The Gurkha

The Gurkha

By John Ward



The martial tradition, of the Gurkha Warrior is known the world over. Their training, and warrior spirit means they will do things in a fight that wouldn’t occur to even the most seasoned combat veterans. Gurkhas will fight outnumbered and outgunned. They hold their positions against impossible odds and often come out on top. They always have their famous forward bent Kukri knife with them. It is said that, in the passage to manhood ceremony, a Gurkha must take the head off an ox with one blow of the Kukri knife, to become a man.

The Argentines knew this in the war of the Maldives / Falkland Islands. A division of Argentines was well dug in on the islands when they heard that the British had brought some of their traditional support in the form of Gurkha warriors. They left their secure positions and ran for the hills, in what might be referred to as a “screaming-like-a-little-girl, panicked tactical retreat.” And who could blame them. The rumor was that the Gurkha don’t take prisoners, they eat them.

By western standards, the Gurkha is a short man who does not carry a lot of weight. He does not look like the warrior he is. Stories of their bravery, savagery, strength, heroism and commitment abound.

One of these stories of Gurkha heroism involves Lachhiman Gurung in Burma after he was taken by surprise when Japanese troops opened up on him and his men and lobbed some grenades into their trench. Gurung picked up two of the grenades and threw them back to the 200 Japanese soldiers waiting in the darkness.

The third grenade blew up in Gurung’s hand. He lost a few fingers, most of his right arm, and took shrapnel in his face and leg. Partially blind, bleeding profusely, and struggling to move, Gurung did something only a Gurkha would do: he pulled his Kukri knife with his good hand, stabbed the ground, and told the Japanese in a booming voice that none of them would make it past that knife.

He then picked up his rifle — a bolt-action Lee-Enfield Mk. III chambered a round, and invited the enemy to “Come fight a Gurkha.” With his friends dead or dying, Gurung fought for hours, firing his bolt-action Lee-Enfield with one hand and killing anyone who entered his trench. He would lie down until the Japanese were on top of his position, kill the closest one at point-blank range, chamber a new round with his left hand, and then kill the enemy’s battle buddy.

Gurung killed 31 Japanese soldiers this way, fighting until morning the next day. At the end of the battle, he was shouting “Come and fight. Come and fight. I will kill you!” Gurung was hospitalized through the end of the war, losing partial vision in his right eye and the use of his right arm. He was awarded Great Britain’s highest military honor, the Victoria Cross and was the only recipient still alive when his command presented medals for the battle. Gurung’s only complaint after the fighting was that his wounded arm had flies swarming around it.

He eventually moved to the U.K. to live out his life in peace. But he reemerged in 2008 when a controversial policy revoked the rights of some Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 to live in the country. The government said the Gurkhas failed to “Demonstrate strong ties to the U.K.!” Lachhiman Gurung put on his rack of medals, went over to Britain’s High Court, and made another “last stand” — this time for his fellow WWII-era Gurkhas, and he pleaded to the Court and to the Queen to be allowed to stay.

As a result of the famous Gurkha tenaciousness, the British high court struck down the law that same year. I think members of the high court didn’t want to wake up with a Kukri knife hovering over their jugulars. Lachhiman Gurung died 2010. He was 92.


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