What Next For Gurkha Recruitment In A COVID-19 World?

The pandemic has forced the British Army to reconsider how it can best recruit and select the next members of the brigade.

The Brigade of Gurkhas is facing questions over how the coronavirus pandemic will affect its next selection process.

The brigade's colonel says British Gurkhas Nepal could meet their recruitment quota by inviting back unsuccessful candidates from the last round of selection.

He also revealed that talks over whether women might be allowed to apply were to restart. 

The Army has warned Central Selection in Nepal could be cancelled due to uncertainty over coronavirus and the current inability of UK-based staff to reach the country.

Although some lockdown restrictions remain in place in Nepal, it is still hoped that enough recruits will be chosen from the hundreds of hopefuls expected to be called forward from around the country in the final stage of recruits selection.

More than 4,000 miles away in Catterick, North Yorkshire, Forces News spoke to Colonel Jody Davies of the Brigade of Gurkhas, during an annual capbadging ceremony for the class of 2020.

This group is the largest Gurkha intake in 30 years but, as they were assigned to their regimental homes, Col Davies explained how the coming year could look very different.

Col Davies said COVID-19 restrictions have provided "quite a lot of uncertainty" over the shape and size of the next cohort.

"Quite how that manifests in Nepal is changing, just like it is in the rest of the world and like it is in the UK, on a near-weekly basis," he said.

To boost recruitment efforts and ease the pressure on the Army, unsuccessful candidates from last year with "in-date" medical assessments have been called to selection once more.

Col Davies said the military is "not concerned about any perceived drop in standard" resulting from the plans.

Potential recruits from Nepal may have to quarantine upon arrival at Central Selection.

Col Davies said there is currently some difficulty with getting personnel into the country to carry out the selection process. 

On Tuesday, Nepal lifted its suspension of all domestic and international commercial flights, although flights remain very limited, according to the UK Foreign Office. 

Entry to the country is currently prohibited to certain foreign nationals, including Britons. 

Col Davies said "unclear" regulations on quarantine and social distancing have also held up proceedings, though he added there are a "range of contingencies" for selection training that could see the Army welcome its latest Gurkhas "very early on in the new year".

All roles in the UK Armed Forces were opened to women in 2018 but, regarding possible female Gurkha recruitment, Col Davies said: "Right now, that's not something that the Nepalese government will allow us to entertain."

He said a "whole bunch of high-level discussions" are continuing in regard to Gurkha service in the British and Indian armies, as well as the Singapore Police Force.

Those discussions will resume after a COVID-19-related pause, with a decision to be made in February 2021 on whether the Brigade of Gurkhas can recruit females for entry in 2022, he added.

"That's a possibility and something that we are open, ready and willing for," said Col Davies.