“Come & fight a Gurkha!” he yelled, lost his right hand throwing back a grenade then “single handedly” defended his post for 4 hours against 200 enemy soldiers, neutralized 31

 
 
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Former Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw of the Indian Army once said: “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha.” Correct, but what is a Gurkha?

In 1814, the East India Company began making “excursions” into the Kingdom of Nepal, believing the Nepalis would be pushovers. They were wrong. Not only did their invasion hurt their pockets, but it also cost them dearly regarding personnel.

What malaria or desertion did not claim, the Gurkhas did. By the time the Anglo-Nepalese War ended in 1816 with a truce, the British had learned not to underestimate their foe. Quite the opposite, in fact. Others noticed it also, which is why various countries currently regularly recruit Gurkhas.

Originally from the Nepali district of Gorkha, they now come from all over the country. They are renowned for their service in the British Army and have fought in many contemporary wars forming part of the Coalition Forces in Iraq.

They are willing to serve the British (and other foreign nations) due to poverty – an unfortunate state of affairs that still exists today. “Service” does not do justice to what it is they do, which is why many have gone down in legend.

Gurkha soldiers during the Anglo-Nepalese War.

One such man was Lachhiman Gurung, born on December 30, 1917, in the village of Dakhani, Tahani District, Nepal. He was very poor. So much so that by 1940, he stood a mere 4’11” tall as a result of deprivation and malnutrition. Fortunately, he was tough.

Gurung had repeatedly tried to join the British Indian Army. Being so short and puny even by Nepali standards, the authorities had declined. As WWII progressed, the British needed everyone, so the 23-year-old finally joined the British Indian Army in December 1940. What he lacked in size, he more than made up for regarding sheer determination. He earned himself a place as a rifleman in the 4th Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles.

In late April 1945, his battalion crossed the Irrawaddy River into Burma (now Myanmar) with the 89th Indian Infantry Brigade of the 7th Indian Infantry Division. Their mission was to attack Japanese positions north of the Prome-Taungup Road.

Gurkhas manning a 6-pound anti-tank gun in Tunisia on March 16, 1943

The Japanese were taken by surprise and by May 9, were retreating to the village of Taungdaw in northwestern Burma. Lachhiman’s battalion was waiting for them.

Late at night on May 12, most of the 4th Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles lay asleep. Rifleman Lachhiman was on guard duty. His small group was in a trench farthest away from the village when the attack came – cutting them off from the other Gurkha positions.

At least 200 Japanese soldiers tried to make their way to Taungdaw. To do so, they first had to pass through Lachhiman’s position. A grenade landed on the edge of his trench. He jumped up, grabbed it, and hurled it back with a satisfying boom!

A second landed in the trench inches away from his foot. He returned that one too. A third landed just outside the trench, so he lunged forward and picked it up as well. As he was about to throw it back, it exploded.

His right hand was pulverized, and his arm shattered while burning shrapnel pummeled his face and right leg. The explosion rocked two other soldiers off their feet sending them crumpling to the ground.

Half-blinded from the blast, his mouth severely bleeding, Lachhiman managed to scream the Gurkha’s ancient battle cry: “Jai Mahakali! Ayo Gorkhali!”

Kali is the Hindu goddess of night, death, time, and destruction. She wears a necklace of severed heads and a skirt of chopped off arms while she tramples her husband (the god Shiva) underfoot. She is not someone to mess with and probably explains why she is the patron goddess of the Gurkhas.

The goddess Kali

What Lachhiman shouted translates as “Victory to Great Kali! Gurkhas approach!”

There was only him. All the others were either dead or too badly injured to fight. So he loaded his rifle with his left hand – not an easy task as his standard-issue bolt-action rifle was designed for right-handed use. Despite his wounds, he fired at point blank range each time the Japanese attacked, reloading and repeating the process for four hours.

Exhaustion, shock, and blood loss took their toll, but eventually, his comrades were able to relieve him. For the next three days and two nights, the Gurkhas were on their own, heroically fighting off the Japanese until more Allied troops arrived. The other Gurkhas were inspired by what Lachhiman had done.

When it was over there were 87 Japanese bodies around the trench. Thirty-one of them lay directly in front of the spot Lachhiman had defended single-handedly.

Monument to the Gurkha Soldier outside the Ministry of Defense Building in London; Diliff – CC BY-SA 3.0

Doctors did their best for him, but could not save his right eye or right hand. Lord Louis Mountbatten, British Admiral of the Fleet, awarded Lachhiman the Victoria Cross (Britain’s highest military award for valor) on December 19, 1945.

Despite his injuries, Lachhiman continued to serve the 8th Gurkhas until 1947 when they were transferred to the newly independent Indian Army. He eventually settled in Britain where he died in 2010 – after successfully fighting the British government for the right for other Gurkha veterans like himself to live in Britain.

Despite his injuries, Lachhiman continued to serve the 8th Gurkhas until 1947 when they were transferred to the newly independent Indian Army. He eventually settled in Britain where he died in 2010 – after successfully fighting the British government for the right for other Gurkha veterans like himself to live in Britain.