Off the Battlefield, On the Scene

Welcome to The Gurkha Museum’s latest Online Exhibition.

Throughout their history Gurkha soldiers have been known for their ferocity in battle and known as ‘The Bravest of the Brave’. However, in the same breath they are also known as the most generous of the generous, and their role has always involved many forms of bravery. This exhibition, entitled ‘Off the Battlefield, On the Scene: The Gurkhas and their Military Aid to Civilian Authority’, aims to showcase how Gurkhas have helped support and aid civil agencies in peacetime across the world. 


As public health services have become stretched or large-scale medical crises have occurred in hard-to-reach or difficult-to-operate-in areas, military medical and logistical staff are often deployed to support existing infrastructure. Outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola in West Africa and Covid-19 globally have required Gurkha soldiers to deploy to help with testing, supply of equipment and transport management.

Medical Aid

In times of industrial action, severe disruption or other required circumstances, members of the armed forces have often stepped in to plug gaps and assist with the continued running of essential services. Gurkha soldiers are no exception and have been helping in this role since their original deployments to the UK beginning in the 1970’s.

The Green Goddess

During the winter of 1977 soldiers of 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles, provided military aid to the civil authorities during the Fireman’s Strike. Manning fire engines often referred to as ‘The Green Goddess, they bravely fought many fires, saving lives and property.



2015 Earthquake in Nepal

As well as being the site of the tallest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas, Nepal and its surrounding countries are often the site of powerful and destructive earthquakes and other seismic activity. Often occurring without warning these events can cause huge devastation requiring immediate response. Gurkha soldiers have often been called upon to provide immediate emergency aid after earthquakes and have been responsible for many lifesaving actions.

WO2 Raju of 2nd Royal Gurkha Rifles talks about his experience within Operation MARMAT and Operation LEYLAND after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

Naik Nandal Thapa

Naik Nandal Thapa

Over the course of its history, 26 Victoria Crosses, the highest military award for valour, have been awarded to Gurkha soldiers and British officers in Gurkha regiments. In addition to these, two Gurkha soldiers have been awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal, an antecedent to the George Cross, which is often regarded as a ‘Civilian VC but which can be awarded to military personnel, usually for acts of outstanding bravery but not in the presence of the enemy.  

Such a situation occurred on the night of the 30th/31st of May 1935, when the worst earthquake ever then known in India struck near the city of Quetta. The devastation was most intense in the city’s residential districts. Both battalions of 8th Gurkha Rifles were stationed nearby and rushed from their cantonments to assist in the relief effort as soon as day broke on the 31st. Naik Nandlal Thapa and his section were some of the first troops to reach the area. Quickly spotting a number of bodies caught under the roof of a collapsed building, Nandlal rushed in and began pulling out the injured, saving three lives, all whilst aftershocks continued to shake the area and render any buildings still standing extremely dangerous. His section worked all day in the rescue effort and on their return to barracks Naik Nandlal and his men stopped a final time to dig out a man from the debris with their bare hands after hearing his cries for help. Altogether 10 people are recorded as having been rescued by Nandlal’s actions. 

Lance Naik Chitrabahadur Gurung also led a section of men in the rescue effort that day, and he and his section were instrumental in the painstaking and careful rescue of the wife of the local Railway Police Superintendent, whose bungalow had been destroyed and who was trapped with her (sadly deceased) husband in the debris. They too operated tirelessly for hours, whilst in serious danger should any more buildings collapse around them, continuing to work after this rescue for the rest of the day. 

Both men were awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal for their brave actions. 


On August 21st 1988 a powerful earthquake struck near the town of Dharan in eastern Nepal, causing widespread damage to about 18,000 buildings and killing or injuring nearly 2,000 people. In response the British military launched Operation NIGHTINGALE to provide aid and assistance, mainly via the Headquarters of the Brigade of Gurkhas, Nepal, to those effected and to ensure the rebuilding and smooth functioning of the British Military Hospital in Dharan. The dedicated medical team at the hospital as well as aid from the Brigade of Gurkhas and the Brigade’s depot at Dharan were instrumental in saving many lives and showed a dedication to professionalism and service which has always been a hallmark of the Brigade of Gurkhas.



Lt. Simon Britten who provided aid in the aftermath of the Earthquake

Lt. Simon Britten in attendance at the Gurkha Museum in the summer of 2022

Providing aid in Dharan, Nepal.

Damage caused at British Military Hospital Dharan by the 1988 Nepal Earthquake

The Gurkha Welfare Trust

The Gurkha Welfare Trust

In the decades after the Second World War large numbers of Gurkha soldiers were demobilized and returned home to Nepal. Those who had not served long enough to qualify for a pension under the rules then in place often faced a hard existence in the face of difficult conditions in Nepal. In response a number of current and former Gurkha officers founded the Gurkha Welfare Trust to plan a UK-wide appeal to raise money for these veterans and their families. Since this origin in 1969 the GWT has gone on to become an important avenue for charity in Nepal, providing thousands of kilometers of water pipes and hundreds of school builds and improvements across the country, aiding other Nepalese citizens as well as Gurkha veterans.

HM The Queen inspecting the Gurkha Guard of Honour at the Royal Premiere in aid of the Welfare Appeal on 4 December 1972

Field Marshal Lord Harding being presented with a scroll by Major (QGO) Asalbahadur Limbu MVO MC to mark the end of the Gurkha Welfare Appeal in UK

Concept design for a Gurkha Welfare Trust ‘Earthquake Home’ in response to the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes

A scale model of the Gurkha Welfare Trust ‘Earthquake Home’ made by staff at The Gurkha Welfare Trust.

© The Gurkha Museum Trust Winchester - Registered Charity Number 1169920 (formerly 272426)