Earthquake in Nepal casts pall over Gurkha 200th anniversary

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London | Updated: May 04, 2015 12:29 PM

Nepalese soldiers in the British army - the Gurkhas - marked the 200th anniversary of their brigade's foundation today.

earthquake in NepalNepalese soldiers in the British army – the Gurkhas – marked the 200th anniversary of their brigade’s foundation today. (Reuters)

Nepalese soldiers in the British army – the Gurkhas – marked the 200th anniversary of their brigade’s foundation today in an event marred by the devastating earthquake in their homeland.

As dozens of British survivors from the quake returned home to their loved ones in emotional scenes at London’s Stansted Airport, some 200 Gurkhas marched in the city centre and prayed for Nepal.

“To see all these heart-wrenching pictures, I am just praying,” said Captain Gary Ghale, 60, formerly of the 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles.

“I’m praying… that help reaches people in time and there is proper sanitisation because the aftermath can kill more people than the earthquake itself.”

A military transport carrying 18 Gurkha soldiers flew out on Monday to assist relief efforts after the disaster, which killed more than 5,500 people.

Britain announced today it was to send three Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters as part of the aid effort.

Gurkha major Dev Gurung stressed that the anniversary commemorations “must go on” to “remember those who have lost lives over 200 years of service and those who recently lost their lives in the natural disaster.”

James Robertson, commanding officer of the Brigade of Gurkhas, told AFP that the quake made the commemorations “additionally poignant”.

Accompanied by a band, the soldiers marched past Buckingham Palace to the Gurkha Memorial Statue on Whitehall, which carries the inscription “bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you”.

At the centre of proceedings was the Queen’s Truncheon, the ceremonial staff and symbol of loyalty that was awarded to the Gurkhas by Queen Victoria.

Soldiers laid a wreath at the foot of the memorial before the unveiling of two new bronze plates.

Since first serving as part of the army in British-run India in 1815, they have built a reputation for ferocity, loyalty and razor-sharp kukri fighting knives and 26 of their members have been awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military award for bravery.

Local recruiters known as gullah wallahs tour hillside villages in Nepal every autumn in search of suitable young men for the regiments.

Around 6,000 men apply each year with 200-300 recruits being selected. There are currently around 2,700 Gurkhas enlisted, making up about three percent of the British Army.

Gurkha veterans have been involved in a long campaign to demand better pension arrangements. It is only since 2007 that they have had the same pay and conditions as British soldiers.

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