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Sons of Gurkha soldiers who served in the British Army thousands of miles away meet by chance in South East London centre


Being a soldier is an experience that rips families apart and takes service men and women away from a life they’re not certain to return to.

For Gurkhas serving in the British Army, the harsh reality of leaving behind a home in the foothills of Nepal led to them finding a new life in London.

According to President of the Greenwich Gurkha Ex-Servicemen Association (GGESA) Association Hari Kumar Mall, there are 5,000 Nepalese people living in the south east of the capital and the number is still growing.

But when the retired soldier set up a community centre where Gurkhas could come and enjoy hot drinks and get assistance for medical problems, he hadn’t expected to meet some of the people he had left behind years ago in South Asia, before joining the army.

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The men reminisced about how soldiers as young as 18 would have to walk for nine days to go to the training camps

When president Hari met fellow soldier Dir Bhadur Ale, the pair were stunned to realise that they had known each other’s fathers who had both served in the army.

Dir Bhadur said: “I knew Hari because of his father.

“I wanted to join the army but because there was no internet at that time my father was the person who would round up soldiers and take them to the army, so he knew Hari’s father because he was also in the army.”

Decades later, Hari would now be the person rounding up Gurkhas in London and discovering the fateful connection they shared many years ago.

Dir Bhadur said: “We were so happy, we were reminiscing about which barrack we were in, where we were deployed.

“We talked about people we knew from the same village and how much their faces had changed”.

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There are 5000 Nepalese people living south east London and the number is still growing according to the GGESA

The men reminisced about how soldiers as young as 18 would have to walk for nine days to go to the training camps to become the servicemen renowned for their loyalty and bravery.

President Hari Kumar Mall spent time fighting in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Syria after following the footsteps of his father who fought in the Second World War in Japan, who was held prisoner but managed to survive.

Eventually, the ex-servicemen decided to come to Britain as the economic situation in Nepal continued to decline and his son and daughter were unable to get an education.

The president said: “I like this country and I was in the British Army so when I got British settlement status, I wanted to come here.

“Nepal is a very poor country, my son and my daughter could not get an education”.

Hari set up the Greenwich Gurkha Ex-Servicemen Association on Plumstead high street in Greenwich borough in 2011, where he provided help for those in the Nepalese community who had resettled in London.

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Married couple Tak Bhadur Thapa, 83 and Thani Sara Thapa have been coming to the hub for years since arriving in London

The Londoner said: “People [in the community] had problems, day to day things like opening a bank account, housing problems and issues with the language barrier by organising a translator to go with them to the GP”.

“People had just arrived, some were living in South East London, the community was growing.

“They started coming in 2008 after getting settlement [status] from the UK Government”.

The community has meant a great deal to the Gurkhas who share a rich and vibrant culture which saw them recently celebrate the religious festival Dashain at Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich.

British Nepalese people from across London attended the event which was led by Panas Helping Hands founder Sujan Katuwal, who supports the Gurkha community.

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Sujan Katuwal supports the Gurkha community and provided 100,000 hot meals to key workers during the pandemic

The Londoner also provided 100,000 cooked meals from his restaurant Panas Gurkha, for key workers during the toughest times in the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Gurkha community which is made up of men and women in their 70s and 80s were forced to self isolate under guidance for the most vulnerable, but they struggled without their hub.

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Out of their 1140 members, they lost 30 members to Covid while another 12 died of underlying health issues.

Hari keeps the centre open through asking members to pay a one-off joining fee and a monthly £1 payment to pay for utilities.

When someone passes away from the community, the close-knit members also make a contribution to assist with social care.

Although the Gurkhas no longer live in Nepal, they feel Nepal is still in their hearts and the community centre is somewhere they say they can get together “meet their friends and organise a get together every week”.

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