“My grandfather’s sacrifice inspires me every day. When I wear my poppy, I wear it with great pride.”
This summer Gurkha Warrant Officer Khadak Chhetri collected his late grandfather’s MBE seventy years after he was awarded it. He tells us who he’ll be thinking of this Remembrance Sunday.
I’m Warrant Officer Class II Khadak Chhetri and I’m a member of Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support within the Brigade of Gurkhas, currently serving at the Defence Academy. I am proud to be a third generation Gurkha.
The Brigade of Gurkhas has served for over 200 years in the British Army and is over 3,000 soldiers strong. It is one of the most decorated British Army Regiments and 26 of its soldiers and officers have been awarded the Victoria Cross.
Since my childhood I have always been an adventurous person, and so it made sense to join the Army. Both my grandfather and father served in the British Army with distinction and their exemplary service inspired me to join back in 1992. My Grandfather, Subedar Major Kalu Chhetri OBI MC MBE, fought with the 2nd King Edward’s Own Gurkha Rifles. I never met him, but through second-hand memories I was aware he had served with honour and had been awarded the Military Cross at the Battle of Slim River in British Malaya (now Malaysia) in 1942.
In 2002, I went to the Army Medal Office to collect the Queens’ Golden Jubilee medal on behalf of the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles. Whilst there I asked the office for service details of my grandfather, in particular about his time as a prisoner of war of the Japanese in the Far East.
Later that day, to my surprise, I was handed copies of his citations for both a Military Cross and an MBE. Confused by this, I checked with the Gurkha Museum and was told that there was no record of him receiving the honour.
I was of course disappointed, but remained curious so I decided that my research should continue. Then, in November 2015 I finally found the London Gazette entry for his MBE published on 25 Sep 1947. At last I learned from Buckingham Palace that his unissued MBE medal was still there, waiting to be collected after all these years.
After the bombing of Nagasaki and the surrender of Japan in 1945, my grandfather and those he was imprisoned with were moved from Singapore to India. The Warrant of Appointment sent by the Palace Office somehow never reach him or his unit and so no-one knew about his award.
In May this year I attended the Investitures Ceremony at Buckingham Palace to receive my grandfather’s medal from Prince William. After many years of research it was fantastic to see his outstanding bravery and resilience formally recognised. Of course, I wish he could have collected the honour himself after what he and his men had gone through for three and a half miserable years in Japanese captivity.
But as I was able to receive his medal on his behalf, 70 years later, my heart swelled with pride.
This Remembrance Sunday I’ll be thinking of him as well as my late father, Captain Bishnu Bahadur Chhetri, 1st Battalion 2nd Gurkha Rifles, and my uncle for their service in British Army fighting for the freedom of others. My grandfather was in fact a veteran of both world wars. Remembrance has always been a special time for our family. The legacy of their sacrifices inspires me every day and will live on forever in my heart. When I wear my poppy, I wear it with great pride.
This Remembrance Sunday I will also be thinking of Lieutenant Colonel Peter Kemmis-Betty MC. I met him soon after collecting my grandfather’s MBE.
He was captured by the Japanese alongside my grandfather and was the only surviving British Army officer who knew him well. I was not fortunate enough to meet my grandfather and so it was an honour to speak to Lt. Col. Peter in person and gave me some form of consolation.
He passed away on August 25 2016, aged 100.
I recently had the privilege to visit the Gurkha Residential Home in Pokhara, Nepal. There I met Rifleman Gurung and while talking about his service in the Far East, we discovered by coincidence that he knew my Grandfather well. I will also be thinking of his sacrifice this Sunday.
Finally, I will also be thinking of Colour Sergeant Krishna Dura, ‘Chameli’. We joined the Army together in 1992 and served alongside each other for many years. He lost his life in Afghanistan on 15 Nov 2008.
Remembrance is not just about pausing for silence to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice; I believe it’s also a time to educate future generations. It is important that we remember that the freedom that we currently enjoy came with a heavy price.
For me, Remembrance is more important now than ever, and will continue to be so for many years to come.