Many of the censored letters and diaries of Gurkha soldiers at the British Library and Museum give us an indication of their suffering in the battlefield. Because they did not fit the narrative of Gurkha ‘bravery’ and would have affected morale, the letters were censored and never received by their families in Nepal.
These testimonies were a part of the dissertation of Nepali historian Pratyoush Onta, who painstakingly transcribed the letters in the 1990s. They describe the incredible courage, but also the pain, homesickness, and the insufferable wet cold of the trenches during the European winter.
Worry about me.This war is fierce. Five of my friends from the Fourth Double Company have been killed. From the Second Company, one-third of the soldiers have lost their lives. The Gurkha Regiment has suffered a huge loss. And for those of us who are still alive, the chances of survival look slim.
• • •
On 19 May 1914 at five in the morning, our Fourth Double Company was attacked. We were 400 feet away from the German trench. We loaded our rifles with bullets, and stuck khukris in our mouths and went over the top. Of all the wars that I have ever fought in, this is the most ferocious. Many from my company were killed, but we were able to capture the German trench. Because I was shot in my right elbow, I couldn’t move ahead with my company. By god’s grace the bullet didn’t pierce my bones. I am now in London and recovering. I will soon return to France and fight a good war with those Germans and kill them, because they aren’t human. They use poison gas to win a war.
• • •
You have been asking me about this place. This is like the fire and the frying pan. When I return home, we can talk about this. I will give you all the details, but I cannot promise you if that day will ever come.
I could have written about the conditions here, but we are not allowed to share details. Many of our letters are opened and are censored. If we write anything against the orders given, the one who has written the letter will be punished severely. Dear brother, you must be going through a difficult time in your battlefield, but I understand. We are also suffering the same anguish. Brother, it rains a lot here and it is muddy. It is extremely cold, too.
• • •
I took part in an attack on a German trench in August. I was injured and had little sense of what was happening. I was taken prisoner by the Germans and sent off to their country. They cut my leg in the prisoners’ camp. I was then hospitalised for two months in Germany and later sent to Britain. They have now received orders to send me to India.
• • •
This is your brother Bahadur Pun, sending you my greetings. If you have three or four rupees, please send it to me. Along with that, if possible, please send some food, something to drink and some clothes. Dhaniram Pun and I are now prisoners of war in Germany.
• • •
My mother often said, ‘Leave your job, son, and come back home. Work in your own country, or you will suffer’. I wish I had listened to her. Now when I think of it, my heart fills with regret.