On Tuesday 9th June, the Royal Hospital Chelsea provided the spectacular backdrop for celebrations marking 200 years of loyal Gurkha service to the Crown. The Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) fundraising event was attended by various members of the Royal Family in recognition of all the Gurkhas have done for Britain.
Her Majesty The Queen was accompanied by HRH Prince Philip, while HRH Prince Charles – Patron of the GWT and Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Gurkha Rifles – and Prince Harry – who served with a Gurkha battalion in Afghanistan – also attended. The Sultan of Brunei was among the other dignitaries to join the event.
It was also an opportunity to pause and remember all those who tragically lost their lives in the recent earthquakes in Nepal.
All funds raised at the Pageant will go towards the GWT’s work providing vital support to impoverished ex-Gurkhas and their communities, enabling it to expand its medical programme in Nepal and respond to the urgent need to rebuild following the earthquakes.
As the sun set, hundreds of serving members of the Brigade of Gurkhas and their families took part in the performance. Actress and GWT Vice Patron Joanna Lumley and historian Dan Snow narrated the story of the Gurkha soldier whilst battle re-enactments, cultural displays and musical performances by the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas entertained the sell-out audience of 1,650 people.
For two centuries, Gurkha soldiers have served alongside British forces in every major conflict. From the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 to the two World Wars where the Brigade suffered over 40,000 casualties, the Gurkhas have formed a fearsome reputation for bravery and loyalty.
A total of 13 Victoria Crosses – the highest award for valour – have been awarded to Gurkha soldiers since the First World War and they continue to serve with distinction. On return from his tour in Afghanistan, where he served alongside The Royal Gurkha Rifles, Prince Harry said that there was “no safer place” than by the side of a Gurkha.
At the Pageant, the Prince reaffirmed his admiration, telling Born Free founder Virginia McKenna, whose husband Bill Travers was in the 9th Gurkhas: “I always wanted to be a Gurkha, but the opportunity never arose. Physically, I bow down to these guys. They are incredible.”
The Prince of Wales wrote a message for the commemorative Pageant programme, which you can read in full on the GWT’s Gurkha 200 webpage. In the message, His Royal Highness said: “I could not be more delighted to join you here this evening to mark the Gurkhas’ bicentennial anniversary. We come together to recognise and celebrate these remarkable men and their extraordinary service to our country.
“In the two hundred years that the Gurkhas have fought for the British Crown they have earned our nation’s deepest respect and gratitude. Throughout their service they have shown time and again the most remarkable devotion to duty and bravery in the most challenging of circumstances, with significant numbers of their officers and men being awarded the Victoria Cross, this country’s highest award for gallantry.
“The Gurkhas’ loyalty, coupled with the highest professional standards, has put them at the forefront of the British Army.”
General Sir Peter Wall, Chairman of the GWT said: “We’re honoured to welcome such distinguished guests to this evening’s celebration, where we are not only commemorating 200 years of exemplary service but also raising funds for an important cause.
“The Gurkha Welfare Trust is the Brigade of Gurkhas’ charity partner. It provides the support our Gurkha veterans richly deserve once their military service is complete. That support must be relevant to the changing needs of our Gurkha ex-servicemen, their dependants and their communities in Nepal.”
Such veterans include Rambahadur Limbu VC, the only surviving Gurkha Victoria Cross holder, who made the long trip over from his home in Nepal to be part of this historic event.