Gurkhas

Welcome To The Army: New Gurkha Recruits Complete Their First Day

Hundreds of new recruits in Nepal have finished their first day in the service.

Four hundred new Gurkha recruits in Nepal have completed their first day in the British Army.

Fifty-seven instructors from Catterick's Gurkha Company have flown to Pokhara to conduct an 'Introduction to the British Army' session with the trainee riflemen.

Selection for the Gurkha intake of 2019 has just been completed in Nepal, with the largest number of Nepalese recruits joining the British Army since 1985.

The course lasts for one week, before the recruits fly to the UK to begin their new lives as trainee Gurkhas.

The bags containing their belongings will be returned to the new recruits' families because, as now they are part of the British Army, they will need a whole new wardrobe.

However, as it is not known who will get in, the sizes are issued at random.

What follows is a large swapping session to see if they can sort out their sizes between themselves. Any sizes they are still short of can then be ordered in.

New recruits unpack their new uniform and clothes
New recruits unpack their new uniform and clothes.

Soon after being handed their new bags, the young recruits are inoculated and receive a haircut.

A trip to the tailor is also necessary, to make sure their new kit fits perfectly.

Looking at the items stashed in their newly provided washbags, many comment on the fact that together with soaps and shampoos, they are also provided with razors and razor blades.

"Being Gurkhas we need to stay clean [shaven]," says Training Rifleman Nelson Gurung, "but us Mongols don't really have moustaches or beards!"

New recruit's hair are cut in Pokhara, Nepal
A new recruit getting a haircut in Pokhara, Nepal.

The first drill lesson is perhaps the most important thing recruits must learn in their first week of training.

In a few days time, they will parade in front of dignitaries and their families, and everyone wants it to be perfect.

Captain Dirgha KC from Gurkha Company in Catterick says:

"This intake will be better than the last. Son is always better than father. My son will be better than me."

New recruits look at themselves wearing their Gurkha uniforms
New recruits look at themselves wearing their Gurkha uniforms

"I stand here in front of you because [my section commander] has taught me everything in the Army – how to stay alive. And maybe one day these recruits will do the same," says Sergeant Suman Ale.

"It’s about the legacy in our tradition."

The recruits have just a week to get to grips with the basics before they fly to Catterick to receive their formal training.

Testing the new Gurkha tests

The physical tests required to gain a place in the British Army are changing and so are the ones to become a Gurkha.

In Nepal, they are essential to select a small number of Gurkha recruits out of a pool of 10,000 applicants.

New Gurkha recruits 080219 CREDIT Brianna Nightingale, Bikash Chandra Dewan, Khopjung Gurung
In Nepal, physical tests are essential to select a small number of Gurkha recruits (Picture: Brianna Nightingale, Bikash Chandra Dewan, Khopjung Gurung)

A team of Physical Training Instructors from the UK have enlisted the help of the brand new Gurkha recruits to help them validate the new potential tests. 

Whilst once the candidates used to be mainly boys from the mountains, now many more aspiring Gurkhas come from the towns.

Training Rifleman Madev Karki is one of them. He was born in the hills, but when his family became more affluent his father stopped farming and moved to a job in the city.

Training Rifleman Karki is just one of the many new recruits whose job is to help the Army validate the new physical tests.

"Old tests have been used for years but weren’t really a good test for soldiering – now we have the scientific know-how to test that," explains Major Shane Burton, Chief of Staff at the HQ Brigade of Gurkhas. 

How will the Gurkha tests change?

The old 2.4 km run will become a 2 km run to match the tests conducted in the United Kingdom. 

To match the UK tests, there will be also a new mid-thigh pull and medicine ball throw.

To become Gurkhas, recruits are required to do heaves (pull-ups). These have been changed from underarm pull-ups to overarm.

The reasoning behind this choice lays in practicality: if you have to pull yourself in through the window of a building, you're more likely to use overarm strength. 

New recruits in Pokhara 080219 CREDIT Brianna Nightingale, Bikash Chandra Dewan, Khopjung Gurung
New Gurkha recruits in Pokhara (Picture: Brianna Nightingale, Bikash Chandra Dewan, Khopjung Gurung).

The 55kg-bag drag simulates extracting a casualty from the field, and the repeated lift of a 20kg burden to 1.4 m with 30 m runs in between is representative of moving supplies around the battlefield.

The jerry can carry has gone from 150m to 240m – but the cans can be dropped and picked up again at any point.

The sit-ups have been scrapped from the tests, and to the delight of many, the power bag lift is also no longer in use.

Sit ups 080219 CREDIT Brianna Nightingale, Bikash Chandra Dewan, Khopjung Gurung
A new recruit doing sit-ups... For the last time (Picture: Brianna Nightingale, Bikash Chandra Dewan, Khopjung Gurung).

The famous doko race, a staple in the Gurkha selection process, will stay, but will not be part of the physical tests.

"We’re setting slightly different standards," explains Major Burton.

"What we’re doing here is data gathering."

Doko Race in Nepal 080219 CREDIT Brianna Nightingale,Bikash Chandra Dewan, Khopjung Gurung.JPG
The doko race will not be part of the physical tests (Picture: Brianna Nightingale, Bikash Chandra Dewan, Khopjung Gurung).

The tests are not yet finalised and some may not be included after all. With so many changes potentially happening, the question lays in whether these considerations are being made with possible future applicants in mind.

However, Major Burton is quick to debunk this theory:

"The changes to the tests have nothing to do with the possible selection of women in the future."