Soldiers of 2nd Gurkha rifles manning a machine gun post

2nd Gurkha Rifles Vickers Machine Gun Team in Borneo
©Gurkha Museum

In 1962 a small revolt in Brunei escalated into a major conflict along a thousand miles of border between Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo (Sabah) on one side, and Indonesian Borneo, or Kalimantan, on the other. When Major-General Walter Walker was appointed Commander British Forces Borneo, it was inevitable that Gurkhas would play a large role in the fighting.

General Walker had commanded the 4/8th Gurkha Rifles in Burma during World War II and he was a passionate supporter of the Gurkhas. His enthusiasm could land him in trouble as when, without consulting London, he told the then King Mahendra of Nepal that the British government was planning a reduction in the strength of the Brigade of Gurkhas – news that alarmed the King, who had to be calmed by Field Marshal Viscount Slim, a more diplomatic commander with equally strong Gurkha credentials.

Nevertheless, General Walker was a very good battle commander and by the time he handed over command in 1965, the outcome of 'Confrontation' was not in much doubt. Borneo could well have turned into another Vietnam but for the quality of the military leadership and the jungle skills of the troops. Gurkhas did much of the fighting: there was not a day throughout Confrontation when at least one Gurkha battalion was not involved.

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