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Fabled fighting Gurkhas honoured – WWII Rifleman Pun’s Service changed Brit immigration laws

Written by Peter Worthington, Toronto Sun
It didn’t get much attention in Canada at the time, but caused such an uproar in Britain that it persuaded the government last year to amend its immigration policies.

While there’s no direct link to Canada, the case of a retired Gurkha soldier resonates among Canadian veterans at Remembrance Day — many of whom have served with Gurkhas, and all of whom respect their fabled fighting qualities in war.

At age 84, Tul Bahadur Pun was one of only 10 living Victoria Cross winners in 2006. His application for a visa to enter Britain to be closer to medical care, and to be near comrades from the war, was rejected.

The British embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, noting his ill health (heart, asthma and diabetes), rejected his application for settlement on grounds that he “had failed to demonstrate strong ties with the UK.”

When that rational hit the British media, all hell broke out. Petitions were signed, people demonstrated, veterans were outraged.

“Had failed to demonstrate strong ties …” incensed the British, who were reminded that Rifleman Pun, of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Gurkha Rifles, had in the past been invited to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, had been a guest at Buckingham Palace, and on another occasion had tea with the late Queen Mother.

It was in World War II, Burma, on June 23, 1944, during an attack on a railway bridge, that Rifleman Pun’s platoon was cut to pieces by Japanese cross fire. Every man in his section was a casualty when Rifleman Pun, then age 21, charged a red house from where the fire was coming, firing his Bren gun from the hip.

Wading through ankle-deep mud, he miraculously escaped being hit, and killed three enemy at the position, put five others to flight, captured two light machine guns, then gave supporting fire while the rest of the platoon re-grouped and advanced.

Pun’s VC citation notes: “His outstanding courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise.”

This, then, was the man the bureaucracy felt “had failed to demonstrate strong ties to the UK,” even though he received a British army pension of roughly $300 a month. In the face of public demands, on July 1, 2007, the Home Secretary ordered that Tul Bahadur Pun be granted a settlement visa immediately. Today, in light of their long service to the British Crown, Gurkhas are entitled to be British citizens on leaving the army.

When he arrived at Heathrow airport from Nepal, Rifleman Pun was greeted with an honour guard. The commander of the Gurkha Rifles escorted him to a reception, attended by hundreds who had helped bring him to Britain.

Many consider Gurkhas to be the world’s most loyal and lethal soldiers, despite their gentle, friendly, cheerful dispositions. Gurkhas have fought beside the British in every war, or campaign, since 1816. In World War II, some 250,000 Gurkhas served on every war front; collectively, Gurkha regiments have won 26 Victoria Crosses.

In 1969, the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) was set up to help some 10,500 Gurkha veterans and dependants with the equivalent of about $60 a month. Nepal is abysmally poor. It is said that the country’s only natural resource is scenery, and its main export is fighting men.

John Archibald, who organizes an annual 200-mile walk to raise money for the GWT, says of Gurkhas: “When we needed them, they were there. Now it’s our turn. They’re too old to work, too proud to beg.” Today, every serving Gurkha soldier and officer contributes one day’s pay per year for the welfare of vets without pensions.

Gurkhas must serve 15 years before they’re eligible for a small pension. Most World War II Gurkhas have no pension. Routinely, Britain’s Spectator magazine runs ads showing 93-year-old Rifleman Lalbahadur Thapa and his younger brother who have walked for five days every three months to the nearest GWT centre to collect their pensions — their only means of support.

In Italy, during World War II, elements of Canada’s 5th Armoured Division fought alongside Gurkhas. More recently, in Afghanistan a battalion of Gurkha served with Canadians in Panjawi battles and received a Canadian Forces Unit Commendation from Gen. Rick Hillier.

No one who has served with Gurkhas or seen them in action on UN peace missions or in war, has anything but admiration and affection for them.

One World War II story about them concerns 14th Army Commander Gen. William Slim (later Field Marshal Viscount Slim), planning to drop Gurkhas behind enemy lines in Burma. When it was explained to the battalion that they’d be dropped from 700 feet, their colonel noted a lack of the usual Gurkha enthusiasm for battle.

Later, the Gurkha Sgt.-Maj. approached the colonel and, with some embarrassment, relayed a request from the troops who were uneasy at being dropped from 700 feet and wanted to jump from 300 feet instead.

“Good God, man!” said the colonel. “The parachutes won’t open at 300 feet!”

“Oh,” said the sergeant-major with some relief. “We’ll be wearing parachutes, will we.”

That sums up the attitude of Gurkhas.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/fabled-fighting-gurkhas-honoured-wwii-rifleman-puns-service-changed-brit-immigration-laws/

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