7th Gurkha Rifles in Italy

Soldiers of the 7th Gurkha Rifles in Italy
©Gurkha Museum

As in the First World War, the Gurkha Brigade was massively expanded during World War II, particularly after the fall of France in the summer of 1940. Over 250,000 Gurkhas served in all theatres of war, most memorably in Burma, North Africa, the Middle East and Italy. An estimated 23,000 Gurkhas lost their lives and they earned over 2,000 awards for bravery.

In North Africa and Italy, the 4th Indian Division, with a strong Gurkha element, fought heroically, supporting and supported by British and commonwealth troops. Similarly in Burma, where four of the seven Victoria Crosses awarded to men of the 17th Indian Division went to Gurkhas.

4th Gurkha Rifles leaping barbed wire

Soldiers of the 4th Gurkha Rifles charging into battle
©Gurkha Museum

 

An Elite Force

The Gurkha Brigade had become an elite force within the Indian Army, with a fighting record second to none: Gurkhas won almost half of the 26 Victoria Crosses awarded to other ranks of the Indian Army, even though Gurkha battalions comprised only about a fifth of the total number of Indian Army units.

In Burma, Gurkhas also served as 'Chindits', special forces parachuted deep into the jungle behind enemy lines in order to create mayhem and sabotage Japanese lines of communication. The Chindits were the brainchild of the maverick Brigadier Orde Wingate, who was killed in an air crash before his mission was complete.

Major James Lumley, the father of the actress Joanna Lumley who campaigned for the Gurkha Justice Campaign for the UK settlement rights of ex-Gurkhas, and Lt. Tulbahadur Pun VC both served together as Chindits.

The gruelling nature of the Chindit guerrilla-type warfare is described by Major (later Brigadier) John Masters of the 4th Gurkhas, who became a famous writer after the war. He recalled:

A havildar [sergeant] passed me at the head of his platoon. I recognised him – Mohbat Sing. He had been a young signaller in the 2nd battalion in the [North-West] Frontier campaigns of 1936-37 when I was a lieutenant and signal officer. More than once I had sworn at him for his unkempt ways and skill at avoiding work. Now his eyes were dull and he exhorted his platoon in a gasped-out monologue of Gurkhali oaths and endearments – ‘Come on, you porcupine’s ****s.  It’s all right. Move, move, kids! We’re nearly there. O **** hairs, keep at it. You, you…’ – his head turned as he saw me – ‘Salaam, sahib!  Of course we can do it!...  The Gurkhas are coming! Third-Fourth, Third-Fourth!’  He broke into a shambling run, followed by all his platoon. How they did it, I do not know. They passed from my view up the path. The firing increased suddenly, grew to a mad clatter… at first nearly all Japanese; then even; then nearly all ours, the heavy roar of our grenades and the powerful grunting stammer of the Bren guns.  Wounded men came down the path, a corpse sprawled in it right at the limit of my vision as I lay behind a tree peering forward…’

Major John Masters, 4th Gurkha Rifles

 

Aftermath

Gurkhas were awarded literally thousands of medals for bravery during World War II, including 12 Victoria Crosses. Once again the loss of almost an entire generation of young men meant that the Second World War cost the people of Nepal dearly. Please see the Valour: Gurkha VCs page in the Gurkhas section of the site to read some of the stories of the Gurkha Victoria Cross holders.

After the Second World War, great changes would affect the British both at home and abroad as the 'Raj' (empire) entered its final days.

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Comments (11)
  • Milan Bohra
    Its indeed an enviable force to face and reliable community to respect with.
  • Milan Bohra  |  'Wow'
    Its indeed an enviable force to face and most reliable community to respect.
  • Jamil Hashim  |  'Gallantry service of Sub Major Abdul Majeed Indian'
    I am son of Sub Maj Abdul Majeed who fought 2nd World War in Assam and Burma from 1939 to 1945. He got the following medals; 1. Indian Medal 2. Burma Star 3. Mentioned in Despatches Due to his meritouris service in the 2nd World War, he was awarded sord of honour. Jamil
  • nikesh dangol  |  'i want b a british army..'
    I am bron in kathmandu in 1990AD and i want to join in british army.many of ma fren had in treaning but i am not in treaning due to because i am from kathmandu..my fren told that kathmandu people cannot join in british army and i donot join the treating...is that true ????..
  • admin  |  'Recruitment criteria for Gurkhas'
    Nikesh bhai, I am afraid we don't have information on recruitment criteria for the British Gurkhas, but all the information you need is on the British Gurkhas nepal website: http://www.army.mod.uk/bgn Read the 'Recruiting' section. On the right hand side of that page is a list of documents to download. You should check them all but maybe read the 'Criteria for Selection PDF' first: http://www.army.mod.uk/documents/general/BGN_RI12_9Criteria_for_Attendance_pdf.pdf
  • Mick Stewart, Pipe Sergeant  |  'Searching for Indian, Sikh and Ghurka pipers and d'
    We are a newly established pipe band in Houston, Texas: The Second world War (1939-45) Memorial Pipe Band. Our mission statment is to honor the service and sacrifice of all WWII veterans. Although our band in Houston is based upon the pipers of the 2nd KOSB, we are recruiting for any Indian, Ghurka and Sikh pipers who would like to join us to honor those Indian Army soldiers who died in battle during WWII in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Burma. Contact us at: www.kosb.us. Regards, Mick Stewart, Pipe Sergeant
  • karina rai  |  'Grand Salute'
    Proud To Be Gurkhali.
  • Suresh Shrestha  |  'Ancestry Info'
    My grandfather and two uncles were British Gurkhas in Burma in WW2. They all were killed in action. My mom was under 8 years old and she doesn't know the details. His name was Haste Bahadur (Bir?) Chettry. Any chance that someone can help me out on where he fought and died, and which unit was he with. Thank you kindly. Suresh.
  • col cuddy  |  'ancestry info'
    hello suresh happy to help please contact me at my email address colcuddy@aol.com
  • boden  |  'Chindits leather medal/badge'
    Have recently been told that while serving with Gurkas in Burma as wireless operator he was awarded a leather medal by the Chindits. Are there any records or pictures of medals and badges
  • Karuna Gurung  |  'Gorkha fought on behalf of Indian Army in WW2'
    Hi Greetings for the Day, Would like to know about if I can get any help on this...Since my Grand Father SUB. DAN SINGH GURUNG ( JC 15364 )from 2/4 GR fought on behalf on Indian Army in WW2 in Italy,German, South Africa ,Lebia (1941 to 1945 returned back safely) However have not seen his contribution details in any of the world war web sites. Thanks Karuna Gurung from Himachal Pradesh.
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Era 2: Solders Of Empire

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