The first British Defence and Military Attaché appointed to Kathmandu in 1958 was mountaineer Lt Col JOM Roberts MVO MBE MC 2GR, distinguished for his war service in India and founder of Nepal’s trekking industry, providing employment for the Sherpas he so admired. Jimmy made Nepal his home and stayed on rearing rare pheasants in Pokhara retirement until his death in 1997. He was followed by some fabled and highly decorated army names in the 1960s, Wylie, Kemmis Betty and Hickey.
Others are remembered for less illustrious traits. One officer’s Land Rover mowed down the white posts that line the Embassy driveway after an evening of revelry, and another was infuriated when his wife eloped with the tennis coach. One colonel astounded the congregation by bursting into tears during a remembrance service, and another enjoyed slipping into army fatigues with an officious clipboard at the slightest provocation.
My favourite story about Col David Scotson, DA in the late 1980s, was how he got married on crutches, both legs encased in plaster casts, having wandered out of the first-floor window of his future in-law’s Swiss chalet to admire the view only to realise too late that there was no balcony.
The curfew that accompanied the end of the single-party system provided the perfect cover for one officer to pursue an extra-marital affair, whilst others preferred mahseer fishing, rafting and camping on the remote rivers of western Nepal. During a royal visit, at a pre-trek mess dinner under a military camp shamiana, the colonel’s wife was overhead counselling the Prince of Wales not to listen to ‘his mother’ about marital difficulties with Princess Diana, and to ‘follow his heart.’
The British Gurkha Khukris team were a fixture at Tiger Tops’ annual elephant polo championships, often attracting the top brass from Hong Kong HQ and always handy as reliable timekeepers to monitor the matches. The players were most celebrated as winners of the best-dressed award with their natty uniforms, whilst actual goals scored were usually few and far between.
One Defence Attaché, Col Mike Allen, pursued his passion for moths, and could regularly be found at dusk with bright lights and a white sheet, adding new species to scientific collections for Nepal. Col Mike Kefford led a British joint services expedition to scale Everest before abandoning his military career to sail around the world.
One commander went on to become Prince Philip’s private secretary living in Kensington Palace. And a couple of former incumbents have remained closely connected to Nepal, reinventing themselves in new Pokhara-based jobs supervising privately funded agricultural and livelihood projects throughout the countryside.