New Gurkha book

Gurkha soldiers in the battle of Gallipoli. they were the first to arrive and the last to leave, and suffered at least 1,000 dead and 4,000 wounded. A part of the battlefield in Turkey is still called Gurkha Bluff. PHOTO: IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM

There have been many books written about the Gurkhas, their first recruitment during the Anglo-Nepal Wars in 1815, their history in defence of the British Empire, about the Afghan campaign, on Flanders Field and Gallipoli in World War I, and Malaysia, the Burma front and in Monte Cassino in World War II. More than 50,000 Nepali soldiers were killed in the two world wars defending the British Empire.

There is a new account of the Nepali soldiers in the British Army, and this is an inside story by one the seniormost and most experienced officers. Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown by General Sir Peter Duffell is a tribute to the 200 years of brave and loyal service to the Crown – the British crown, not the Nepali one. Well, Nepal is not a monarchy anymore, and because after 1816 Nepali soldiers did not really have to spill their blood to defend their homeland till the Maoist conflict in 1996-2006.

Duffell (pictured right) combines the broader history of Gurkhas in the British Army with his own personal experience commanding the Nepalis in the ranks. We know the history well, the expansionist Gurkha empire was on a collision course with the Honourable East India Company and full scale war broke out in 1814. (Just how ‘honourable’ The Company was we can find out in William Dalrymple’s latest book The Anarchy:  The Relentless Rise of the East India Company. But that is another review.)

British officers and their Indian sepoys encounter Nepal’s first line of defence: the malaria mosquito and then have to contend with the ‘martial spirit of an indomitable foe’. Impressed by their courage and discipline, the British start recruiting the soldiers they were fighting even before the end of the war: forcing Nepalis to fight Nepalis defending their forts in Garhwal and Kumaon.

The book that is being released this month is compellingly written with illustration by Ken Howard, and follows ‘the light-hearted and gallant soldiers’ in battles of Empire: from the North-West Frontier through two World Wars to the Falklands. Ironically, after fighting alongside the British in Helmand Province in 1847, the Nepalis are back in Helmand as part of NATO forces where they have won more than 100 medals for gallantry but at the cost of many lives.

General Duffell has seen the Gurkhas in action up close and personal, and vividly recounts some of his own experiences with the soldiers from Nepal – having commanded them at every level from Subaltern to General in the battlefield and in peacetime since 1960. Peter Duffell was awarded the Military Cross after leading the Gurkhas under his command in jungle guerrilla warfare in Borneo in 1960. He served as General Commanding British Forces in Hong Kong between 1989 and 1992, in charge of the Gurkha brigade there just before the handover.

Fluent in Nepali, he has got to understand the soldiers under his command well, which gives the book added authenticity.

Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown

Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2019

304 pages      £25 hardback

ISBN: 9781526730572

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