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Remembered Today:

did the gurkhas serving in the british army know english?


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Many of them don't now so I wouldn't have thought they did then either.

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As Greg said a lot of them nowadays don't speak English, particularly privates, as you go up the ranks or in length of service, their ability to speak English increases. NCO's were the go-betweens twixt Brit officers & the men.

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I think I'm right in saying that one of the things which made the Indian Army what it was (post Mutiny) was the requirement for British officers to learn the language of their men. Unlike the French Colonial army, where French was the language of command, and colonial troops had to learn French to gain advancement, in the Indian Army, the troops' language was the important one.

No doubt, English would be learned as the man progressed up the rank ladder, but an officer who couldn't converse with his men was of little use.

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I have accounts by gunners of the 4th Highland (Mountain) Brigade of the pleasure they had in the company of the Ghurkas in Gully Ravine at Gallipoli. They traded food, taught some cooking skills, etc. So whatever language barriers existed, these men overcame them.

Mike Morrison

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I think I'm right in saying that one of the things which made the Indian Army what it was (post Mutiny) was the requirement for British officers to learn the language of their men.

IIRC, Corrigan's "Sepoys in the Trenches" discusses this, and related issues, over the first couple of chapters or so.

John

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An interesting point made by Corrigan is the effect on Indian Army units when officers who had served with their unit a long time and understood their language and culture were killed and replaced by newbies who did not.

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Please bear in mind that the Ghurkas were substantially officered by their own kind: the British occupied the most senior posts and adjutant. The British adjt. was assisted by a Jemadar Adjutant. My detailed knowledge is 1930s from John Masters, but I believe 1914-1918 was much the same.

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From 'Gurkhas at Gallipoli' by M. H. Broadway, The Gurkha Museum, 1992

"After the battle of Gully Ravine the Indian Brigade were withdrawn to the island of Imbros for a well earned rest. All three Gurkha battalions were much reduced in strength and welcomed the arrival of drafts of re-inforcements to make up their numbers. However, it was the loss of so many of their experienced British Officers that had the greatest impact, out of all proportion to their numbers. One senior officer reckoned that the efficiency of a battalion depreciated by ten per cent for the loss of each British Officer and by twenty per cent when the Commanding Officer became a casualty. Many of the officers who arrived at this time to replace casualties were wartime commissioned officers, fresh from training schools, who had no experience of serving with Gurkhas and who could not speak their language - and this was at a time when few Gurkhas could read or speak English. This had caused problems during training on Imbros and was to cause even more when the fighting resumed."

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