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Even whilst being widely celebrated for their immense bravery and ability on the battlefield, The Brigade of Gurkhas and its retired veterans are fighting against great neglect – they now fight for the rights given freely to their British brothers in arms.
Recruited from the hill peoples of Nepal, only the cream of this hardy crop is chosen. Proud applicants in their thousands are each year whittled down to just 320, via English, Maths, and other exams as well as physical fitness tests; in the ‘Doko Race’, for instance, they must carry 75 pounds of stones whilst running up a steep 4.2 kilometre course.
The successful Gurkhas go on to serve as an integral part of the British Army. 132,000 served in World War II, and they have been deployed in every major conflict since the Falklands War, as well as on peacekeeping missions worldwide. Their professional record is the equal of any other British brigade – but for many Gurkhas, retirement has none of the dignity afforded to native soldiers.
Often deported back to rural Nepal — despite a high-profile court case forcing a “review” of this unlawful policy — the Gurkhas must go without the support network available to pensionable citizens in the UK, often without even basic medical facilities, in one of the poorest countries in the world. Reforms have allowed future generations of Gurkhas the right to stay in Britain, but many of the oldest and most needing of aid are left out in the cold. Even those allowed to settle often struggle with the simple costs of living.
The Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) has been working since 1969 to provide financial, logistic and legal aid to ex-servicemen and their families in both countries. However, British law is still stacked against the retired Gurkha, and thousands are entirely dependent on the Trust for support. Many have families for whom they are the main provider; many who give their lives in service are survived by families who do not receive any help at all. With running costs of up to £30,000 a day, the GWT relies on charitable donations to continue to exist, and one of the main long-standing initiatives is the Trailwalker event.
Every year, thousands of people gather for Trailwalker — an “ultra-distance marathon”, tracing a 100km route through the South Downs within a time limit of 30 hours. This endurance race is the largest of its kind in the UK, and has been run annually since 1997. In 2002, the GWT partnered with Oxfam, and it has rapidly become both groups’ biggest UK-based fundraising event.
One dedicated four-man team is The Shire Cartel, a cadre of friends from the heart of Cheshire who are eager to beat the £2,000 fundraising requirement and do as much as they can for the Gurkhas. If you wish to follow their progress, or to donate to their group, you can access their blog at www.theshirecartel.blogspot.com which has links to the Oxfam and GWT sites, and other useful information concerning the Gurkhas.