UK Nepalese nurses: Seven decades ago, 'Nepali' women joined the British Army, some became officers

UK Nepalese nurses: Seven decades ago, 'Nepali' women joined the British Army, some became officers

Officials said that an agreement between Nepal and Britain has recently been advanced to send 10,000 Nepali nurses to the UK for employment.

They say that this is the first time that a UK nurse is being sent to the UK as a result of an agreement between the government and the government.

Although this is the first time that a nurse is being officially sent from the government level, it has been reported that Nepali women and men have been working as nurses in the UK for decades.

Experts say that Nepali nurses have been working in UK hospitals for the past two decades in the non-military sector.

It is a fact that Nepalis have been working in the military field since long before that.

The details of people who have studied Nepali women who worked in the British Army and various books and historical facts have shown that Nepali women worked in the nursing service of the British Army at least seven decades ago.

But in the initial stage, facts have been found that Nepali speakers and Nepali citizens from India, Singapore and Hong Kong entered the British army as nurses.

Sanjay Sharma, who is studying Gurkha women at the National University of Singapore, says, "It seems that more studies should be done on whether Nepali citizens entered at the beginning or only Nepali speakers. At the initial stage, Nepali-speaking women who were outside Nepal worked as nurses in the British Army."

"The information I have come across so far shows that Nepalese women worked as nurses in the British Army as early as World War II."

First Nepali nurse in British Gurkha

The facts available so far reveal that Sobha Kumari Chhetri was the first Nepali-speaking nurse to work in the British Army.

According to Rajendra, the 75-year-old son of Sova Kumari, who currently resides in Britain, Sova Kumari started working in the British Army as a midwife (Sudanese).

However, Rajendra says that he did not start his service from Nepal.

"Our grandfather went to Shillong (currently the capital of the northeastern state of Meghalaya) from Baglung district during British India. My mother started working in the army as a midwife there," he said while talking to the BBC.

"I was also born in Shillong but went to Malaya with my mother to study there. Later I came to Britain and worked as a nurse."

According to the information given by her, Sobha Kumari can be considered as the first Nepali-speaking nurse to work in the British Army.

However, when Rajendra went to Britain from Malaya, he says that he got a Nepali passport based on the recommendation of the British Gurkha military officers working there.

"Until 2019, I was living here as a Nepali with a Nepali passport. But later, when renewing my passport, the Nepali Embassy in London did not accept that it was not compatible with the new law and I became stateless," he says.

"I am currently living in the UK with a permanent residence permit."

Rajendra's mother Shobhakumari worked as a midwife and nurse in 10 GR ie 10 Gurkha Rifles for about 35 years.

She started working in 1938 and retired as a nurse in 1972.

But he was able to serve only in India and Southeast Asia and never got the opportunity to go to Britain, says Sobha Kumari's son Rajendra.

Initially, the main purpose of giving him a job in the British Army was to serve the pregnant wife of a Nepali serving in the British Gurkha Army who did not understand the English language.

Chhetri first worked in India, then in Malaya and finally in Hong Kong, recalls Rajendra.

The Nepali Gorkha community used to refer to him as "Amaji".

After the Gurkha soldiers were allowed to bring their families with them, some of them who were stationed in Malaya and Hong Kong took their wives with them.

At that time, Rajendra remembers that Shobha Kumari was deployed to take care of the wives of Gorkha soldiers when they were pregnant, and even during the treatment of the wounded during the Malaya War.

It is said that she is also engaged in counseling the injured soldiers.

She died in 1988 and was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 1960.

Nurse recruitment process

Similar to Shobhakumari, there are accounts of some other Nepali nationals and Nepali-speaking women enlisting in the nursing service of the British Army in the 1940s and 50s.

But such Nepali citizens or Nepali-speaking women are not directly recruited from Nepal.

"Daughters of Nepalis who served in the British Army seem to be recruited as nurses from places like India, Singapore, Malaya or Hong Kong," says Sanjay Sharma.

But it has been confirmed that from the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1950s, women were admitted as nurses from Nepal.

Even then, the daughters of the Lahure family living in India, Singapore, Malaya or Hong Kong seem to be preferred by the British.

One of the reasons for that is thought to be their grasp of the English language.

At the same time, it is said that the daughters of Lahure, who are outside Nepal, get an opportunity for education.

But according to Sharma, who is studying Gurkha women, it is difficult to find many details about the recruitment of Nepali nurses in the British Army.

However, some general information about Nepalese nurses has been obtained from the study of various books and British Army records.

Some Nepali nurses who worked in the nursing service of the British Army from the 1960s and 70s to the 80s have also given information about it.

It seems that since the 1960s, Nepalese women have started to join the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC).

The QARNC was originally established in 1902 as the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS).

But in 1949 its name was changed to QARANC.

Along with that, Tim I Gurung has mentioned in his book 'Ayo Gorkhali: A History of the Gorkhas' that the enrollment of Nepalese women in QNRANC started from the beginning of 1960.

Gurung wrote that especially educated Gurkha women had the opportunity to do so.

He writes, "A rare opportunity for educated Gurkha women came in the early 1960s. It was then that QUARANC opened its doors to them for the first time."

"Initially they were recruited from Dharan, Nepal. Successful candidates were flown to Britain and given three years of basic training at a general hospital."

According to Gurung, even after completing the required training, they had to take one or two specialist trainings to advance their careers.

'Feeling of Pride'

Rukmani Dewan O'Connor, currently living in Australia, is among those who got the opportunity to join QARANC from Dharan.

Both she and her sister Sudha Rai Dewan served in the British Army Nursing Service.

"Our father, Major Dhanlal Dewan, was also in the British Army. That's why we went to Singapore when we were young," Rukmani told the BBC.

After spending her childhood in Singapore and Hong Kong, she came to Dharan to join the nursing service of the British Army.

The British Military Hospital (BMH) was established in Dharan in the 1960s to provide health care to British Gurkhas and their family members.

Dewan says that initially the nurses who had given initial training in that hospital were sent to Britain and given further training and admitted to QARANC.

"I had also reached Dharan for the same admission," she said.

She started her nursing service in the British Army in 1970 and spent about 10 years as a nurse at various locations.

She was born in Darjeeling, India but spent her childhood in Hong Kong and Singapore.

However, she says that she came to Dharan and joined the nursing service of the British Army as a Nepali citizen.

She said, "I still feel proud that I and my sister Sudha were able to do such technical service as only Nepali male brothers were in the British Army at that time."

According to him, Sudha Dewan started her nursing service in the British Army in 1974 and retired in 1982.

Both the sisters have reached the rank of Captain and retired.

'Enrolment of Gurkha Women: An Important Event'

According to some, the enlistment of Nepalese women in the QUARNC was a very important event in British military history.

A similar reference is also found in the book "Famous Regiments: Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps" by Juliet Pigot.

It reads, "A less spectacular but highly significant event occurred in the history of the Corps before 1970. In 1962 the first contingent of Gurkhas recruited in Singapore was brought to England and arrived at Queen Alexandra Camp."

Noting that there was already a close relationship between the Gurkha Army and the British Army's nursing corps, the book also mentions that Nepali girls were eventually admitted as part of QARANC.

But saying that it took 60 years for that, it is mentioned that "the fact that there are Nepalese officers and other people in QUARANC is a fact that is happily accepted".

The first such recruitment took place in 1961 and they initially trained as midwives at Louise Margaret Hospital, the book says.

According to it, among the Gurkha nurses who were to join QARANC for the first time, there were four officers and four sergeants.

According to Sharma, who is studying Gorkha women, such facts seem to disprove the belief that previously only unskilled people from Nepal and especially men went to work abroad.

"The presence of Nepali nurses who have worked at official levels not only reflects the presence of women in Gurkha recruitment, but also shows that the narrative that labor migration from Nepal was limited to men and unskilled workers is wrong," he says.

Nepalese nurses at the highest level

Various accounts have shown that Nepali citizens or Nepali-speaking nurses reached the officer ranks of the British Army decades ago.

In some issues of the London Gazette published in the 1960s and 70s, names of Nepali nurses were also found when the list of promoted military officers was published.

As Tim I. Gurung wrote in his book, it seems that the enrollment of Nepalese nurses in QARANC was stopped after the British Military Hospital in Dharan was closed in the late 1980s.

But by that time, Gurung wrote that around 50 Gurkha women had already joined QARANC.

According to him, by that time, seven Gurkha women had succeeded in becoming nurses of the military officer level.

Major Radha Rawat is believed to be the first Nepali nurse to reach the highest position.

Nepali nurse currently working in UK

According to the experts, after the enrollment of Nepali nurses in the QARANC was stopped in the late 1980s, Nepalis were only sporadically enrolled in the British military service in their own way.

However, after Nepali Lahures were allowed to go and live in Britain, second generation nurses, both male and female, are being recruited into the British Army.

Similarly, since the year 2000, a significant number of Nepalese nurses have started going to work in the non-military sector of Britain.

According to Radha Adhikari, a lecturer at the University of the West of Stockland, who has studied Nepali nurses in the UK, after 2000, many Nepali nurses have gone to Britain and are working in various hospitals there.

Accurate details of how many Nepali nurses are currently working in the UK are not readily available.

However, experts say that this number is increasing every year.

While the government is moving forward with the initiative to send 10,000 nurses for employment in the UK, there are people in Nepal who look at it both positively and negatively.

The Nepal Nursing Council requested the government to reconsider the decision to send a large number of Nepalese nurses as there is a need for skilled manpower in Nepal.

Radha Adhikari also points out that there are two sides to the issue of sending large numbers of Nepalese nurses to the UK.

"From the point of view of women, this is an opportunity, but the government of Nepal should create an environment where the skilled manpower of their country can work at home instead of encouraging them to go abroad," she says.

Adhikari says that she believes in the opinion that instead of going abroad forever, one should learn skills and return to the country.

"We are also seeing in the Philippines what happens when only sending them abroad. They encouraged sending skilled nurses abroad. It may have brought economic benefits but the health system there has not been improved," said the official.

He suggested that the government of Nepal should also consider these two aspects and take necessary policies.


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