Ask a Royal Marines Commando whether his Green Lid training and selection time comprise the toughest military programme in the world and he’ll be saying yes before you’ve got the word programme out.
You’ll get exactly the same response from members of the Parachute Regiment, the Foot Guards, other elite units and every callow youth who has passed successfully through RMA Sandhurst.
However, all these gallant types would not hesitate to agree that the real answer to the original question is the Special Air Service and its obviously damp sibling, the Special Boat Service.
The first Gurkha to join the elite SAS regiment is known by the colloquial name Johnny. It’s a moniker that dates back to the days of the Raj when these tough men from the hills of Nepal stood shoulder to shoulder with the British to fight against the Mutineers.
From this conflict a brotherhood of arms was born, based on mutual respect and genuine affection. It is a unique relationship. On the Gurkha War Memorial in Whitehall are inscribed these words: “Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you.”
And, by golly, we can be certain that the Gurkhas are, and were, all of this and more. The award of 26 Victoria Crosses to the Brigade since 1858 is all the proof we need.
Yet you would think, would you not, that of one thing we can be 100 per cent certain: that in this country the Gurkhas face no racist discrimination or abuse.
Sadly you would be wrong. And, what is more, you would be mistaken to believe that the abuse was from nationalist thugs whose view of foreigners is brutal, evil and ugly. Alas, it appears that the discrimination comes from within and is based on that Hindu blight, caste.
In ‘A Gurkha’s Story’ (by Johnny Gurkha, published by Lamjung Books, 2013) we learn that due to his caste, Johnny suffered setbacks and exclusion. Senior Gurkhas from other castes diverted opportunities away from him and employed underhand tactics to disregard his qualities, effort and military skill, to favour instead members of their own castes .
He applied for, and joined, the SAS because passing Selection is in and of itself, a pinnacle of military achievement, and to get away from the racist attitudes that were prevalent in the Gurkhas at that time.
This is an interesting book, instructive as to the way the war was fought in Afghanistan and how the men from Nepal interacted with their British counterparts. Stirring stuff that makes me want to acquire a kukri, to contemplate its deeper meaning in these troubled times.
The sub-text of the book is illuminating. It explains the practical effects of racism on the soul of its victims, on their daily lives, and why it requires superhuman will, determination and strength to overcome.
And when you seek to translate that requirement to ordinary people, to immigrants here, in the US and elsewhere, you can see how the drip drip drip of racism and fascism can defeat them and so diminish us.
Johnny Gurkha is an inspiration for the fight in which we should all engage: for the right to be ourselves irrespective of creed, colour, religion, nation or caste and evolve as a united species. There is only one way and that is by turning our backs on past hatred and enmities.