan. Their interest was based on intelligence reports of an enemy camp which was to be relieved by an Indonesian army parachute unit. At midday 25th September D Company reached the Sungei Sembakung, a main artery for Indonesian troops resupplying their border positions from the East coast of Kalimantan. The Gurkhas were fortunate to observe a group of 25 paratroopers disappearing into the jungle as another group emerged to be taken down stream. The relief was evidently in progress. A frustrating search later that day failed to locate the enemy camp but early on the morning of 26th September the company scouts discovered about 50 Indonesian soldiers living in new large longhouse. The initial plan of attack involved the deployment of a platoon to act as as a cut off but the sheer rock cliffs made this impossible. Consequently, with their machine guns concentrated to provide heavy covering fire, D Company mounted a bold frontal assault against the longhouse which took the enemy by complete surprise. The resultant search found 13 dead enemy and numerous blood trails indicating many others had been wounded.
1/2GR continued to patrol aggressively against the enemy for the rest of the tour while at the same time a hearts and minds campaign was introduced in order to help the local population, in particular the Murut tribe.
In January 1966 1/2GR left Borneo for Hong Kong at the end of what was to be its final operational tour .
West Brigade (3 Commando Brigade), April 1964 – January 1965
The 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (2/2GR) had been stationed in Hong Kong since the start of Confrontation and had to wait until April 1964 before being eventually deployed to the Second Division of Sarawak.
The area of operations was the ground stretching along the coastal plain covered with scrub and lalang between Kuching and Simanggang, before it rose to the primary jungle dominated by the Kling Kang mountain range, beyond which lay the border with Kalimantan.
21153247 Rifleman Premsing Thapa of C Company of the 1st Battalion on patrol in Sarawak, 1965
During an eventful tour , one of the first actions took place on 14 June 1964 when intelligence suggested that Indonesian soldiers might cross the border and enter Sarawak to attend a cock fight. The Assault Pioneer Platoon (under Lieutenant Nandaraj Gurung from E Company) was tasked to ambush the enemy. After a long eight-hour approach march and a detailed close recce, the Gurkhas were eventually in position by 1700hrs. However, at approximately 1800 hrs and in heavy rain it was not a few enemy in civilian clothes who had entered the killing zone but rather a force of 100 fully-armed Indonesian soldiers – obviously a raiding party. The Assault Pioneer Platoon’s ambush achieved complete surprise but in the ensuing firefight and with the light fading the Indonesians, supported by a 51mm mortar, mounted a determined counter attack. Lieutenant Nandaraj called down harassing artillery fire on the enemy as they were forced to withdraw back to the border. The Assault Pioneers remained in their fire positions until the rest of E Company arrived early next morning. Captain Bullock and the Recce Platoon cleared the ambush area. E Company then searched the area and discovered nine bodies, and it was later confirmed that 13 Indonesians had been killed in this operation.
Meanwhile at a time when approval for Operation Claret operations had not yet been sanctioned, 2/2GR continued its strategy of relentless patrolling and ambushing by day and night which resulted in seizing the initiative from the enemy in the border areas.
Other notable actions occurred in late August 1964 involving C Company but in early October 1964 the first evidence of a change of policy became apparent when permission was given to B Company (Major Mike Joy) to open fire on an enemy camp located just over the border in Kalimantan by using the battalion’s old Vickers Medium Machine Gun – believed to have been the last occasion it was used offensively in its long and distinguished service with the British Army.
Meanwhile C Company (Major Jon Aslett) continued to have an eventful tour when in late October 1964 the company crossed the border from Batu Lintang into Kalimantan and carried out a successful ambush along the main track between Langgau and Sungei Antu which resulted in the enemy having at least six killed and four wounded.
The other rifle companies were also enjoying success against the enemy and November 1964 was a particularly busy month for the Battaliopn with successful contacts for E Coy (Major Johnny Lawes), A Company (Major len Lauderdale) and again for C Company. This level of activity was maintained throughout December, which put pressure on the enemy with A, D and E Companies all making contact with the enemy with either ambushes or fighting patrols.
In January 1965 2/2GR’s first tour in Borneo came to an end.
West Brigade ( 3 Commando Bde ), June 1965 – November 1965
2/2GR returned to Borneo in June 1965 and deployed in the First Division, Sarawak.
The main area of operations was flat, intersected by large meandering rivers amongst a thick matting of primary and secondary jungle which when it rained was turned into a swamp of uncertain depth, making patrolling physically difficult and unpleasant. The Indonesians tried to take advantage of the border, but 2/2GR took the battle into Kalimantan with many daring and successful patrols and ambushes.
This particular tour was associated with a number of meticulously planned and well executed ambushes against the Indonesian troops who frequently used boats along the many rivers found in the First Division.
In August 1965 three of the rifle companies (A Company (Major Len Lauderdale), C Company (Captain Geoffrey Ashley) and Support Company (Captain Christopher Bullock) all participated in a series of successful river ambushes. While it is invidious to recount one particular action from this tour, Support Company’s river ambush has to be acknowledged as a remarkable example of an operation deep in enemy held territory where indomitable leadership, courage and military skills were displayed not only by the 2nd Goorkhas, but also by personnel from the Special Air Service Regiment, the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Army.
Boat operations in Borneo
The SAS had discovered the enemy was using the Sungei Sentimo for moving troops and supplies. Support Company was ordered to ambush the river about 7500m south of the border with Sarawak. A firm base with trenches and other defences, commanded by the Company 2IC with the SAS patrol leader and 25 Gurkhas, was established approximately 1km to the North of the ambush site. The killing zone alongside the river was the responsibility of a strengthened Anti-Tank Platoon with the Reconnaissance Platoon positioned on the right and the Assault Pioneer Platoon on the left. Immediately behind the ambush site was a checkpoint and a further 200m behind that was a strong point or company rendezvous located about 800m from the firm base.
On 2 September 1965 two enemy boats silently appeared in the killing zone, but because they were using punt poles rather than outboard engines their silent approach had not alerted the sentries and the opportunity to ambush them was lost. However, the next day an enemy foot patrol unexpectedly walked straight into the Reconnaissance Platoon’s area. Despite losing several men the Indonesians mounted a determined counter-attack against the Reconnaissance Platoon and checkpoint. The other two platoons managed to withdraw under fire from both mortars and grenades fired from the other side of the river and reach the rendezvous which was then held by the Assault Pioneer Platoon while the rest of the company made its way back to the Firm Base.
In the confusion men had gone missing including the Forward Observation Officer (FOO), which explained why there had been no response to the enemy mortars from the artillery. The SAS patrol leader quickly worked out an artillery fire plan to cover Support Company’s withdrawal to the gun position some 9000m away across the border, where they were to meet both a lost signaller and the FOO who had each made their way back alone. However, the wounded Company Sergeant Major (CSM) was still missing. The FOO had dragged him as far as he could, but faced with having to cross a river was forced to leave him behind. D Company under Major Piers Erskine-Tulloch with key members of the Support Company group was then tasked to go back over the border to find him. Masterly tracking in very difficult conditions by two Gurkhas led to him being discovered, dangerously sick but alive. He was recovered by helicopter from a small winching site cut in the jungle – a remarkable operation, at dusk and over enemy territory, that highlighted the skill and dedication of those involved.
Meanwhile the Battalion continued to apply relentless pressure on the enemy. In early November 1965 a large force comprising B and D Companies ambushed the Sungei Kumba resulting in a large launch carrying at least 16 Indonesian soldiers being sunk with no survivors. Shortly afterwards another double company force of C and Support Companies was tasked to ambush the Sungei Separan. The two companies crossed the border at two separate entry points. C Company were shadowed by an Indonesian patrol and had to turn back so Support Company carried out the operation on their own. It resulted in at least 11 enemy being killed.
2/2GR’s final contacts occurred on 30 November 1965 when A Company ambushed the Sungei Kumba and seven enemy were killed, and on the same day D Company ambushed the Sungei Poeteh and with close support from artillery it was estimated that at least 24 enemy had been killed and another 30 wounded. The Battalion’s tour of operations had ended on a high note.
Midwest Bde ( 99 Gurkha Inf Bde ) April 1966 – September 1966
2/2GR returned to Borneo in April 1966 and was deployed to the Third Division of Sarawak.
In recognition that the enemy was now no longer in much evidence, the Battalion had been allocated an enormous area of operations. At the same time ever increasing operational restrictions were placed upon the Security Forces as Confrontation drew to its close. Although widespread patrolling continued throughout the tour, it was a frustrating time because there were no contacts with the enemy. On 12th September 1966 2/2GR became non-operational and returned to Slim Barracks in Singapore.
During the campaign the Regiment won 10 Military Crosses, one Distinguished Conduct Medal and 10 Military Medals, a total of 21 and the highest tally of any Regiment that took part in the campaign (the next highest was the 10th PMO Gurkha Rifles with 10 Military Crosses, 2 Distinguished Conduct Medals and 6 Military Medals, total 18).
Awarded to personnel who had 30 days service in the Malay Peninsula – Singapore area between 17 August 1964 and 12 June 1965.
By 22nd January 1965 2/2GR had returned to Singapore from its first tour in Borneo for a period of rest and retraining which coincided with the period of entitlement to this medal. It was intended to cover the operations against Indonesian parachutists and others who had landed in Johore, but very few troops took part in them and the medal was awarded to far more who did not. This included the 2nd Battalion together with officers and men of either battalion while on extra regimental or staff employment in Singapore or the Malay peninsula and all the Regiment’s recruits training at Sungei Patani.
The medals described above highlight a remarkable history. From its raising in 1815 the Sirmoor Battalion in all its guises loyally served the British Crown in major conflicts for 179 years. Its loyalty and bravery was proved early on by the remarkable series of actions on the Ridge at Delhi in 1857 which not only secured its own reputation but that of all Gurkha regiments. Extensive wars on and beyond the frontiers of India continued unabated until the Regiment left India in 1948, but the contribution made by the 2nd Goorkhas in many other theatres during the First and Second World Wars was especially significant, further cementing the reputation of Gurkhas in the eyes of the world and securing the affections of the British people.
Of course the medals do not tell the whole story. Between the many campaigns they represent there were long periods of garrison duties or training. Indeed, for the last 28 years of its existence the Regiment did not deploy in a fully operational role although it undertook lower-intensity operations such as handling the mass influx of Chinese and Vietnamese illegal immigrants into Hong Kong in the late 1970s and guarding the frontiers of Belize and the Falkland Islands in the 1980s, strenuous and demanding tasks for which no medals were awarded. In these as in the ‘shooting wars’ described above, the Regiment carried out its duties in an exemplary fashion. These professional high standards have been carried forward into The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who have frequently been deployed operationally, with great success, since the merger of the four antecedent Gurkha infantry regiments took place in 1994. Ironically these deployments have included several tours in Afghanistan, an old battlefield well-known to the 2nd Goorkhas – and so history comes full circle and the proud traditions of the Sirmoor Rifles are carried forward to another generation.