THE FINAL YEARS
1977 was a busy year in UK for the Battalion. Bearing Her Majesty’s name it was appropriate that it was invited to line the route at Temple Bar for Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee celebrations in London. Other tasks included running the annual Bisley shooting meeting, two tours of Public Duties in London and exercises in Cyprus. At the end of the year three companies manned ‘Green Goddess’ fire engines to provide cover for three counties during the national strike of Firemen.
In May 1978 another Royal highlight occurred with Her Majesty’s very successful visit to the Regiment at Church Crookham. During the visit Her Majesty met and talked to Honorary Lieutenant (QGO) Tulbahadur Pun VC who was in the UK for a VC Reunion. The Battalion ran Bisley for a second year, after which the Shooting Team was invited to represent the British Army at the Canadian equivalent.
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Bullock came from 2/2nd to take over command. Almost immediately the majority of the Battalion deployed for a 7 month tour in Belize; the first Gurkha unit to do so. Brigadier David Powell-Jones handed over as Colonel of the Regiment. The new Colonel, Brigadier Sir Noel Short, had been a Chindit with the 3rd Battalion during the War, commanded the 1st Battalion from 1956 to 1958 and ended his military career as Commander 51 Infantry Brigade in Tidworth before becoming Speaker’s Secretary in the House of Commons.
The Battalion returned to Hong Kong in 1979 and were immediately deployed on intensive anti-Illegal Immigrant (II) operations on the border with China. As part of Gurkha Field Force (as 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade had become) the Battalion captured 3,600 II’s in their first month alone. Operations at this intensity continued almost without interruption well into late 1980 when Hong Kong’s ‘Touch Base’ policy was ended and the total daily II ‘take’ dropped from 400 to 4.
In January 1981, after what was the busiest period in command since amalgamation, Lieutenant Colonel Bullock handed over and was subsequently awarded the OBE. Under Lieutenant Colonel Paul Pettigrew border duties continued, albeit at a less frantic pace, until September 1982 by when the Battalion total bag was 15,411 II’s apprehended. With more time for training and other things, sport came to the fore and 6GR became the Hong Kong Khud Race, Swimming, Athletics and Cross Country champions. The Shooting Team won the Army Rifle Association Meeting at Bisley with a record score and Cpl Dharmendra Gurung won the Queen’s Medal as the Army’s champion shot. The team’s success was repeated at the National Rifle Association Meeting and the Canadian Bisley.
Before departure to Seria, Brunei in November 1982 a major Regimental Reunion was held during Dashera. Those attending included a number of retired British Officers from around the globe and twenty four retired Gurkha Officers from Nepal, among them Honorary Lieutenant (QGO) Tulbahadur Pun VC, having between them almost a thousand years service. The two week event was a memorable occasion.
While Brunei afforded the opportunity to brush up on jungle training, the negotiations over Brunei’s independence from UK meant an influx of VIP and senior visitors. To help coordinate all the visitors an Assistant Adjutant was authorised for the Seria battalion. Lieutenant Rachael O’Meara WRAC was the first to be posted.
In July 1983 Lieutenant Colonel Bob Richardson-Aitken assumed command. 1983 also marked the end of Brigadier Sir Noel Short’s Colonelcy of the Regiment and the last link to the pre-war Regiment was now severed. He was succeeded by Major General (later Lieutenant General Sir) Derek Boorman who had been DAA&QMG HQ 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade, Commander 51 Brigade in Hong Kong and subsequently Commander British Forces Hong Kong and Major General Brigade of Gurkhas when the Regiment was under his command.
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales visited in February 1984. The negotiations for Brunei’s independence having successfully concluded in September, His Majesty The Sultan visited in October. In November the Regiment returned to Gurkha Field Force in Hong Kong. There they found little had changed on the Hong Kong border while they had been away. Anti-II patrols were continuous; on foot, by vehicle and by bicycle. Now every rank was required to ride a bicycle which, as anyone who has served with Gurkhas knows, can cause great amusement!
Lieutenant Colonel John Anderson took over command in 1985. In 1986, Brigadier Ray Pett, Commander Gurkha Field Force, re-titled it back to 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade much to everyone’s approval. During Her Majesty The Queen’s visit to Hong Kong in October 1986 6GR had the privilege of mounting the Guard of Honour.
In 1987 the Regiment moved again to Church Crookham, this time to join 5 Airborne Brigade, the Army’s quick response formation. For the first time since the 1970s Gurkhas began to attend the very demanding parachute training course and, in addition to wearing their parachute ‘Wings’, were permitted to wear the coveted red beret.
In March 1988 6GR found themselves back in Belize for a 7 month tour, this time under command of Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Briggs. Later in the year Brigadier (later Major General) Ray Pett, at the time Director of Army Staff Duties in the MoD, took over as Colonel of the Regiment from Lieutenant General Sir Derek Boorman who by now was Chief of Defence Intelligence. Brigadier Pett had commanded Support Company on secondment to the 2nd Battalion from 1967 to 1969 in Kluang, Malaysia, was DAA&QMG HQ 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade in Hong Kong and commanded 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade with the 6GR under his command. Subsequently, he became Director of Army Staff Duties. In February 1989 Her Majesty The Queen honoured the Regiment by visiting it at Church Crookham for the second time in eleven years.
By April 1989 the Battalion was back in Hong Kong and quickly settled back into the routine of border duties interspersed with training and sport. At a ceremonial parade in Hong Kong on 22nd July 1991, the family of Captain Michael Allmand generously presented to the Regiment their late brother’s Victoria Cross, won at Mogaung on 21st June 1944 alongside Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun, to join the latter’s VC in the Quarterguard. But the beginning of the 1990’s was overshadowed by the news that the Brigade of Gurkhas was to be drastically reduced as part of the reduction of the Army as a whole. This news, received in July 1991, showed that all four Gurkha Regiments would lose their titles and be formed into one new Regiment. By now Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Collett had taken over command and had the sad task of managing the rundown.
Despite this difficult background, operations continued on the Hong Kong border, often in dangerous circumstances. Two members of the Battalion were awarded the Commander British Forces Commendation for disarming and capturing an Illegal Immigrant whose pistol, fortunately for his captors, failed twice to fire. In operations of a different scale, three 6GR Officers were involved in the 1990/1991 Gulf War. Captains Ian Thomas and James Cheshire were attached to the Regiment’s affiliated regiment, 14th/20th King’s Hussars, while Captain Jeremy Brade was with the 1st Battalion The Royal Highland Fusiliers.
Having moved to Brunei in May 1992 the Regiment began preparations for the 175th Anniversary of its raising in 1817. The first event was held in UK in November. At the Tower of London, in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and His Majesty The Sultan of Brunei, the combined Pipes and Drums of the Regiment and the bands, trumpets and bugles of affiliated regiments 14th/20th King’s Hussars and The Royal Green Jackets beat Retreat. This was followed by a reception attended by Her Majesty. It was enormously successful but was to be the last Royal event in the Regiment’s history.
In Brunei in December the Regiment’s main celebrations were held over a week and attended by the Colonel of the Regiment, Major General Ray Pett with his wife and other senior guests. Celebrations were also held in Nepal, both in Pokhara and in Kathmandu. And, as the Regiment’s history was drawing to a close, it was most fitting that commemorative visits were made by parties from the Regiment to all the places which figure highly in that history.
1993 saw a new Commanding Officer. Lieutenant Colonel Nick Hinton arrived from 2GR to complete the final phase of rundown. He was to prepare 6GR for amalgamation with elements of 2GR and stay on to command what was to become the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles.
The Regiment’s last year of history did not go unmarked. The indomitable hillmen from Nepal have adapted to the challenges and changes thrown at them since the days of being armed with the ‘Brown Bess’ musket in the 1820’s. One remarkable example of this is that of Corporal Pimbahadur Gurung. In March 1993 he became the first Gurkha pilot in the British Army and joined 4 Regiment Army Air Corps as a Gazelle helicopter pilot. And determination to excel to the bitter end is typified by Lieutenant (QGO) Dharmendra Gurung. That summer, at the Army Rifle Association’s Centenary meeting at Bisley, he won the Queen’s Medal for the second time. Her Majesty herself presented him with his medal. This was the fourth time a member of the Regiment had won the Queen’s Medal in little over ten years; a proud record and a far cry from the days of the ‘Brown Bess’.
As its history draws to a close, it is appropriate to note that the Regiment has been the only regiment in the British Army to bear the name of Her Majesty The Queen. It has done so with great pride and honour, no more so than in the final years when Her Majesty has had so much contact with the Regiment through visits and other Royal Occasions.
On 1st July 1994 The Royal Gurkha Rifles was formed with those remaining officers and men of the Regiment becoming part of its 1st Battalion. The name 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles ceased to exist as part of the British Army. But, as has happened when the name of the Regiment has changed in former years, the spirit of the Sixth and of its forebears will live on, now through the Regimental Association and The Royal Gurkha Rifles. Jai Sixth! Jai Royal Gurkha Rifles!