Man in Uniform

Text by Anil Chitrakar / Photo: ECS Media

On the western side of the Tundikhel, near the temple of Mahankal Sthan, is the elegant building of the Military Hospital. On the roof the hospital is a statue of a Nepali soldier striding forward carrying a rifle. If you take a closer look at the metal statue of the soldier, one gets a pretty good idea as to what the “brave Gurkhas” wore to war in the early years of the last century. It is estimated that over 200,000 Nepalis served in The Great War of 1914-18. The military hospital was built and inaugurated in 1925 by King Tribhuvan and Prime Minister Chandra SS Rana.

The Great War began when the heir to the throne of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.  During this time, there already were 26,000 Nepali “Gurkhas” serving in the regular Indian Army (Remember India became independent from Britain only in 1947). In February 1915 the Nepali government received a request for an additional 6000 soldiers. Nepal provided 7501; and in December 1915 another 4000 more. One year later close to 5000 set off to fight for the British in The Great War. It may be worth noting that this war was still not called the First World War simply because the Second World War had not yet taken place.

 As Nepal tries to create an inclusive and democratic society, it may also be worth mentioning that the then Hindu state of Nepal made it very difficult for the Nepali soldiers to come back home from overseas duties because the Brahmin priests had declared that whoever crossed the “black oceans” automatically lost their caste. They could get it back only by performing and paying for an expensive ritual with them. On top of this, these soldiers also had to bring signed documents from the British officers that they had not broken any “Hindu rules and rites” while serving under them. Eating the meat of a cow would be one such act that was not allowed.

The population of Nepal in 1915 was only 5 million (compared to nearly 30 million today). It is very difficult to determine and find out how many died; but we know many never came back. Some are said to have settled in India and other places where they fought the different battles. In exchange for providing Nepali soldiers for the war efforts, Nepal was compensated financially. We are told that the military hospital was built with the interest earned on an account at the Bank of England. Next time you drive past this historical monument honouring the Nepali soldier, take a closer look at the man in uniform.