Sgt Bharnabahadur Rai 1st Battalion 10th Gurkha Rifles in the Malayan Jungle

Sgt Bharnabahadur Rai 1st Battalion 10th Gurkha Rifles in the Malayan Jungle ©Gurkha Museum

The new 'Gurkha Regiment' got off to a difficult start. So many soldiers had opted to stay in India that the first priority was boosting numbers through another recruiting drive, but the Second World War had severely depleted the hills of East and Western Nepal of men and finding new recruits was not easy.

The lack of suitable barracks in Malaya also meant that the men initially had to live rough in tented camps. Then, just as they were getting accustomed to the Malayan environment, the Gurkhas were plunged into yet another war, as the leader of the Malayan Communist Party, Chin Peng (who had been awarded the OBE by the British for his part in the wartime resistance to the Japanese), and his supporters turned the arms and ammunition provided by British agents on their one-time allies.

So the Gurkhas were at war again - except this time it was decided that - ‘war’ being bad for trade - another, less alarming word was needed. So the conflict was dubbed the 'Malayan Emergency'. Whatever term used, it was still a war: people killed and were killed and innocents on all sides suffered.

Early Days

Lt-Colonel John Cross, who had transferred as a captain from 1/1 GR (one of the regiments that went to India) to 1/7 GR, recalls ‘thrashing around’ in the jungle in the early days:

I remember how ill-equipped we were: we carried our water in bamboo containers; we were ordered to shoot rubber-estate dogs to prevent them from barking a warning of our presence; we had neither canvas jungle boots nor waterproof capes, so we slept on and under leaves; our ‘wireless sets’ were so heavy we had to carry them on stretchers; and on one occasion the police ordered me out on a job to contact guerrillas, then wanted me arraigned for murder when we killed one.

Lt-Colonel John Cross, 1st battalion 7th Gurkha Rifles

Despite some false starts, including an unsuccessful attempt to convert an infantry regiment, 7th Gurkha Rifles, into an artillery regiment, the Gurkhas once again demonstrated their ability to rise above unsatisfactory conditions and prove their worth.

As they had done in other wars, they soon adapted to the challenges of the Malayan jungle and, under the leadership of Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, they played a critical role in subduing and eventually defeating the predominantly Chinese and Communist Malayan Races Liberation Army. So, in 1957, Malaya achieved its independence without the benefit of Communism, although the conflict in the jungles continued until 1960.

Timeline Menu