Gurkhas

Gurkhas On COVID Testing Operation: 'We Smashed It'

At Christmas, Gurkha units were called in to help carry out coronavirus tests on lorry drivers stranded in Kent, as part of Operation ROSE.

Gurkha personnel have been reflecting on the "incredibly challenging" efforts over the Christmas period which saw them drafted in to help tackle mass COVID testing of lorry drivers stranded in the UK.

In December, more than 6,000 lorries were left stranded in Kent when France closed its borders after a new fast-spreading variant of COVID-19 emerged in the UK. 

The French government demanded that every driver was tested and showed proof of a negative test within 72 hours before they could cross back into France.

That action forced thousands of hauliers to spend the days leading up to Christmas – and in some cases, the festive period itself –stuck in their vehicles in the UK. 

Corporal Gokul Chettri and Rifleman Ek Bahadur Gurung, from 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles, were among hundreds of military personnel drafted in to help as part of Operation ROSE. 

Corporal Gokul Chettri said: "Looking back six months ago now, it was the Christmas time and when we got the call, we really felt proud helping the UK Government."

Operation ROSE Gurkhas Helped Covid Testing Effort France Chanel 23122020 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
In December, Gurkha troops helped with the testing effort of more than 15,000 lorries stranded at the then closed France border.

As part of Operation Rose, troops from various Gurkhas units were sent to carry out coronavirus testing at several locations throughout Kent.

Testing points were on stretches of the M20, at the port of Dover itself and along the coast, at an Army training camp close to the Eurotunnel Freight Terminal in Folkstone. 

For the Gurkhas, communication with so many foreign drivers was often difficult – especially as some drivers were not happy at spending Christmas marooned on the English coast.

1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifleman Ek Bahadur Gurung found a unique way to keep spirits high and the lorry drivers co-operative.

Rifleman Gurung said: "I just asked them where are they from. If they said they are from Portugal, I asked them about football – 'do you know Cristiano Ronaldo?' We would then interact, it was quite easy to interact with them, being friendly."

In all, more than 15,000 hauliers were tested, with only 40 positive results and, eventually, the backlog was cleared.

These Gurkhas were proud of their contribution over an unforgettable festive period.

"We are infantry soldiers, so our traditional job isn't to do tests, but we applied our professional output and we smashed it," Rfn Gurung said.

Cover image: Corporal Gokul Chettri and Rifleman Ek Bahadur Gurung, Gurkhas who helped with the COVID testing effort as part of Operation ROSE.