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The Complete History of Queen's Gurkha Signals : Part 1/2

 
The Origins: The Gurkha Signals Holding and Training Wing : British Army signalling can find it origins in the Royal Corps of Engineers in 1870, when the first Telegraph Battalion was formed. Signalling remained the prerogative of the Engineers for 58 years until the formation of the Corps of Signals in 1921. It is hardly surprising therefore that the initial employment of Gurkha signallers be in the three Indian Corps of Sappers and Miners (Bombay, Bengal, and Madras) in 1911. This development was rather haphazard and it wasn't until the First World War that whole companies of Gurkha signallers existed within these three Corps. In 1920 these companies were formed into the Indian Signal Service and each 'Line and Wireless' companies within the service were given a letter designation. In 1921 'G' Divisional Signals, which was approximately regimental size, was based in Rawalpindi and included British and Gurkha soldiers. 'G' Divisional Signals had a small Regimental Headquarters (RHQ), No 1 Company and No 2 Company, the latter incorporating three Infantry Brigade Signal Sections and three Royal Artillery Brigade Signal Sections. 

It was this No 2 Company which was totally Gurkha in composition and which grew to such a size that by necessity it had to be eventually split into two. These Gurkha signallers distinguished themselves in the Waziristan troubles in 1923 and during the state visit to Nepal in 1921 of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on a hunting trip. But it was eventually decided in 1928 that there was an insufficient trained reserve of Gurkha signallers and that they should be allowed to waste out of the army. When India gained independence from Britain in 1947 only 4 Regiments of Gurkhas, each of two battalions, were transferred from the Indian Army to the British Army. The 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 10th Gurkha Rifle Regiments moved to Malaya and Hong Kong in 1948. The impending Malayan Emergency provided the impetus in June 1948 for the formation of the 17th Gurkha Infantry Division and it was decided that the signals units for this new division should be Gurkha in composition. In July 1948 the training cadre, from which this new division's brigade signals units would eventually be drawn, was formed and initially consisted only of a handful of British Non Commissioned Officers (NCO) and other ranks. An establishment was created at the Command Headquarters site, in Kuala Lumpur, called X Brigade Signal Squadron and it was to this Squadron that Major A G C Cox MBE R SIGNALS was posted in October 1948. The X was used because no - one knew quite what to call them, but it was intended that this would be the first instalment towards a Gurkha Division Signal Regiment. 

The remainder of 1948 was used in forming the training cadre from experienced British and Gurkha instructors, and with gaining the approval of establishments for a Training wing and an Independent Brigade Signal Squadron from General Headquarters (GHQ) Far East Land Forces (FARELF). Although it had been envisaged that the first group of 110 trainees would arrive on 1 Jan 1949 the approval for the establishments was not given until May 1950.  The Trainees destined for this new Gurkha Division Signal's unit were to be drawn in the main from the signals platoons of  the eight rifle battalions, but as chance would have it, the burden of the 'Malaya Emergency' upon the battalions meant they were unable to release these trainees until the middle of 1949. The reasons were that the men were being used in operations and the infantry signals platoons were too deficient of trained men. This meant that a greater proportion of 1948's recruits made up the initial batch of trainees than was originally intended.

The Gurkha Signals Training and Holding Wing, as 'X' Brigade Signal Squadron was now known (though unofficially until May 1950), spent the first half of 1949 improving their instructional technique and moving into their own premises in 64 Transit Camp, on Ipoh Road, Kuala Lumpur. The 110 trainees were initially sent on a three month education course at the Gurkha School of Education, at Tampoi, Johore Bahru, commanded by Captain P T Prentice 7GR. On the 1st May 1949 the 110 trainees began instruction in reading, writing, English, mathematics and map reading to bring themselves up to a suitable educational standard to be Royal Signals tradesmen. On the 16th August 1949 the now 102 trainees (8 were rejected at the end of the education course) began their trade training as Gurkha Royal Signals at the Gurkha Signals Training and Holding Wing. Of the 8 who were rejected one was definitely a black sheep and a trouble maker, for it was later found out that he had been one of the ring leaders in an infamous Indian naval mutiny in Bombay at the end of World War Two, and so possibly not the ideal candidate from which to father a regiment. The training for this first batch lasted until 1st August 1950 and they were then posted to the newly formed 48th Gurkha Brigade Signal Squadron commanded by Major L H Gregory MBE, which was launched on the 18th December 1950 at an inspection by Major General R C 0 Hedly CB CBE DSO. At this occasion the General said ;
'I have served with the Gurkhas for twenty - eight years and have never known them to fail yet. You will not fail .'

Two days later the squadron moved to Pahang to join the Brigade and became operational. The men were trained in three main trades Operators Wireless and Line (OWLS), Linemen, and Despatch riders and although had come from a variety of backgrounds managed during training very well. Major Gregory tried to instil in the men a sense of identity by placing them in detachments and these became known as;

Okhaldhunga Det          Bhojpur Det
Dhankutta  Det             Ham Det
Pokhara Det                Gulmi Det
Lamjung Det                Baglung Det
Tansen Det                  Darjeeling Det
Syanja Det                   Chisangkhu Det

All the men were titled Gurkha Royal Signals and wore the badge of the Royal Corps of Signals, 'Jimmy'. Certain dress differences were soon established to set both British and Gurkha ranks of the Gurkha Royal Signals apart from their counterparts. But it was on the persistence of Major Gregory that the Regiment gained its prized Grant tartan and began its affiliation with the now 32 (Scottish) Signal Regiment (Volunteers). Major Gregory proposed in 1952 that the Regiment should have a pipe band as many other Gurkha Regiments had and to this end an affiliation with a Scottish Regiment should be made. The only pipe band in existence in the Royal Corps of Signals belonged to the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division Signal Regiment based in Aberdeen, and so overtures were made to cement an affiliation. Help was very forthcoming from the 51st Highland Division Signal Regiment and a corps of pipes and drums were established with their help and the help of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, based in Malaya at the time. 

The affiliation was approved and formalised when Major (QGO) Parsuram Gurung MBE, who was in the UK for the coronation, visited the Regiment and presented it with a ceremonial Kukri and received a Quaich in return. From the 51st Division Signal Regiment the Gurkha Signals inherit their Tartan, which is the Grant tartan and which the regiment is permitted to wear by the authority of Lord Strathspey, Clan Chief of the Clan Grant, and the Regimental March which is 'Scotland the Brave'. The affiliation of the Regiment now passes on to 32 (Scottish) Signal Regiment which was formed on 1 April 1967 and in which the 51st Division Signal Regiment has become 51 Highland Signal Squadron. 1951 to 1954 were definitely the formative years of the Gurkha Signals and many changes were undertaken on the road to formal recognition as a Regiment.

On the 15 January 1952 the Gurkha Signals Training and Holding Wing closed in the old '64 Transit camp and began life anew as the Signals Training Squadron in the Depot of the 17th Gurkha Division, Sungei Patani. The RHQ of 17 Gurkha Division Signal Regiment (GDSR) which is also HQ Gurkha Signals was formed in October 1953 and in November moved to Lamjung Camp (Maxwell Road Camp), Kuala Lumpur. A certain amount of shuffling ended in November 1953 with the Brigades of 17 Division being served by units of 17 GDSR; 26, 63, 99, and 48 Brigades being served by 26(1), 63(K) ,99(L), and 48(J) Troops respectively. On 16th October 1953 17 Gurkha Divisional Signal Regiment was officially constituted but the day that has been adopted as the Regimental birthday is 23 September 1954. On this day Major General Brigade of Gurkhas, Major General L E C M Perowne CBE presented to the Regiment at Lumjung Camp, Kuala Lumpur, its own badge .

The Malayan Emergency and Beyond 1948 - 1962 

On the 1st February 1948 the Federation of Malaya was formed and growing Chinese dissatisfaction in Malaya precipitated the resurrection of the guerilla organization which had been previously set up to fight the Japanese. The Malayan Races Liberation Army was a communist sponsored terrorist organisation which was armed by caches of World War Two weapons and which sought the overthrow of British rule in Malaya. When in June 1948 three British rubber plantation managers were murdered a state of emergency was declared and a twelve year anti - terrorist campaign by the British began. The terrorists were quickly isolated from the rest of the population by the British 'Hearts and Minds' policy, which allowed villagers to be rehoused in 'New Villages' with modern facilities and conveniences. The Terrorists, lacking popular support, were pushed into the Jungle and the police and army strove to fight them on their own ground. The fighting was infrequent but fast and furious, and the Army' tactics changed accordingly, it quickly being realised that the Gurkha made an ideal jungle soldier. Against this background the 17th Gurkha Infantry Division was formed, and the Gurkha Signals rapidly assumed responsibility for all communications to the various Brigades within that division.

Following closely in the footsteps of 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade Signal Squadron came K (King) Troop raised in November 1951 as the brigade signal squadron for 63 Brigade in Seremban. The next year in November L (Love) Troop was formed to support 99 Brigade in Johore Bahru and in December the squadron at 48 Brigade was renamed J (Jig) Troop so that the three troops could comprise 3 Squadron 17 Gurkha Division Signal Regiment. An independent squadron was raised in December of 1952 in Kluang to provide communications for 26 Gurkha Brigade and 1 Squadron the divisional headquarters squadron formed in Kuala Lumpur in April 1953 provided the last component for the formation of the regiment. The Regiment was officially constituted on the 16th October 1953 as 17 Gurkha Division Signal Regiment commanded by Major L H M Gregory. 

The Regiment's first home was Maxwell Road Camp, Kuala Lumpur, which soon became known as Lamjung Camp Lamjung being the home of the then, and first Gurkha Major, Parsuram Gurung. Parsuram had just returned form the UK where he had been a member of the Brigade's Coronation contingent; asked to describe his experiences at the Commanding officers weekly conference, he said that his mother had told him about heaven when he was a child but it was only now that he really understood what it might be and where it was. Building began in Lamjung camp in 1953 and was finished in 1955, although a lot of self help was needed to make the camp habitable and it eventually acquired a charm reminiscent of a village in the hills. There were no permanent buildings in the camp and from the entrance a narrow road ran through a collection of huts to the Gurkha Officers Mess and Gurkha families lines at the top of a hill. The Gurkha Families themselves lived in EPIP tents and it wasn't until the end of 1955 that huts were eventually built for them in Lamjung village.

MALAYAN PENINSULA

Having a home however, did not mean an end to all the name changes and by the time Lt Col Gregory handed over the Regiment to Lt Col Griffith in January 1956 the Regiment had lost its Royal title and the first sub - unit had left Malaya. The Royal title was dropped when the Regiment was honoured by Her Majesty the Queen in becoming a full member of the Brigade of Gurkhas on 28 September 1955. This made the Regiment unique among signals units in that it appeared in the army list within the Corps of Infantry. The first Gurkha Signals unit to have left Malaya was the signal squadron accompanying 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade to Hong Kong in 1954. This was the independent squadron raised to support 26 Brigade and renamed for the move. J Troop filled the squadrons' place in Kuala Pilah. The fighting in the Malayan emergency happened sporadically and no 'European' style actions were fought. The infantry were committed to operations involving long, patient patrolling and there were never enough resources to maintain such a high level of operations. 

It soon became a matter of course for Gurkha Signals Troops to be tasked to do Headquarters Defence duties; escorting convoys, doing gate checks at 'New Villages', and now and then the odd ambush in a major operation. All the while radios and signal centres were manned 24 hours a day. The bread and butter radio communications for the Regiment were High Frequency radios which were prone to interference, fading, and noise, being particularly difficult at dawn and dusk, the two most crucial tactical times of the day. The problems of radio communications was exacerbated by a diversity of accents on the radio nets. On 99 Gurkha Infantry Brigades command net it would not be unusual to find operators from a variety of Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Rhodesia, Malaya and Fiji, not to mention from the British army's own Scottish, Welsh and Gurkha battalions. For some reason this never became a problem how ever for the operators from the Regiment. When fighting did begin it was fast, furious and unannounced, requiring the fastest of reactions. The Brigades soon adapted to this method of fighting and in Operations Valiant, Commodore, and Boxer the use of the helicopter became an essential part of brigade plans. 

The Gurkha Signals quickly hit upon the idea of becoming airportable and ingenious if far fetched methods of operation were planned. The most notable being the idea of Lt (QGO) Prembahadur Gurung to lay line by helicopter, though no record remains as to whether this was ever carried out. One event which did take place highlighting the speed operations were carried out and the professionalism shown by all was the move of the whole of 26 Brigade from Kluang to deepest Pahang, a distance of some 300 miles within 24 hours of informed. The latter part of this journey was completed by rail and the signal squadron had to build ramps to load and unload their communications vehicles and other transports on to and off the trains flat beds. The brigade then carried out over a months operations in the new Tactical Area Of Responsibility (TAOR) before returning to Kluang. There were some lighter moments whilst in the jungle. A, chance remark by the Commander of the Royal Welch Fusiliers at lunch in some jungle glade with Lt Col Gregory led to some frenzied action by the Gurkha Signals. 

It seemed the RWF had reached the final of the Malayan Boxing tournament and were facing the 15/19 Hussars that night. Unfortunately the battalion could not watch because they were on operations in the jungle. The Gurkha Signals with the use of the Divisional command net, a cobbled together PA system and an ad hoc commentator covered the final live to the delight of the RWF (despite losing), and made quite an impression on all concerned over what could be achieved with only a few hours work. This episode turned out to be the Gurkha Signals debut into the world of broadcasting; Commentaries from the Nepal Cup matches were soon to be considered a routine task for the regiment. Thus began an association with Gurkha broadcasting which was continued by 246 Squadron and remains to this day. On 21 April 1956 a considerable honour was bestowed upon the Regiment when Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal presented her pipe banner to the Pipes and Drums. The Pipes and Drums had been pulled together in February of 1955 and by September of that year were playing for the first time in public at a massed Beating of the Retreat. This represented not only considerable hard work on the boys behalf but also hard work from the Royal Scots Fusiliers and our associated regiment the 51st Highland Division Regiment. Her Royal Highness who was Colonel - in - Chief of the Royal Corps of Signals presented her banner at St James Palace with the following words; 

It gives me great pleasure, as Colonel - in - Chief of the Royal Corps of Signals and also because of my personal connection with the 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles, to present this banner to the Gurkha Signal Regiment. In doing so, I would like to congratulate all ranks on their achievements of the past six years, during which the Regiment has grown up to full stature as an operational Signal Regiment in Malaya and an important member of the Gurkha Division.' 

In 1957 Gurkha Signals moved from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban and occupied Sikamat Camp, being joined there by 250 Gurkha Signal Squadron (Training) from the Training Depot Brigade of Gurkhas. Sikamat Camp was a delightful spot, built on a hill side with a spacious reentrant which held the MT park, the Dashera Ghar and a large 'theatre in the round', built of Attap. The officers and sergeants messes were together on the top of the Hill; the Officers Mess reusing an old Planters house and gardens, the latter soon becoming the centre of social activity. The road to Jelebu ran along side the camp and opposite the camp was a Malay Kampong with the Gurkha Family lines next to it. Rahim Bur Kichi, the Gurkha Signals loyal tailor, moved with the Regiment establishing himself in the nether regions of the camp, and continuing his haircutting, tailoring and washing business, all the while housed in the most basic of tent and corrugated iron accommodation. The enlargement of the Officers mess verandah became another of the Regiments self help projects occupying many hours of off duty time and boosting the bar profits to boot. The project soon however became to big for the enthusiastic amateurs who could not keep pace with the delivery of quarry waste. The Garrison Engineer was called in and he became an immediate Honorary Mess member. In the Mess, the Jeeves - like figure of Bhadre Pun ministered what he considered the every whim of the members. He was a strong character and was very much his own man and in these traits lay his origins as mess waiter. Bhadre had been a driver and had appeared on orders after driving his truck head on.


The Early Hong Kong Years 1955 - 1971 

Hong Kong was the home of the Regiment and it is therefore fitting that the Regiment, in one form or another, has served in the colony longer than anywhere else. In 1954 Major AR Glanvill 's 26 Gurkha Infantry Brigade Signal Squadron was redesignated 48 Gurkha Independent Infantry Brigade Signal Squadron and moved to Sek Kong Camp, Hong Kong. Despite various name changes and moves within Sek Kong Camp itself this Squadron has remained there until today. Only one member of the Squadron was forced to remain behind in Kuala Lumpur, when the Squadron moved lock, stock and barrel to Hong Kong, and that was 'Cassi' the Squadron's goat. Unfortunately Cassi was run over on posting to RHQ and sustained a broken leg. It is known that Cassi survived the trauma of losing her family and her broken leg, and survived with RHQ and categorically did not end up as Bhat

Hong Kong may have seen to some as a quiet posting but when in 1966 the Cultural Revolution in China spilled over the border into the colony the posting became anything but quiet. Riots became if not commonplace then frequent in Hong Kong, inspired by zealous communists on the wrong side of the border. On the 8th July the Police station at Sha Tau Kok on the border believed it was under fire from across the border. From this time forward to 1969 246 Squadron was put on 24 hours notice to move. After the Sha Tau Kok incident the squadron installed a PA system into the police station and in other police stations like Lo Wu so that the communist propaganda from China could be countered. On many occasions technicians deployed to repair and maintain these facilities as well as repairing the telephone lines along the border road which because the road often came under heavy stoning the men from Hong Kong Light and Power Company refused to investigate. As the army took over more and more of the border posts from the police so the Squadron became more heavily involved in providing communications for the border area and the battalions deployed there.

Hong Kong may have seen to some as a quiet posting but when in 1966 the Cultural Revolution in China spilled over the border into the colony the posting became anything but quiet. Riots became if not commonplace then frequent in Hong Kong, inspired by zealous communists on the wrong side of the border. On the 8th July the Police station at Sha Tau Kok on the border believed it was under fire from across the border. From this time forward to 1969 246 Squadron was put on 24 hours notice to move. After the Sha Tau Kok incident the squadron installed a PA system into the police station and in other police stations like Lo Wu so that the communist propaganda from China could be countered. On many occasions technicians deployed to repair and maintain these facilities as well as repairing the telephone lines along the border road which because the road often came under heavy stoning the men from Hong Kong Light and Power Company refused to investigate. As the army took over more and more of the border posts from the police so the Squadron became more heavily involved in providing communications for the border area and the battalions deployed there.

One of the main contributions to the moral of the battalions on the border came from the Gurkha Forces Broadcasts presented by 246 Squadron . It has already been mentioned that the Regiment first became involved with these broadcasts in Malaya in 1953. On 12 February 1964 the Gurkha broadcasting station in Hong Kong was officially opened by Brigadier AB Taggart MC Commander of 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade in Tarn Mei camp, having been built and equipped by 246 Squadron . The Squadron maintained the station with 3 technicians and 3 volunteer Newsreaders under the guidance of the Squadron's Foreman of Signals. A two hour show which was recorded in the Forces Broadcast Unit in Singapore was played every night between 8pm to 10pm. In addition the Newsreaders read out the daily news in Gurkhali which had again been prepared in Singapore and sent each day via the commcen to 246 Squadron . The Gurkha Broadcasts were a great success by the British Forces Broadcasting Service operating from Borneo Lines Sek Kong. Today the main presenter is one of the
Regiments own. Honorary Captain (GCO) Kishorekumar Gurung MBE Retd , who continued a long standing association. The weather in Hong Kong does not remain glorious all year round and soldiers in 246 Squadron can well remember periods of drought and extreme cold. The other condition which happens without fail is the Typhoon season, roughly May to September, the Squadron provided the storms and disaster net from the moment it arrived in the territory in 1954. But in June 1966 Monsoon storms delivered the equivalent of UK's total annual rain fall in just two days as a prelude to a month of continuous rain. the squadron was effectively trapped inside Sek Kong camp by the floods and was not able to deploy the VHF rebroadcast detachment which supply the storms and disasters net for two days, a mistake it never did again, consequently the detachment now always deploy ahead of the storm and never during it. An interesting annual event in 48 Brigades calendar was the Brigade Tattoo first run in 1968 and in which the squadron took an active part. Unfortunately the first Tattoo was slightly marred when 300 spectators had to be taken to BMH when the stand they were in collapsed. There had been so much interest from the local people, that they surged into the stands using tickets passed through the fence and thus causing overcrowding and the collapse of the stand from the unexpected weight. The defence cuts which brought to an end 17 Gurkha Signal Regiment were weathered by 246 Squadron and they gained a Defence and Employment Platoon which was the Regimental Pipes and Drums in disguise. And finally in 1971 they were joined by the newly reformed 248 Squadron, RHQ and Training Troop in Hong Kong, its exclusivity gone forever.

- To be Continue 


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