Nepali Times
Gurkhas on gliders

In this first part of his memoirs, he talks about recruitment and his first action with the Kargil Pathans in Kashmir. He describes flying into battle against the Japanese in Burma in a glider. This serialisation of the testimonies of retired Gurkha soldiers is translated from Lahurey ka Katha by Dev Bahadur Thapa.

I was recruited on the 18 April 1940 in Gorakhpur, or Kunraghat as it was also called. My age was recorded as 18 years although my real age was 23-24 years.

I had attempted to join the army earlier but was not successful and had stayed home working in the goth. Soon, war broke out and recruiters started coming. This time they weren't as strict. Medical and other examinations were waived. The recruiting authorities did not even ask for our age, they were instructed to simply write 18 years. Those days, if we started at dawn and walked till nightfall, we would reach Nautanwa in five days. There we boarded a train and reached Gorakhpur. This time we were even given an advance. Our small village was called Batuk. Even that small village was visited by four recruiters, and each could take along 60 persons. The village did not even have 20-25 people for recruitment, so there was competition among the recruiters. I received half a rupee as advance.

After the recruitment process at Kunraghat, we were given training at a big cantonment in Abottabad, now in Pakistan. We were pushed into war after completing a six month training. Rebel Pathans had caused havoc at a place called Dumbdel, which lies close to Kargil. We experienced our first encounter there. We became more alert after that. On the conclusion of that battle the Brigadier ordered special training for us as we seemed cleverer than the others. We proceeded from there to a place beyond Rawalpindi where there was a thick forest and also a large river. There we were trained to cross rivers, row boats and climb trees with the help of a rope line. They taught swimming to those who did not know how. That river, called Barchha, was quite large as it flows into the sea.

We were trained in the art of making temporary dwellings inside the jungle, what to eat, how to ascend the hill and how to descend. Another training on how to operate a glider followed. A glider looks like helicopter but has no engine and is hollow inside. It is carried hung on an aeroplane with a chain, taken to the appropriate place and then the chain is cut. We were trained to land at a suitable place. After the landing, the wings were disconnected and hidden inside the jungle. Also we were trained how to bring down the plane (glider) in case it got entangled
in a tree.

Before going to the front, the commanders had to undergo examination. One of our commanders failed the examination. He was asked to undergo training for another two months. Meanwhile, we were sent home on leave. On our return we found that he had completed the two-month training. Then we were moved to a specially built area in Tinsukia, Assam, India. We all boarded the engineless plane, which was lifted in the air by pulling. That was protected by fighter plane which flew close by. In between were big DC-3 planes on which hung the gliders. The gliders also had wings which required a little pulling in the beginning. As we approached the landing place, the rope pulling the glider was disconnected. From above it was difficult to ascertain the ground condition as such landing is done without prior inspection of the ground below.

They left us in the middle of the jungle. That was a spacious landing ground built during the First World War which had become useless after the war. Big logs hauled by elephants had been left there, making the ground unsuitable for landing. Visibility of those logs was limited by enormous wild grass that grew there.

Quite a few of those who landed there got hurt. Out of 1,800 that landed, about 500 hit logs and were seriously injured. The tall grass was cut and the ground cleared. We carried all our materials to that spot. Mules were used to carry goods. Before moving the mules to the front, they underwent operations of the throat at Tinsukia so they wouldn't bray and give away our position to the enemy.

After their operation, the mules were loaded inside the plane. It was difficult enough to carry one's haversack, arms and ammunitions so there was no question of carrying other goods. This is why mules were used. Bigger weapons like machine guns could not be carried by human beings, so the mules proved to be of great help.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)