Retired Gurkha in his village

Retired Gurkha in his village
©Gurkha Museum

During the 18 years of more-or-less continuous warfare in Malaya and Borneo between 1948 and 1966, the Brigade of Gurkhas lost 13 British officers and nearly 200 Gurkhas, all in killed in action, and a further 10 British officers and 382 Gurkhas were wounded. Yet its future was far from secure. Huge cuts meant that many Gurkhas were made redundant

There were two reasons for this: the British government was withdrawing from North Africa and the British army was being reduced in the strength. By the beginning of the 1970s the last British troops had left Malaysia and Singapore (the Depot Brigade of Gurkhas had already been transferred to Hong Kong after nearly two decades at Sungei Patani in northern Malaya) and in 1973 the closure of the Gurkha transit camp at Barrackpore removed the final British army toehold in India.

The only Far Eastern Gurkha postings that remained were Hong Kong and Brunei, but this was also the time when Gurkha battalions first came to Britain, on a rotating basis, for regular tours of duty. Senior British officers tried to negotiate generous redundancy terms for Gurkhas with the Treasury, but a sum of £300 in place of a pension for those with less than ten years’ service was, in a time of growing inflation, a pitiful and, some would say, shameful reward.

Brigadier Christopher Bullock, who as a captain in 2/2 GR won a MC in Borneo, recalled:

Many of our splendid soldiers had soon to leave as the Brigade of Gurkhas was cut by half once Confrontation had ended. When I returned as Adjutant to the Battalion after leave it was my distasteful duty to send many fine men away on enforced redundancy after all we had been through together. However much I explained, they never really understood why I, of all people, should do this to them. Sometimes after long exhausting sessions with them I returned to my room in the Mess totally disillusioned with the system which, in its unseemly haste to dispense with those that had helped us win the Confrontation, affronted human dignity to such an extent.’

Brigadier Christopher Bullock, 2nd/2nd Gurkha Rifles

By the end of 1971, when the rundown had finished, Lt-Colonel John Cross wrote ‘units had lost over 70 per cent of those who were serving when the process started.’ It was the biggest upheaval in the Brigade of Gurkhas since its inception in the dark days of 1947-48.

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