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Queen leads tributes to Gurkhas

Published 09/06/2015

The Royal Regiment of Gurkhas participated in the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace as they celebrate 200 years of service in the British Army
The Royal Regiment of Gurkhas participated in the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace as they celebrate 200 years of service in the British Army

The Queen tonight led moving celebrations marking two centuries of Gurkha service with the British Armed Forces, as senior royals and military veterans alike bowed their heads in memory of those who died in the Nepalese earthquake.

Some 8,000 people were killed and thousands more injured when the Himalayan country - home of the Gurkha fighters - suffered a devastating earthquake on April 25.

Tonight's celebrations marking the bicentenary of Gurkha service, in the sprawling grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, took on added significance as the Queen, joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and Prince Harry, led the 1,400 guests in a minute's silence.

Charles, as patron of the Gurkha Welfare Trust, said it was right "to recognise and celebrate these remarkable men and their extraordinary service to our country".

Remembering the victims of the Nepalese earthquake, Charles paid poignant tribute to those who lost their lives and those left behind.

He added: "The Brigade of Gurkhas is more than just a fighting force, it is also - in every sense of the word - a family.

"As with every family, they have lifetime responsibilities to one another and especially in times of great need. This has been painfully illustrated by the appalling earthquakes which have recently struck Nepal, with devastating consequences across the traditional Gurkha heartlands.

"As part of the wider Gurkha community, we share in these responsibilities and I am constantly humbled by your ongoing support."

Earlier, the Queen, wearing an Angela Kelly silver and white coat and dress, met Gurkha veterans and joked about the age and condition of some Gurkha artefacts - describing a truncheon as "battered" and laughing that a Charles Read telescope was "going back a long way, isn't it".

Temporary stands were erected in the grounds of the hospital, allowing visitors the chance to witness battle reenactments charting Gurkha history.

There were moments of light relief, too, during a celebration of their culture described as "Strictly Come Dancing, Nepali style".

The Nepalese servicemen were praised during the hour-long ceremony for their fighting qualities.

The Prince of Wales said: "In the two hundred years that the Gurkhas have fought for the British Crown they have earned our nation's deepest respect and gratitude.

"Throughout their service they have shown time and again the most remarkable devotion to duty and bravery in the most challenging of circumstances, with significant numbers of their officers and men being awarded the Victoria Cross, this country's highest award for gallantry."

He said the Gurkhas' loyalty, coupled with the highest professional standards, has "put them at the forefront of the British Army".

Joanna Lumley, who led the campaign to allow Gurkhas settlement rights in Britain in 2009, was among those paying tribute to the servicemen at the Royal Chelsea Hospital.

She told reporters: "It's terribly thrilling. I've been here rehearsing with the whole gang this morning, all yesterday.

"We've got a cracking show here but it makes me just almost tearful to feel so proud to be part of it."

Captain Rambahadur Limbu, the only surviving Gurkha recipient of the Victoria Cross, was among those present to greet the Queen in the grand council chamber room.

The 76-year-old, awarded the British military's highest decoration for storming an enemy position during the Indonesian Confrontation in 1965, said: "I am so proud to have been awarded the VC.

"In the year of 200 it is great to be here in England.

"It is my great privilege to meet the highest members of the British royal family. I am, as you say in England, over the moon."

Prince Harry, who served alongside the Royal Gurkha Rifles, said he wanted to join the fearsome soldiers himself.

The 30-year-old royal, who will leave the Army this month after 10 years, told guests he had missed the chance because of timing.

He told Born Free founder Virginia McKenna, whose husband Bill Travers was in the 9th Gurkhas: "I always wanted to be a Gurkha, but the opportunity never arose.

"Physically, I bow down to these guys. They are incredible."

Harry was also reunited with Sgt Dipprasad Pun, with whom he served in Garmsir, Afghanistan in 2007.

He congratulated Sgt Pun, 35, after he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for single-handedly defeating up to 30 Taliban fighters who attempted to storm his control post in Helmand in 2010.

Sgt Pun said: "This is a great way to show the younger generation what the Gurkhas have done."

The service ended as six-year-old Swechhya Joshi, daughter of a serving Gurkha, presented the Queen with a floral bouquet.

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