Deb Bahadur Pun accompanied the SAS on Indonesia border operations

Courtesy of the Gurkha Museum: photo to depict typical jungle warfare operations as described by Deb

Courtesy of the Gurkha Museum: photo to depict typical jungle warfare operations as described by Deb

Deb Pun joined the 1/2 Gurkha Rifles in 1960 and spent six years off and on working in jungle warfare during the Borneo and Brunei tensions… 

They sent us, small group, to cross the Indonesian border by helicopter. There were four SAS British soldiers there and they ask us to protect them, then we went with them.  Then we stayed there with them for about a month, the other side of the border and we carried a little bit of ration and then we work with them and what they do we are just keeping protection and we are carrying some explosive for them and they are doing booby-trapping.  All the way other side of the Indonesia.

Then we stay in the night, until the dark, get dark, they didn’t speak or anything, just they stay down, don’t make anything, then after night they start lighting, then reading book, then talking  you know while it gets dark, then we are frightened, you know, “Why you are doing this?” …the SAS people what they say is, “It’s night, nobody comes here.  I’m not going [out], nobody is going to come here so why not?” [laughs].  Then they stay in light and reading and, and when, before five o’clock [am], they close down everything.  All silent, all has gone.

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Shiva Rai talks about why he decided to join the Brigade of Gurkhas

 

Courtesy of Earthducation/LT Media Lab: photo depicts typical farming scene as  described by Shiva

Courtesy of Earthducation/LT Media Lab: photo depicts typical farming scene as described by Shiva

 

I’m from eastern part of Nepal.  My district’s name is Khotang and I was born in 1952.  My father was a retired British Gurkha official from India.  He was retired on the rank of Subedar, which is equivalent to Captain QGO [Queen’s Gurkha Officer] at the present.  He retired in 1947, then he started to farm.  We are from the farmer.  We always our forefathers were working as a farmer, keeping cattle, cow, buffalo, goat, cock, whatever, in to get support from, to keep our lives.  And my mother was also a farmer wife.  And I have two sisters and one elder brother and one younger brother. And we wished to go in the school, but there was no school.  Later on one primary school was opened and many people started to go in that primary school, but we were not allowed to go there.  And we argued with our parents but our parents replied us, “Okay, if you go school, who will look after the cattles?”  It was the very remarkable [laughs] thing in the past life.  But later on our parents agreed our request and we were allowed to go in primary school.  It was one of the very remarkable things.  But before going school, we had to go to the forest and to collect the firewood, about half an hour, one hour.  Having done that we were allowed to go to school.  After completing the school whole day, we came back to the home and again needed to go somewhere to cut the green grass for our cattles, like cows, buffalos.  They need to feed in the evening time.  And it was very hard life.  And while I had completed primary school, class five, there was no high school very close to our village.  Luckily there was one high school very far away. And our father agreed to us to join the high school.  And it was three hours to walk from home to school and whole day school.  After four, we needed to back to home, walking, three hours.  So it is very difficult to explain how we were tired.  All day the teacher taught us the lesson and three hours way to school and three hours back to home.  While we came back in home, again our parents asked to us to do some other extra stuff, to collect some green grass for the cattles or to collect some firewood or to collect some new harvest, whatever, seasonable.  So it was a very hard life.  However, in 1968, luckily, I passed the high school and my father advised me to join the college in the–, very far away.  It’s called Taran.

At that time I was in school studying the business management for first year.  During that period I saw many people were recruiting in the Gurkha camp [laughs].  And luckily I saw one of the Gallah Wallah, the recruiter who collects the young boys, and register in his register and brings to the depot for recruiting.  And I requested him, I also like to join the British Gurkha brigade.  Why did I decide this and why I requested him?  There was no chance to join the government service for our Rai communities in our country at that time, and all the rulers were Brahman and they were all high level, all the bureaucrats were Brahman or Chhetris, they were.  And having done the graduation from the school, I won’t get any best position, good position, somewhere in the Nepalese bureaucracy.  I think it’s much better to join the army.  If I get chance to join the army I will get an opportunity to visit around the world and as well as I will get a chance to earn a little bit wealth, money, life and money.  I decided that.  It was a fact thing and I was lured by the other previous who are the servicemen who used to come and live in Nepal and who were retired.  Their living standard was high.  That’s why I decided to join the British Army.

 

 

Iswar Sahi remembers his childhood

Courtesy of Earthducation/LT Media Lab: Photo depicts representation of  typical farmhouse as described by Iswar

Courtesy of Earthducation/LT Media Lab: Photo depicts representation of typical farmhouse as described by Iswar

Iswar Bahadur Sahi, Rifleman, 6 Gurkha Rifles, born 1942, Pokhara, Kaski District, Nepal; served 1960 to 1970

Like many Gurkha veterans, Iswar was born into a farming family in the rural district of Kaski.  Iswar comes from a large family with two elder sisters and four younger brothers.  All four brothers joined the Brigade of Gurkhas like Iswar.  And like his brothers, Iswar fled from the family farm when he joined up and followed the recruiter (known as the Gallah Wallah).  His parents didn’t want them to join because they were afraid their sons would be killed in war.  They also needed their sons to keep the farm going.

 

Now aged 72, a congenial, gentle man, glasses, shaved hair, greying temples, Iswar smiles a lot, even when he is telling me a sad story of the incident when his friend was killed in combat beside him in the jungle  of Malaysia and he was obviously moved by emotion at the same time.  I ask Umesh afterwards why he smiled when he recounted this story but he doesn’t really have an answer.

Growing up, Iswar lived with his six siblings and parents on a family farm in a house which the family had built themselves.  His grandparents lived very close by, next door.  “Back then there were no cement and bricks … so we just used to do it with what we had, like mud and … make do, and we used to do it ourselves.”  He says they all lived happily and everyone just got on with their jobs on the farm and enjoyed the occasional religious festival such as Dashain .

 

“Everything we ate was actually organic, so whatever we grew we ate.”  They grew a range of food: rice, wheat, sweetcorn, mustard, sugar cane.  They had cows and goats for milk and so they were self sustaining as much as possible.

 

Iswar says he was given “not much”  to do by way of jobs around the farm.  By “not much” what he actually did was cutting wood, grass and looking after the cows and goats.  And this was from the age of five years old.   Iswar’s earliest memory is at the age of five years old he remembers cutting his finger as he was trying to chop sugar cane.  He laughs as he tells me this.

 

By “looking after the cows and goats”  Iswar really means finding the food in the first place to feed the livestock, not purchasing it from a local convenience store and serving it up to the animals.  I can’t imagine how much food a cow needs to survive during its lifetime on a farm yet alone gathering the food to feed it.

 

This was Iswar’s main existence every day and it was his world up until the age of 18.  When I asked about any schooling Iswar said, “Nobody studied, there was no school around. It was very, very far and that’s why I’m not educated.  There weren’t that many big issues, and if there was a very big rain then we would just stay in and look after the animals ’cause we had a lot of other things to do.  So the field and the farming wasn’t the main issue and there wasn’t usually bad weather, much.  … There wasn’t something as such, you know, like a family day out, it didn’t happen then.  It was just kind of everyone got on with their own jobs and quite individual really. ”

 

Iswar knew nothing of what went on in the kitchen, it was what his mother would do and once his brothers got married their wives would do it.  In his family the men, the boys would be out most of the time.  The women “always eat after everyone’s finished, so the women in the house will eat after all the men have finished.”

Recruitment drive for young film makers

308 atc logoWhile Umesh was away in Germany I met up with our film maker, Offshoot Films , and the 308 ATC air cadets in Colchester one Thursday evening to introduce the film making workshops which will start in January.

It was a recruitment drive and twenty cadets have filled the spaces already and we’ve reached capacity so it’s a good result.  The cadets will be joined by members from another Colchester youth group to do this joint project and we’re looking forward to working on this together.  The group will make a short film about the Gurkhas and interview them in the new year.  In the meantime I’ll create some history packs ready so they have some background info and stories about the Gurkhas.  We’re aiming for a film celebration evening in March with the Gurkhas.

Another good result from the same evening was meeting the cadet leader, Jean Robinson, and learning that she has a personal collection of photos she took during her trip to Nepal a few years ago.  We are lacking any photographs to illustrate the veterans’ stories in Borneo, Malaysia, Brunei, Hong Kong etc because, surprise surprise, who ever took a box brownie camera into the jungle with them or up Goose Green and posed for pictures during combat?!  Apparently, the recruitment centres and huts are still the same as the 1950s and look like old colonial outposts and Jean has plenty of photos of these.  It would also be good to have photos of the mountain villages where most of our veterans were born and the rivers and scenery.  Today I came across a great website called Earthducation/LT Media Lab and they have agreed that we can use some of their photos.  Thank you very much Earthducation!

“Civilians won’t know us…”

Gurkha Stories

FBIn September Umesh had to attend to his compulsory Territorial Army duties in Germany from 5th-22nd September.  Umesh is my main contact into the Gurkha veteran community at Abbeygate house but he left me with his right hand man, Durga, to liaise with and this worked very well while he was away.

I worked with a bright Nepalese law student from Essex University, Sneha Shrestha, who acted as an interpreter for four interviews over two days at Abbeygate.  Sneha’s insight and help with me understanding the Nepalese culture and customs was invaluable and I was very grateful to her.   Unfortunately for me, but luckily for Sneha, she has now left for a six month adventure in Nepal as her graduation present to herself while she does voluntary work and meets up with friends and family over there.

The first interviews have been transcribed and now I’ve had time to reflect…

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“Civilians won’t know us…”

In September Umesh had to attend to his compulsory Territorial Army duties in Germany from 5th-22nd September.  Umesh is my main contact into the Gurkha veteran community at Abbeygate house but he left me with his right hand man, Durga, to liaise with and this worked very well while he was away.

I worked with a bright Nepalese law student from Essex University, Sneha Shrestha, who acted as an interpreter for four interviews over two days at Abbeygate.  Sneha’s insight and help with me understanding the Nepalese culture and customs was invaluable and I was very grateful to her.   Unfortunately for me, but luckily for Sneha, she has now left for a six month adventure in Nepal as her graduation present to herself while she does voluntary work and meets up with friends and family over there.

The first interviews have been transcribed and now I’ve had time to reflect on my method and approach: next time it’s probably better to have the actual answers in Nepalese transcribed verbatim, rather than the interpreter’s paraphrasing and summary of the veterans’ answers.  It seems obvious now but wasn’t until I saw it typed in black and white before me.  Using an interpreter such as the Nepalese student community or Umesh helps move the interview along but I’m losing the descriptive detail in the paraphrased answers.  And it’s the detail which makes for interesting stories, as well as tone of voice, pauses, silences.  Of course, this doesn’t come across either on verbatim transcripts like the interview itself taking place when you’re completely immersed in the atmosphere generated by your narrator at the time.

All of this said, however, these first four interviews have been more challenging than I anticipated.   Literal answers are given in response to my open questions which would normally work like a dream with other veterans and bring forth lively descriptions and anecdotes of their time in the army.  I have had to question and review my approach as it’s not working with the Nepalese culture and Gurkha veterans.

It dawns on me that I am quite possibly the first western woman that the veterans have ever sat with for a couple of hours and conversed with, ever, on a personal level.  I don’t know for sure, but having heard their stories there weren’t any situations where this would have arisen in their lives and the two cultural paths crossed.  Combine this with their culture of being in the army and used to following orders and it’s no wonder they are answering my questions like they’re reporting for duty.  One veteran responds to my question about trying to learn about the Gurkhas from his first  hand experiences with,  ‘Civilians won’t know because they don’t know me, they don’t know us.  We don’t speak to them so what can they know?  They can only know if they come and talk to us.’  I explain that this is exactly what I’m trying to do but it’s met with a shrug.  How am I going to overcome this?

So I decide to wait for Umesh to return from Germany at the end of September.  He has a lot of opinions on my interviews when he returns.  He tells me I should have waited as he knew this would happen and we’ll get better interviews if he interprets as he knows the Gurkhas, he is one of them he says.  But when I tell him that one of them told me about the way they were treated in the army by their officers he says ‘You see that veteran would never tell me that if I was in the room because I am an officer and he wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that in front of me.  So he is telling you things he wouldn’t say in front of me, but he’s telling you.’  I explain that I had to press on while he was away and start the interviews and just see what would happen.    Now I know.  The themes of caste & culture,  officer v enlisted are already being drawn out after only four interviews.

So for our next round of interviews Umesh selects three veterans that he knows personally as they were in the same regiment and he has great respect for.  And they have wonderful stories and we record over five hours of material. I’m relieved. So relieved.  I’m waiting for these transcripts to be returned to pour over them and reflect.