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Serving Gurkhas climb Mount Everest to celebrate 200 years



Serving Gurkhas climb Mount Everest to celebrate 200 years

By Alex Crawford -

On Monday, 15 May, it was a great thrill to hear from Kamal Bahadur Purja, President of the Myagdi Overseas Nepali Association UK (MONA UK) and Founder of Maddhat Shamuha – Nepalese Help, that his brother, Nirmal Purja, was among the Gurkhas who had reached the summit of Mount Everest that morning.

I recalled that, in April 2015, a team of serving Gurkhas had been at Base Camp on their way to the summit to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Gurkhas’ service to the Crown, when the great earthquake struck Nepal and a massive avalanche swept through Base Camp, so that their expedition had to be abandoned.

Undaunted, two years later, the British Army Gurkhas returned, determined to complete the celebration – a tremendous achievement.

Last month, I attended a Knights Foundation charity dinner in Farnborough, to raise money for rebuilding a village school in Nepal that had been demolished in the great earthquake of April 2015. There, we heard the Commander of 10 Queens Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, Lt. Col. Patch Reehal, speak about the intention to increase recruitment of Gurkhas into the British Army, which takes place in a rigorous selection process in Nepal each year.

This decision by the British Government to increase recruitment of Gurkhas brought to my mind the outstanding grievances of Gurkha veterans in relation to matters such as pensions and compensation.

In December 2013, when I submitted evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry on Gurkha Welfare, I recommended that the British Treasury should establish a separate Gurkha Settlement Fund to meet the costs involved in addressing the Gurkhas’ grievances. Among the reasons I gave were that:

• internationally, as Nepal is strategically placed between the great Asian nations of China and India, it would be beneficial to remove any possible difficulties in relations between the British Government and the Government of Nepal caused by the Gurkhas’ grievances, which are constantly being raised by Gurkha organisations based in Nepal; and,

• in the UK, there is strong public support throughout the country for acknowledging the great service that Gurkhas have given in the British Army, and people generally cannot understand why the principle of equal pay for equal work should not apply to all Gurkhas and not just to those who joined after 2003.

This support has grown in the past two years as the British people have witnessed the celebration of the 200 years of Gurkhas’ service to the Crown.

The way is now open to a political settlement of the Gurkha veterans' grievances – after the General Election in the UK on 8 June.

Once the British Government and the Government of Nepal reach agreement on outstanding grievances, there would be no obstacles in to recruiting more Gurkhas to the British Army on equal terms to all other recruits, and to continuing Gurkhas’ service to the Crown into the future.

 

Councillor Alex Crawford is Leader of the Labour Group of 11 Councillors on Rushmoor Borough Council.

 

Caption : British Army Gurkhas at the summit of Mount Everest on Monday, 15 May 2017.

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