Gurkhas



Gurkhas have their roots in Nepal. Reputed for their fearless military prowess and loyalty, the Gurkhas in Southeast Asia were initially brought to Singapore as special soldiers on the payroll of the British Army. Today, the Gurkha Contingent is a unit in the Singapore Police Force and serves as a neutral safekeeping and counter-terrorism force.

Background
The Nepalese Gurkhas in Singapore are mostly of either Mongolian or Aryan descent, with the majority belonging to the former.1 They are mainly from the Nepali hill tribes of Magar, Gurung, Rai, Limbu and Sunwar.Gorkhas, or Gurkhas, were warriors who fought for Prithvi Narayan Shah, King of Gorkha, in the 18th century. The term Gurkha is an Anglicised version of King Prithvi's birthplace, Gorkha, which is a district in Nepal.


The Gurkha soldier traditionally used a weapon known as the kukri – an 18-inch-long, curved, fighting knife. Although they were later armed with rifles, the Gurkhas still prefer to use their kukriAyo Gorkhali!, which translates to “The Gurkhas are upon you!”, is a much-feared war cry of the Gurkhas.They are predominantly Hindus, with some embracing Buddhism and animism.5
 
Enlistment of the Gurkhas 
The British had their first encounter with the Gurkhas during the Anglo-Nepal War (1814–16). Although the latter were outnumbered, their fighting prowess impressed the British.6 Subsequently, in a strange turn of events, the Gurkhas who held Lieutenant Frederick Young captive soon developed a deep respect for his patriotism and chivalry. Young then enlisted the first batch of Gurkha soldiers into the British forces. In April 1815, Gurkhas were recruited into four battalions. The association of the Gurkhas with the British led to the Gurkha diaspora in Southeast Asia. As the British presence became prevalent in this part of the world in the 19th century, the Gurkhas followed them.7
Service in Singapore
In Singapore, the Gurkhas represent a small community living at Mount Vernon.The Gurkha Contingent was formed as a part of the Singapore Police Force on 9 April 1949.9 The contingent, made up of former Gurkhas from the British Army, replaced the Sikh unit within the police force that had disbanded.10 Major Scott Leathart was the contingent’s first commanding officer.11 


Having fought in the defence of Malaya during World War II, the Gurkhas had proven themselves ready to defend while remaining impartial, but loyal.12 This was evident during the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950, the Hock Lee Bus strike and riot in 1955, and the 1950s riots by the Chinese High School.13 To this day, the Gurkhas are recruited as a unit of the Singapore Police Force, unaligned with any of the local races.14 The Gurkha Contingent is deployed during high-profile events in Singapore, such as the Trump-Kim summit in June 2018 and New Year’s Eve celebrations. They act as a deterrent force to possible security threats by patrolling in high visibility armoured vehicles.15

The Gurkhas come to Singapore when they are as young as 18 years old, and they return to Nepal after 15 to 20 years of service. They reside at the Mount Vernon Cantonment, a self-contained community that has its own temple, schools and mini-mart. Built in the 1950s, the cantonment is located at Mount Vernon, off Upper Aljunied Road, and is closed to the public.16



Author
Renuka M.



References
1. Cross, J. P. (1986). In Gurkha company: The British Army Gurkhas, 1948 to the present. London: Arms and Armour Press, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 355.310941 CRO); Northey, W. B. (1975). The land of the Gurkhas: Or the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. New York: AMS Press. pp. 92–95. (Call no.: R 954.96 NOR)
2. Farwell, B. (1984). The Gurkhas. New York: W. W Norton & Company, pp. 12, 18, 19, 174. (Call no.: RSING 356.1 FAR); Northey, W. B. (1975). The land of the Gurkhas: or The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. New York: AMS Press. pp. 92–95. (Call no.: R 954.96 NOR)
3. Hasrat, B. J. (1970). History of Nepal as told by its own and contemporary chroniclers. Hoshiarpur: V.V. Research Institute Book Agency, pp. lvii–lxi. (Call no.: R 954.96 HAS); Khanduri, C. B. (1997). A rediscovered history of Gorkhas. Dehli: Gyan Sagar Publications, p. vi. (Call no.: R 954.96 KHA); Lawrence, J. C. (2015). The Gurkhas: 200 years of service to the crown. London: Uniform Press, p. 3. (Call no.: RSEA 355.310941 LAW); Shrestha, N. R., & Bhattarai, K. (2003). Historical dictionary of Nepal. Lanham, Oxford: Scarecrow Press, p. xxxviii. (Call no.: R 954.96003 SHR)
4. Chong, Z. L., & Zakaria Zainal. (2014). The invisible force: Singapore Gurkhas. Singapore: Ethos Books, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 355.359095957 CHO); Farwell, B. (1984). The Gurkhas. New York: W. W Norton & Company, pp. 13–16, 99, 108. (Call no.: RSING 356.1 FAR); Khanduri, C. B. (1997). A rediscovered history of Gorkhas. Dehli: Gyan Sagar Publications, p. 199. (Call no.: R 954.96 KHA); Lawrence, J. C. (2015). The Gurkhas: 200 years of service to the crown. London: Uniform Press, pp. 22–30. (Call no.: RSEA 355.310941 LAW)
5. Cross, J. P. (2012). Gurkha tales: From peace and war, 1945–2011. London: Frontline, pp. 194–196. (Call no.: RSEA 355.310941 CRO); Lawrence, J.C. (2015). The Gurkhas: 200 years of service to the crown. London: Uniform Press, p. 96. (Call no.: RSEA 355.310941 LAW)
6. Lawrence, J. C. (2015). The Gurkhas: 200 years of service to the crown. London: Uniform Press, pp. 1–6. (Call no.: RSEA 355.310941 LAW); Shrestha, N. R., & Bhattarai, K. (2003). Historical dictionary of Nepal. Lanham, Oxford: Scarecrow Press, p. xl. (Call no.: R 954.96003 SHR)
7. Lawrence, J. C. (2015). The Gurkhas: 200 years of service to the crown. London: Uniform Press, pp. 6, 87, 89, 125–129, 141–151, 165–174. (Call no.: RSEA 355.310941 LAW)
8. Zakaria Zainal. (2012). Our Gurkhas: Singapore through their eyes. Singapore: Wee Editions, p. viii. (Call no.: RSING 355.35095957 ZAK)
9. Singapore Police Force. (2016, April 21). Gurkha contingent. Retrieved 2016, December 5 from Singapore Police Force website: http://www.police.gov.sg/about-us/organisational-structure/specialist-and-line-units/gurkha-contingent
10. Leathart, S. (1996). With the Gurkhas: India, Burma, Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, 1940–1959Edinburgh; Cambridge: Pentland Press, p. 186. (Call no.: RSING 356.113092 LEA); Gurkhas to form new riot squad. (1949, February 16).  The Straits Times, p. 3; Lee, J. (1999, April 10). Gurkhas mark 50th yearThe Straits Times, p. 38; Chan, K. S. (1999, January 2). War or peace, Gurkhas deserved reputationThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Leathart, S. (1996). With the Gurkhas: India, Burma, Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, 1940–1959. Edinburgh; Cambridge: Pentland Press, pp.186, 187. (Call no.: RSING 356.113092 LEA); Lee, J. (1999, April 10). Gurkhas mark 50th yearThe Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chan, K. S. (1999, January 2). War or peace, Gurkhas deserved reputationThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Stevens, (G. R.). (1952). History of the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Goorkha Rifles (the Sirmoor Rifles). Volume III, 1921–1948. Aldershot, (England]: Gale & Polden, pp. 194–197. (Call no.: R 356.10941 STE)
13. Leathart, S. (1996). With the Gurkhas: India, Burma, Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, 1940–1959Edinburgh; Cambridge: Pentland Press, pp. 195–198, 217–218, 225–227, 233. (Call no.: RSING 356.113092 LEA); Lee, J. (1999, April 10). Gurkhas mark 50th yearThe Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Chong, Z. L., & Zakaria Zainal. (2014). The invisible force: Singapore Gurkhas. Singapore: Ethos Books, pp. 30–33. (Call no.: RSING 355.359095957 CHO)
15. Goh, C. (2017, December 31). Snipers, Gurkhas deployed to keep Singapore safe during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Channel NewsAsia website: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/snipers-gurkhas-deployed-to-keep-singapore-safe-during-new-year-9823340; Ganesan, D. (2018, June 9). Trump-Kim summit: North Korean advance delegation arrives in Singapore as security preparations intensify. The Straits Times. Retrieved from The Straits Times website: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/north-korean-advance-delegation-arrive-in-singapore-security-preparations-in-singapore
16. Lee, J. (1999, April 10). Gurkhas mark 50th yearThe Straits Times, p. 38; Raymond, J. (1999, April 18). Home away from home for GurkhasThe Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resource
Smith, E. D. (1997). Valour: A history of the Gurkhas. Kent: Spellmount.
(Call no.: R 355.35 SMI)



The information in this article is valid as at 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
National defence
Politics and Government>>National Security>>Defence
Singapore--History
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Gurkha soldiers--Singapore
Gurkhas--Singapore
Law and government>>Security>>Army