A rare example of serving Gurkhas turning against a British (and Gurkha) officer took place in Hawaii in May 1986, when members of Support Company 1/7 Gurkha Rifles were engaged in a joint military excercise with American forces. Although the details of what took place are contested, the account given in 'Imperial Warriors, Britain and the Gurkhas' by Tony Gould suggests that the combination of a perceived poor treatment of the Gurkha soldiers and insensitive, if not insulting, remarks made by a British Officer (who was on attachment from a non-Gurkha regiment) in front of his men and their Amercian hosts, created an atmosphere of resentment and barely-contained rage.

The Incident and the Consequences

Tempers flared on the night of the end of exercise celebration: a Gurkha Officer was knocked down and the British Officer in question was severely beaten and needed stitches to his head. The incident was treated extremely seriously by the army authorities in Hong Kong.

As it was impossible to identify the guilty parties and the men closed ranks and refused to co-operate, the entire company were treated much like criminals on their return to Hong Kong. The outcome was that 120 men were dismissed from the army and sent back to Nepal in disgrace.

Unfortunately, the Hawaii incident coincided with the UK trial and conviction of 5 men from the 2nd Gurkha Rifles for drug-smuggling. Media speculation at the time suggested that the Gurkhas were no longer the 'simple mountain boys they once were' (the Daily Telegraph) and that their 'loss of innocence' signalled the 'End of Empire':

There has always been great mystification among Gurkhas about the lifestyle of the officer caste. But that mystery has been dissipated now. The much sought-after two year tours of duty in Britain have shown just how unmysterious and unworthy of respect the once-hallowed lifestyle really is. The men, whose loyalty was hitherto unquestioned, now regard their superiors with increasing scepticism...

Daily Telegraph, 6th August 1986

Although a shameful chapter in the otherwise honourable, if not glorious, history of the Gurkhas, the Hawaii Incident highlights the fact that the trust and mutual respect between British and Nepalis is the foundation of the Brigade of Gurkhas. When it is undermined the whole edifice of the British Gurkhas is shaken.

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Comments (2)
  • Anish Thapa  |  'More'
    I have read about this incident and still its kind of a mystery to me. I would be grateful if you could write more indepth about this Hawaii incident.
  • admin  |  'Re: 'More''
    Anish, information about the Hawaii Incident is very hard to come by and much of what exists is based on speculation and rumour rather than actual research. The most balanced written account we have found is the one referenced: Imperial Warriors (http://tinyurl.com/ayogorkhali-ImpW pages 373-6 & others) by Tony Gould, who interviewed some of the Gurkhas involved. You can read some of the Hawaii Incident entries in Imperial Warriors via Google Books: http://tinyurl.com/ayogorkhali-ImpW-Hawaii I recommend buying Imperial Warriors if you want to read a really in-depth history of the Gurkhas up to 1999.
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Era 3: Last Days of the Raj


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