Gurkha soldiers with Lawrence of Arabia

The Gully Cup
November 16, 2018

Gurkha soldiers with Lawrence of Arabia


The First World War saw Gurkha troops deployed across Europe and Asia, many Gurkha soldiers saw active service in the Middle East. Though most famously involved in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, Gurkhas took part in many battles, including the attempted invasions of Egypt across the Suez Canal in early 1915, the Siege of Kut from 1915-1916 and in 1918 took part in a series of attacks on the Hejaz Railway as part of the ‘Arab Revolt’.

In an attempt to foster Arab resistance to the Ottoman Empire (the large multi-ethnic empire which ruled much of the Middle East, including the Arabian Peninsula, during the First World War) The Allies began to provide Arab leaders with resources and sent intelligence officers into the region to coordinate and assist their efforts. Perhaps the most famous of these intelligence agents is Captain (later Colonel) Thomas Edward Lawrence, a British Army soldier and archaeologist, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. From 1916-1918 Lawrence led a combined British and Arab military force in raids against Ottoman positions and railways, tying up troops and disrupting the Ottoman war effort.


In October and November 1918, at the height of these hit-and-run campaigns, Gurkha soldiers from the second and third battalions of 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles were recruited into this group under the command of a Captain Scott-Higgins of 3/3GR. Though having little experience of camel-riding, just under 30 soldiers are believed to have volunteered for ‘Unt Ka Kam’ or ‘Camel Work’ and departed in total secrecy on August 13th 1918 for Suez. An account given by one Havildar Manhabadur Gurung relates how, after a mere week spent training how to ride camels, the volunteers were sent into the desert. The Gurkhas rode for over three weeks, almost without halt or fires, in order to avoid detection by Ottoman troops, to meet with a larger force made up of a variety of allied troops. This force then began raiding along the Hejaz railway, with the Gurkhas taking part in the breaking of the line in several places.

The force was attacked multiple times, by both ground troops and aircraft (their own air support, consisting of one airplane, being shot down during one of these attacks), but managed to avoid serious casualties, with no Gurkhas reported killed or injured. before the Gurkha volunteers were ordered to return to their battalions with the Ottoman surrender (Manhabahadur re-joined his battalion at Kantara in December 1918). These raids (and others like them) aimed to prevent reinforcements being brought up to the Ottoman front lines quickly in the event of an Allied attack and are considered to have severely hampered the Ottoman ability to reinforce their troops to the North during the final stages of the war.

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