7TH DUKE OF EDINBURGH'S OWN GURKHA RIFLES
The 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles (more usually known as ‘7GR’) was until 1994 a regular infantry regiment of the British Army. As a result of Army restructuring following the end of the Cold War and foreshadowing the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China the Regiment merged with three other Gurkha infantry regiments to form The Royal Gurkha Rifles on 1st July 1994. The spirit of 7GR, its traditions of loyalty to the British Crown and the courage to confront the nation’s enemies gained from more than 90 years of service live on in the new regiment.
Origins and Early Days
7th Gurkha Rifles dates its formation from 16th May 1902 when a fresh battalion of Gurkhas was raised for the British Indian Army. Originally given the numerical designation ‘8’ it was then renumbered as the Second Battalion of the 10th Gurkhas before emerging from a convoluted process of Indian Army reorganisation in 1907 as the 7th Gurkhas, a rifle regiment of two regular battalions. The Regiment had the distinction of being one of only two out of the ten Gurkha regiments to recruit its soldiers from the towns and villages which lie along the rugged foothills of the Himalayas east of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Gurkha officers and soldiers have come predominantly from the Rai and Limbu clans but the roll records many names from the smaller Sunwar, Tamang and eastern Gurung clans as well as men from the Sherpa families of mountaineering fame.
The Regiment’s first home base was designated as Quetta in northwest India, now Pakistan. It was from here that the 2nd Battalion (2/7 GR) deployed at the start of the First World War to join British forces which were to fight against the Turkish Empire, Germany’s ally, in the Middle East. The Battalion’s first campaign in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, was ill-fated. In spite of early successes in which the Battalion distinguished itself, such as the battles at Nasiriyah and Ctesiphon, it was part of the force which became trapped at Kut-al-Amara on the River Tigris. After a long siege the force, exhausted by a lack of food and ammunition, surrendered to the Turkish Army and went into captivity in 1916. However, in the following year a new 2nd Battalion was raised and the 1st Battalion which had now arrived from India joined it in a reinvigorated and victorious campaign which swept the Turks out of Mesopotamia.
Following the end of the war, the 1st Battalion saw service in the brief Kurdistan campaign, while the 2nd Battalion returned to India to fight in the Third Afghan War, alongside the 3rd Battalion raised for war service in 1917. Thereafter, the two regular battalions spent the inter-war years on occasional tours of duty on the northwest frontier of India and on internal security tasks elsewhere on the sub continent. The 2nd Battalion played a notable part in rescue operations following the disastrous earthquake which destroyed much of Quetta in 1935. At the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, both battalions were based alongside each other at Shillong in the Indian province of Assam.
The 2nd Battalion was mobilized for overseas operations in 1941, returning to Iraq to participate in the campaign to secure oil supplies for the Allies and then to defeat Vichy French forces in Syria. It then redeployed to join the 8th Army in North Africa where it had the misfortune to be captured at Tobruk in 1942. In the meantime the 1st Battalion together with a hastily raised 3rd Battalion had joined British forces fighting a Japanese army which had invaded Burma. Despite heavy casualties during the retreat to India both battalions survived the ordeal. 1/7 GR, rearmed and retrained, then took part in the great defensive battle at Imphal in 1944 which broke the Japanese advance. The gallantry displayed by a young rifleman, Ganju Lama, during a subsequent action near Bishenpur was recognised by the award of the Victoria Cross. The 1st Battalion then took part in the great campaign waged by 14th Army under the command of General Sir William Slim, who as a Lt Colonel had earlier commanded the 2nd Battalion in India, to re-conquer Burma and played the foremost part in the capture of Meiktila. The 3rd Battalion which had been reorganised as a parachute unit took part in the airborne assault to liberate Rangoon. As these events unfolded in the south east Asia, a new 2nd Battalion was again created in time to rejoin 8th Army in Italy. It took part in the monumental battle at Monte Cassino and was one of the very few battalions ever to earn a Battle Honour on its own, ‘Tavoleto’. The Battalion completed its wartime service in Greece as part of the British force sent to stabilise the country following the end of German occupation.
The Malayan Emergency
For the 7th Gurkhas the coming of world peace was a time to disband both the 3rd Battalion and the 4th Battalion, raised in 1941 for frontier protection and internal security. The years after 1945 saw all Gurkha regiments preoccupied with the issue of Indian independence and the conditions of near civil war attendant on the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. By an agreement between the King of Nepal and the British and Indian governments four Gurkha regiments including the 7th Gurkhas were transferred to British Army service on 1st January 1948 in which they were to form the British Brigade of Gurkhas. The Regiment moved almost immediately to Malaya which was to be the main Gurkha base for the next 25 years. There, as part of a plan to create an all-arms Gurkha division, the two battalions began retraining to become field artillery regiments. The experiment was short-lived because almost at once the Regiment was committed to the campaign against communist insurgents which came to be known as the Malayan Emergency and reverted to its infantry role. For some twelve years the two battalions conducted jungle operations against an often elusive foe although the 2nd Battalion enjoyed a tour of duty as part of Britain’s Hong Kong garrison from 1955-57. The campaign has been judged by posterity to have been a great success. Although no Battle Honour was awarded, the approval of a Royal title for the Regiment in 1959 was a signal recognition of its outstanding operational record in Malaya and an acknowledgement of its distinguished service in the two world wars. From now on the Regiment was to be styled, ‘7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles’.
The Brunei Revolt and the Borneo Confrontation
In 1962 the 1st Battalion was dispatched from Malaya to the nearby state of Brunei in north Borneo to assist the British Army in suppressing a revolt by Indonesian backed rebels against the Sultan, an ally of the United Kingdom. A short time later they were joined by the 2nd Battalion and each conducted successful operations resulting in the capture of some of the key leader’s of the rebellion. Operations in Brunei prompted recognition of the need for a parachute force to be available in the Far East and the Regiment contributed the majority of the complement which established the Gurkha Independent Parachute Company in 1963. The Brunei Revolt was a prelude to a war between an expansionist Indonesia and the new Malaysian Federation backed by Britain and the Commonwealth which is known as the Borneo Confrontation. Fought largely in the mountains and swamps of Sabah and Sarawak and without much publicity it lasted from 1963 to 1966. Both battalions of 7 GR were heavily involved in the campaign in which the reputation of Gurkhas as supremely able jungle soldiers soared to a new height.
Hong Kong UK and Brunei Rotation
The victorious conclusion of the campaign and the establishment of political stability in that corner of south east Asia presaged a re evaluation of Britain’s role in the Far East. Although the Regiment was increasingly involved in maintaining the security of the Crown Colony of Hong Kong, particularly when stability there was affected by the Chinese Cultural revolution in 1967, the strength of Brigade was to be substantially reduced. On 31st July 1970 the two battalions amalgamated into one with the sad loss of many fine officers and soldiers who were made redundant. The new Battalion moved to the United Kingdom in 1971 to Queen Elizabeth Barracks at Church Crookham near Fleet in Hampshire. On this first tour the Regiment had the great honour of being the first Gurkha regiment to conduct ceremonial duties at Buckingham Palace. Thereafter, 7 GR proceeded on a cycle of duty tours alternating between the United Kingdom, Brunei and Hong Kong, taking part in training exercises around the world, maintaining its jungle skills and providing internal and border security in Hong Kong. In 1981 the 2nd Battalion was re-raised to assist the Hong Kong government cope with the surge in immigration from China. The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1986 when the crisis had passed.
The Falklands and the Final Years
The routine of peacetime was briefly broken in 1982 when the Seventh Gurkhas, then based in the United Kingdom, deployed with 5th Infantry Brigade as part of the task force which successfully recaptured the Falkland Islands following the Argentinean invasion, thereby earning its final Battle Honour. The Battalion was once again in the United Kingdom from 1991 for what would be its final years. At a final parade at Church Crookham on 26th May 1994 attended by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and many old comrades from Britain and Nepal the Regiment marched off into history.
The memory of the Regiment lives on through its records and many artifacts which are preserved at the Gurkha Museum in Winchester. There are three published books which give the history of the Regiment. Many items of regimental property were handed on to The Royal Gurkha Rifles which has incorporated some of 7 GR’s insignia into its own uniform. There are old comrades’ associations in the United Kingdom, Nepal and India and links are maintained with the Gurkha Brigade Association and the Gurkha Welfare Trust.