The Gurkha Contingent (Abbreviation: GC; ), or 辜加警察团,Nepali (गोरखालि) is a line department of the Singapore Police Force. Members of the GC are trained to be highly-skilled and are selected for their display of strong discipline and dedication in their tasks. The principal role of the contingent is to be a special guard force, and is currently used as a counter-terrorist force.
Just a year after their formation, their presence became an asset when racial riots between the Malay and European communities broke out over the disputed custody of Maria Hertogh. The GC troopers were again activated when major rioting erupted all over the country between the ethnic Malays and Chinese on Prophet Mohammed's birthday from 21 July 1964 till September that same year.
Their presence as a neutral force was important because local police officers were often perceived for being (or were even expected to be) biased towards their own ethnic groups when handling racial disturbances, further fueling discontent and violence. Officers who attempt to carry out their duties impartially and in full accordance with the law also face social backlash from their own ethnic communities, a difficult situation which can even lead to physical harm to individual officers.
In his autobiography, then Prime Minister, now Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew recounted the use of the Gurkha Contingent as an impartial force at the time when Singapore just gained independence. He wrote:
"When I returned to Oxley Road [Lee's residence], Gurkha policemen (recruited by the British from Nepal) were posted as sentries. To have either Chinese policemen shooting Malays or Malay policemen shooting Chinese would have caused widespread repercussions. The Gurkhas, on the other hand, were neutral, besides having a reputation for total discipline and loyalty."
On 18 March 2004, three armed fugitives escaped from Johor, Malaysia after committing armed robbery, and fled by a motorised sampan to Pulau Tekong. Over 700 personnel from the police and the SAF were activated, with the first fugitive captured by the Gurkha officers within 34 hours from the commencement of the search operation. The second fugitive was arrested by the Police Coast Guard's Special Task Squadron officers, while the last man was again caught by the GC six hours after the second arrest
Some of the basic physical admission criteria in the recruitment camp include:
Applicants are expected to possess a minimum education level of SLC 3rd Division equivalent to 0 level. Upon registration, they have to go through a battery of physical and mental assessments prior to selection, including oral and written tests in the English language, a mathematics test, a board interview and medical examination. The annual selection process, which normally takes 17 days but is spread over four months due to conditions in Nepal, will then assign recruits to either the GC or the British Army.
Upon successful selection, GC trainees are flown to Singapore, and housed at the permanent base of the GC at Mount Vernon Camp where they will receive a ten-month long training before being subsequently deployed for duties. The training phase of GC officers is relatively unknown, although they have been noted to utilise the jungles in Pulau Tekong for training. Arrangements with the Brunei police have allowed Gurkha officers to conduct jungle training in Brunei for several years. Training from external agencies were also received from the SAF Medical Training Institute for medical courses , and the Aikido Shinju-kai Singapore for lessons in Aikido, as well as specialised training in full contact Kyokushin Karate http://www.ikosingapore.com .
There are a total of six Gurkha Guard companies commanded by Nepali Chief Inspectors. As a British colonial import, the first contingent commander was a British officer, and till today, it remains the only military or police unit to be headed by a British officer in Singapore seconded from the British Army. The current commander is Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ross Forman. The contingent also has its own Gurkha Band Contingent, the Gurkha Contingent Pipes and Drums Platoon, which is part of the Singapore Police Force Band The Gurkha Contingent Pipes and drums platoon is commanded by P & D OIC Insp Chandrasing Gurung.
|Junior officers||Abbreviation||Senior officers||Abbreviation|
|Lance Corporal||LCP||Chief Inspector||C/INSP|
|Senior Staff Sergeant||SSSGT||Deputy Assistant Commissioner||DAC|
|Station Inspector||SI||Assistant Commissioner||AC|
In contrast to Gurkhas recruited into the British Army, however, GC members are accorded equal status in salary scales and pensions compared to their regular local counterparts, thus allowing them to retire in Nepal at the compulsory retirement age of 45 with a sizable amount of money. The thousands of ex-British Army Gurkhas do not have it as good, and often need to find employment once back home, which may not easily be found considering their old age. The Gurkha Welfare Trust was thus established in the United Kingdom seeking public donations to assist them. From September 2005, the British Club in Singapore selected the trust as one of the two beneficiaries it will support for the next two years, with the funds expected to also help any ex-GC member in need.
Further employment of ex-GC members in Singapore is also available should they be successful in gaining employment passes or other documents permitting their continued stay in the country. For instance, Ian Gordon, a retired commander of the GC, established a security company, Homeland Security Partners, comprising entirely of retired GC officers to provide private security services.
Before the September 11, 2001 attacks at New York City, the GC was seldom seen in public besides being stationed at key locations such as the Istana, and the homes of VIPs such as the then Senior Minister (now Minister Mentor) Lee Kuan Yew. They were also seen stationed at important foreign properties such as the British High Commission and installations which require added security such as the Currency House at Pasir Panjang.
Changing security concerns since 2001 has led to a more active deployment of GC troopers in recent years, and a review of their existing roles. Previously known for standing guard atop lookout towers at Changi Prison where the country's top criminals are housed, this role has since been outsourced to private Auxiliary police forces in the mid-2000s with the liberalization of the private armed security industry.
At the same time, they are now seen in more public locations such as the land entry points at Woodlands and Tuas, as well as at the Singapore Changi Airport. Besides being deployed at Embassies, their presence is also felt at sensitive locations such as the Singapore American School, the Australian International School, The American Club at Claymore Hill, as well as the causeway entrance to Jurong Island. From October 2005, GC troopers began guarding sea-entry points as well, including the Singapore Cruise Centre, the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, the Changi Ferry Terminal and the Changi Point Ferry Terminal
Besides guarding key installations, Gurkha troopers are also increasingly deployed during key national events. They are deployed during the annual National Day Parade, and complemented the police's stringent security measures during the 117th IOC Session held in Singapore in July 2005. In addition, they are also deployed to watch over sealed ballot boxes during the country's general elections. Most recently, the GC was involved in the hunt for the escaped terrorist, Mas Selamat
Less publicly known, is the GC's role in helping to train fellow officers in the police force, as well as other agencies including that of the military. Their excellent fitness, combat and survival skills were imparted through various courses, in return for the help they have similarly received from other agencies in training GC troopers. Gurkhas occasionally lead police Senior Officer trainees in runs and other physical training.
The GC has also contributed to Singapore's overseas security and humanitarian missions. For example, GC officers were part of a 40-man Singapore Police Contingent to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor in 2000 They also joined a 30-man team to Iraq to help train about 1,500 local Iraqi trainers and police officers for three months before returning to Singapore on 19 September 2003
The uniforms of the Gurkha Contingent are largely adapted from that of their regular counterparts, adopting the same dark blue outfit but particularly distinguished by their signature headgear, the Hat Terrai Gurkha. The uniform has remained largely unchanged over the past decades, resulting in increased differences from that of regular police officers. For example, the adoption of embroidered ranks and badges, the abolition of long-sleeved shirts for short-sleeved ones, and the removal of the whistle and chain from the no.3 dress has not been followed by the Gurkhas. This resistance towards changes to the uniform for the sake of officer comfort and welfare is reflective of the contingent's culture of strict adherence to tradition and the placing of duty above self.
The Gurkha trooper's no.3 dress, also called the working dress, is for general duties, including guard duties and on parade. The dark blue outfit, largely adapted from the Singapore Police Force, includes the standard two front breast pockets on the shirt with aluminium anodised collar badges, buttons and a black plastic name tag atop the right breast pocket. Since removed in the rest of the SPF but retained by the GC are the chromed service number pinned above the name tag, and the whistle and chain.
The shirt is long-sleeved and neatly folded up, unlike the short-sleeved versions adopted for the no.3 dress of the SPF. The sleeves are rolled down when the sun sets, and rolled up again when the sun rises. GC troopers continue to wear aluminium badges of rank, which are worn on the right sleeve 11.5 centimetres below the right shoulder strap. Constables wear aluminium bars at the outer edges of the shoulder straps. The dark blue trousers are secured by the two-pronged black leather Garrison Belt, and completed by standard issued black leather boots.
The trooper wears the Hat Terrai Gurkha when on guard duty and while on parade. While on guard duty, he is armed with a pistol and magazine pouch worn on the belt, and with the Kukri affixed to the back of his belt. Additional weaponry and equipment may be issued depending on situational needs. When not on duty, the officer dons a newly produced brown beret with the metal police cap badge similar to older berets worn by combat officers of the SPF.
Senior Gurkha officers are distinguished by a gold flash on the cap badge. The Duty Unit Sergeant wears an additional red sash with the uniform.
The Gurkha no.4 dress is adapted from the combat dress of their regular counterparts, and is also known as the night dress, as they are worn during night duty. They are also worn for civil security duty and training, as well as range practices at any time of the day. The long sleeves of the dark blue shirt is similarly rolled up and down depending on duty requirements and time of day, and is devoid of metal accruements. Junior officers wear their service numbers using white embroidered lettering on a dark blue Velcro backing fixed above their right breast pocket. Ranks are sewn on the right sleeves and made of embroidered, white cloth. The dark blue trousers are tucked into combat boots, and is topped by a dark blue beret.
In recent years, the GC has increasingly adopted the no.4 dress for active duty in public places, incorporating elements from the no.3 dress. Officers on duty during the National Day Parade and the 117th IOC Session wear the no.4 dress but with the Hat Terrai Gurkha. The shirt sleeves are rolled up, and includes the metal whistle and chain. In addition, the rank is not sewn to the sleeves, but worn on a dark blue tab affixed to the right breast pocket with the rank in silver embroidered thread similar to that currently used by regular officers.
Less often seen, but formally in frequent use during rioting incidents is the fire-resistant version of the combat dress, which feature zipper breast pockets and on the trousers. Gurkha officers may also wear the jungle dress, with camouflage-coloured uniforms based on the British Army DPM and jockey cap, and complemented by various forms of webbing for paramilitary training, duties in rural and forested areas, combat fitness training and when dispatched out of Singapore for overseas exercises.
In 2006, the GC implemented its biggest change to its uniform since the adoption of the present uniform three decades ago, just prior to the commencement of the 61st Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group as part of Singapore 2006. Khaki-coloured berets in place of the dark blue beret. The combat dress (Dress No. 4) was changed to a cotton-polyester material to match those adopted by other specialised units of the SPF, such as the Special Operations Command and the Police Coast Guard, albeit with a slightly darker shade of blue.
The entire contingent is housed in Mount Vernon Camp, which is their one-stop location for work as well as personal life. While most new recruits come to Singapore alone since they are usually in their late teens or early twenties, they are allowed to bring along their wives and immediate family members to Singapore as they move on into the next phases of their personal lives.
Ultimately, the officers know they are here only on a temporary basis, further enforced by the fact that they are disallowed from integrating too much with local society. Due to their chief purpose as a neutral presence here, they are not allowed to marry Singaporean women, hence the allowance to bring their wives and children from Nepal to the camp. At the end of their contract, they are expected to return to their villages and back to a rural life dependent on agriculture. Only a handful have ever been known to have broken this tradition and chosen to stay in the city-state.
The camp itself is built on a relatively secluded area in Mount Vernon, taking over facilities previously occupied by the reserve units. Comprehensive facilities to create a self-contained township-like complex allows most daily chores and needs to be fulfilled within the camp without too much interaction with the outside world. This also helps to reduce the amount of traffic into and out of the camp for security reasons.
Still, dwellers in the complex are not prohibited from leaving the camp or utilising services and facilities outside it. Throngs of school-going Nepalese children regularly leave and enter the camp everyday, wearing the uniforms of national schools. The camp's close proximity to Bartley Secondary School has seen a significant number of Nepalese children being enrolled there, although they can also be found in schools much further away as the children become gradually assimilated into Singaporean society and culture. They cannot sink their roots deeply, however, as most of them are in the country on dependent passes, and are compelled to leave Singapore when they turn 21.
Still most of these young Nepalese are unlikely to follow their fathers' footsteps, and armed with education certificates, are expected to lead quite a different life compared to previous generations should they return to Nepal. They also have the liberty to apply for employment passes to work in Singapore, as is the case for any other foreigner seeking employment in the country, and it is possible to obtain permanent residence and even citizenship, although these young Nepalese receive no special treatment in obtaining permanent status.
The surrounding commercial outlets thrive on business brought about by the Nepalese community based here, and it is a common sight to see officers doing their daily recreational runs around the major roads close to the camp, albeit always in civilian running attire and running alone or in small groups to avoid drawing too much attention to themselves.
The Gurkha community has been known to extend aid to their fellow Nepalese in Singapore, such as during the operation to separate the conjoined twins Ganga and Jamuna at the Singapore General Hospital in November 2001, where they helped to raise funds for the medical procedure and daily expenses, accommodated the family at their Mount Vernon home for a period of time, and assisting in making logistical arrangements for the family's transportation and other needs.
Back in Nepal, the Gurkha Welfare Trust seeks to preserve the legacy and heritage of the Gurkhas with the opening of Gurkha Memorial Museum in the premises of Hotel Nature Land at Pardi, Pokhara. There, uniforms and badges of the GC are on display together with those serving with the British Army Locals and tourists alike have visited the place, a reflection of the high regard local Nepalese hold for their counterparts who have served in these overseas organisations.
Despite their temporary employment basis, it is considered highly honourable to serve as a GC member back in Nepal, and there is always a ready pool of young men eager to join the contingent, with well over 20,000 applications seeking to join the British Army or the GC annually for just 370 places. The good income, way of life, and the affordable and excellent education for their children (or future children) are further draws. With the increasing concerns against terrorism and the continued security threat Singapore face, it is likely the GC will have an increased and sustained role in Singapore's future, despite original intentions of the contingent itself as a temporary security measure during Singapore's early turbulent years.
INVISIBLE FORCE -- Singapore Gurkhas give the best years of their life to the Lion City, but could do with a better deal once they retire.
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