British general's wife pays Indian debt - Tribute to Gorkha soldiers

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  • Published 16.11.07

In the 150th year of Indian sepoys’ war with their colonial masters, a British woman today paid a tearful homage to a band of sub-continental soldiers who have been a byword for loyalty and bravery to her countrymen.

Gilley Horsford said she came to Subathu, where the First Gorkha Rifles is based, to honour the last wish of her dead husband, Major General D.G.T. Horsford, who served in the regiment before Independence.

“I have come here not only to pay tribute to a great battalion but also to keep my husband’s promise to visit Subathu that he made just before he passed away on October 5 this year. He asked me to make it to the reunion,” an emotional Gilley told the regiment’s four-yearly reunion function.

With Gilley, who mingled with the soldiers and officers, was Frank Trevor Morley of the British Soldiers’ Association. Both placed wreaths at the Gorkha Memorial.

“I wish to be here when the battalion celebrates 200 years of its existence,” the 89-year-old Morley said.

The First Gorkha Rifles was raised in 1815. During the early 19th century, the Gorkha kings of Nepal had extended their empire into the Kumaon, Garhwal and Kangra hills, bringing them into direct confrontation with the British East India Company.

In 1815, the British defeated the Gorkhas but were impressed with the skill and courage of the troops of general Amar Singh Thapa during the siege of the Malaun Fort in Bilaspur.

The East India Company raised a Gorkha regiment with the survivors of Thapa’s army, calling it the First Nusseree (friendly or loyal) battalion, at Subathu on April 24, 1815. The second battalion was raised on February 19, 1886.

After Independence, some Gorkha troops joined the Indian Army and some the British Army as the Brigade of Gurkhas. The Indian Army rechristened the regiment the First Gorkha Rifles and raised the third, fourth and fifth battalions in 1959, 1963 and 1965.

Major General Horsford was president of a Gorkha soldiers’ association in Britain.

“This is not just a reunion for those who have served the regiment. The main aim is to reunite the past and the present officers and soldiers with each other. Old British officers have made the effort to attend these reunions,” Major General P.C.S. Khati of the regiment said.