Aldershot: The Town Turning Away the Gurkhas

Adam Lusher, Telegraph (London), September 25, 2011

David Chamberlain, the Aldershot greengrocer, hollers out his pitch: “Aloo, [potatoes], susti, susti [cheap, cheap].” Knots of smiling men, dapper in their dhaka topi hats, press their palms together to greet old friends. The women, with their jewellery and lungi sarongs, bring a splash of colour and Kathmandu to the steps of Marks & Spencer.

Mr Chamberlain pauses only to point to the tiny figure tirelessly loading fruit on to the stall despite his 67 years. “He’s a hero.”

Nun Bdk Thapa grins and shows his crooked little finger. “Jungle, Indonesia, 1964, break.” And the enemy who broke it? A finger flicks across his throat. “Like that. Kukri.” A broad grin as he remembers how a Gurkha never unsheathes his kukri (knife) without drawing blood–then back to work.

This, surely, is how the actress Joanna Lumley might have dreamt it in 2009 when she led her Gurkha Justice Campaign. With popular support, she forced the government to abandon rules preventing Gurkha soldiers who retired before 1997 from settling here. Miss Lumley became a national treasure.

But now, we spot an elderly man, his own Help For Heroes jacket conspicuous, looking on, scowling. And then the dam breaks. A well-spoken middle-aged lady marches in. “You went voluntarily into the British Army. You have no right to be here.”

An 85-year-old gentleman, 20 years’ service man and boy, shows his Parachute Regimental Association card. “They were mercenaries. I have done my bit. I am a level-headed man, but I have watched this in horror. They have usurped Aldershot.

“Do you know who I am against? Her [Lumley]. It was nothing to do with a cause. She was just selling herself.”

In Aldershot, Hampshire, the dream has soured. Lumley is no longer the hero.

Senior members of Rushmoor Borough Council, covering Aldershot and Farnborough, complain that since the rule change, the number of ex-Gurkhas has exploded to between 9,000 and 12,000, or one in 10 of the borough’s population.

Estimates suggest residency applications in Nepal are still running at 200 a month. The infrastructure, they say, is groaning. One GP’s surgery registered 80 new Nepali patients last month. With children under 18 allowed to join their parents, the school roll has swelled.

Two Facebook groups have sprung up: “Joanna Lumley has—-ed up Aldershot and Farnborough” and “Lumley’s Legacy”.

This in a town that once loved the Gurkhas–indeed, it transpires that Sam Phillips, the man who started the Facebook groups, himself signed the Lumley petition.

Last week Gerald Howarth, the Aldershot MP, told The Sunday Telegraph that the Lumley campaign was “a very good example of how politicians should not be swept along by movie stars”.

But then came perhaps the most dramatic intervention of all. Joanna Lumley, The Sunday Telegraph has learned, wrote on Thursday to David Cameron and Nick Clegg, conveying the message that: “In view of what is happening in Aldershot, can I add my voice to saying ‘Come on, let’s get this sorted out.'”

It may be the Coalition’s turn to face Britain’s most fearsome celebrity campaigner.

With the Gurkhas in earshot, the ex-Para declares: “I don’t blame those fellows. I blame the Government for allowing it to happen.”

Indeed, few in Aldershot want to criticise the record of the Gurkha soldier directly. But when the Nepalis wander off, the old Para grows much franker: “On a nice day they occupy every seat in the parks. I go to the health centre. What do I find? Twenty-five white men and 125 Gurkhas.

“They walk five abreast and force you out of the way. They are belligerent.”

Other pensioners are said to fear Nepali teenagers lurking on street corners.

And from the other side of the divide? Mr Chamberlain, 28, glances at the tireless Mr Thapa, who arrived last year. “We had someone pass by and barge into him. The Gurkhas should be looked after.”

Perhaps some will be surprised to hear that Mr Phillips, the Facebook campaigner, agrees wholeheartedly. The 35-year-old HGV driver has military blood in his veins: his grandfather was a Green Howard, Dad was in the Royal Signals, his brother fought in the first Gulf War. His eyes sparkle when you mention Gurkha history: “The best of soldiers: truly brave, 26 VCs…”

He proudly counts Nepalis among his 1,157 Facebook members–part of his mission is to ensure that Aldershot does not succumb to the simmering hostilities.

This father of three, then, seems anything but the easily dismissed xenophobe–which makes what he says even more worrying. “I don’t want to talk about ‘a tinderbox’, as if Aldershot is about to burst into rioting. It isn’t. But we are at a crossroads.”

He had expected the Government to have thought about Aldershot’s attraction to the incomers: a military town, near the old Gurkha barracks, with an existing network of welfare centres.

Mr Phillips complains of inadequate money and support. He is not alone. Peter Moyle, the Conservative leader of Rushmoor Borough Council, is scathing about a £120,000 ‘social cohesion’ grant: “It’s scratching the surface. We have been told that 24,000 are eligible to come here.”

Mr Phillips sighs. “Five years ago, no one would have had a bad word for them.” As for Miss Lumley: yes, he used her name because he knew it would generate publicity.

Peter Carroll, the founder of the Gurkha Justice Campaign, offers an impassioned defence. “Joanna Lumley in this for herself? She was already famous. She owes her very existence to the Gurkha who won a VC in an action that saved the life of her father, Major James Lumley.”

Then Mr Carroll reveals: “She has written to David Cameron and Nick Clegg to say in view of what is happening in Aldershot, she would like to add her voice to those saying: ‘Come on, let’s get this sorted out.'”

She explained her intentions in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph: “I know that public funds are scarce, but this has to be made to work by more resources being provided.”

The Government’s first line of defence was a spokesman: “The Government has delivered a tough but fair settlement.”

If Miss Lumley endeavours to ‘sort this out’, she will at least be welcomed at the Aldershot Gurkha Ex-Army Servicemen’s Association. Prem Gurung, a standing committee member, is clearly sympathetic to Aldershot’s concerns. “I understand there is a problem. The Government must do something.”

An air of pathos pursued us into the room where elderly Nepalis sat glued to satellite TV from home. On the wall, a photo of the Queen. Pinned on the notice board, a story about a Gurkha who killed 30 Taliban single-handed. And, next to it, an announcement about benefit surgeries.

We had heard suggestions that Gurkhas were painted a rosy picture of Britain by opportunistic middlemen. Rumours swirled of overcrowded accommodation.

Now the story of Aldershot, of victory turned sour, offered one final irony. Ombahadur Damai, 70, 11 years’ service, arrived three months ago. Asked where he lived, he just said: “Room No 8.”

His polite smile never slipped but he stared into the distance. “England too difficult.” He wanted to go home.

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  • Anonymous

    Only an immature mind would not consider the consequences of extending a free-for-all to the Third World.

    “I know that public funds are scarce, but this has to be made to work by more resources being provided.”

    People who knew better washed their hands of it, afraid of having their political career ended under a cloud of racism allegations.

  • ATBOTL

    The practice of hiring non-white mercenaries is something that the UK should cease immediately.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t understand why they want to come to England. If they served in the British military they get a pension, andon that they could live a lot better at home.

  • Anonymous

    Joanne Lumley should be deported to Nepal.

  • Lygeia

    I’m not really sure why the British are so vocal against the Gurkhas. It seems kind of cowardly because the Gurkhas fought bravely to advance British interests and saved British lives, unlike the dangerous Muslims who seem hell-bent on taking over Britain and turning it into a Muslim caliphate.

    The Gurkhas seems to want to assimilate, even if they wear saris (the women) or special hats (the men). Saris and special hats seems so innocent compared to what the Muslims bring (honor killings, Sharia, the list goes on) and yet you won’t hear a peep out of the British against the real danger to themselves.

    The British seems like bullies going after a soft target (and one that actually helped them) instead of a hard target. The lesson seems to be: don’t help the British, they won’t appreciate it.

  • flyingtiger

    Send the Ghurkas into the Pakistani neighborhoods. I rather have Gurkas than Pakis anything.

    The lesson here is that if you move too many people of any nation, even friendly nations, they take over the neighborhood.

  • Ann Onymous

    We have a similar situation in this country with the Hmongs,who

    were brought to this country originally because they supposedly ”helped us in Viet Nam” and now we owe them an eternal debt. At least according to some Americans. But why is it that these people can only be repaid by giving them and their descendants a place in our countries?

  • Turtle

    The Gurkhas and the Sikhs served as the functional equivalent to the French Foreign Legion for the British. The French took and have the pragmatic view that the Legionnaires are mercenaries. They don’t think of them as future French citizens but as foreigners who fight for France. At the end of the Western Roman Empire the Roman army was composed almost completely of non-Latins. Tribal loyalty replaced loyalty to Rome and that was it. And so it goes.

  • fred

    Mercenaries should NEVER be granted residence. Ever.

  • Anonymous

    Many people in the Third World owe their peace and security to whites who gave blood and treasure fighting for them.

    Let’s call it even, and no more Hmongs, Ghurkas, Iraqis, or Afghan mercenaries colonizing Western countries.

  • Anonymous

    They were welcome to fight but not to live amongst us. Send them home with money that they can use in their own land. Our western governments made the mistakes and the non-whites bought into the lies just as much as we did. Or … watch the Gurkhas fight.

  • BritishActivism

    #5 –

    These people were paid mercenaries. They were fighting for their honour, their reputation, their wages, and yes, for the British – and I, like many other British people, have respect for their vigour and bravery of them. Given the choice, we would much rather have had them than many of the others who have come.

    Most British people, even me, as a “white nationalist” would not have minded a few Gurkha veterans coming here.

    However, given that over 35% of the school intake in England and Wales are now “ethnic minorities” and given the massive swathes of immigrants from all over the world coming here since 1948, it is no longer so simple.

    We are, in my opinion, fighting for our survival and self-preservation here, and unfortunately that becomes primary over that of any sense of perceived loyalty to people who have never set foot here and have no real genuine “right” to be here – other than some bizarre sense of applied guilt that any (and all) foreigners who have ever fought for us at some point have the right to stay here – with their families and extended families….

    Obviously such a policy is utterly unworkable. Especially in the most overcrowded nation in Europe. Where would it end? Who else should have the right?

    But here lays the other problem – it is not just a few Gurkha soldiers in their twilight years…..it is mass importation of them, their families, and eventually, further extended families on the back of various laws and rights to family life. It is not as though it will not have much further demographic consequences in the future.

    Over 10% of the towns being affected in the article is now Nepalese alone since Joanna Lumley was playing at politics, for heaven’s sake. This will only serve to help hammer the nail in the coffin of the indigenous British people, who only have a matter of two generations left before we are demographically a nationwide minority.

    On top of this, it is not really fair on any side.

    The people of this country are upset and overwhelmed with all this migration from everywhere (including concentrations of Nepalese) – we cannot cope with it. It is causing concern, violence, community tension, bitterness and hatred.

    It was not planned for. We already have to build houses for the next 30 years day and night to cope with the whole immigration problem that has *already arrived* from all over the world. They are now having to relax protected “Greenbelt” land to build massive housing estates.

    There are no jobs for these Gurkhas, no prospects, they are reported to have been sat in tears on the pavement, homeless or living in squalid bed-sits and cannot understand or communicate in English half the time. They wander the streets with nothing to do, many of them kicked out of their bread and breakfast accommodation.

    They have often sold up their land and farms to pay for tickets to get here, thinking it is the land of milk and honey – yet when they are here and treated like waifs and strays, find themselves in queues for services along with the rest of the planet that seems to be arriving here – and thus similarly have nowhere to live when they arrive, let alone jobs, healthcare, doctors, schools for their relatives, etc.

    If anything, Joanna Lumley and those people who think with their hearts and not their brains should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for what they have done and are still doing. The Gurkhas are victims just as much as we, the host, are.

    Would you want to move to Nepal, have no prospects, nowhere to live, in a foreign country – and having to try and learn the language when you are old? I wouldn’t. It is utterly crackers.

    People also seem to think that they will have a better life here – as though importing the third world will somehow take away the problems – but surely the money spent trying to cope with all this would have let these people and their extended family live a very luxurious lifestyle back in Nepal, and thus give the country some money to trickle down into the non-fighting Nepalese community living there.

    There is little or no justification for them being here, in fact, in my opinion it is entirely wrong to be doing this considering the way things are.

    Take away the last 50 years of immigration from outside the EU, deport them all and their descendants, and I will gladly accept/swap them for a few thousand Gurkha’s scattered around.

    Until that happens, then I am sorry, we are fighting for survival here as indigenous people and I do not want any further things which hasten that day when we dwindle into minority status.

    This unfortunately includes the Gurkhas, who, if anybody, were perhaps the most deserving. Too late now though.

  • Occidentus

    Actually, you can apply for a French passport after serving your five years in the French Foreign Legion. Getting wounded in action gets you an automatic offer of citizenship.