Charles honours Gurkha soldiers

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The Independent Online

The Prince of Wales paid tribute today to Gurkha soldiers who were killed and horrifically injured in a hard-fought tour of Afghanistan.

Charles presented campaign medals to members of 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles (1 RGR) who recently returned from six months in Helmand Province.

Wounded troops on crutches and in a wheelchair lined up alongside their comrades on a bitterly cold parade ground at Sir John Moore Barracks in Folkestone, Kent.

Addressing the men, the Prince said they had endured "yet another gruelling tour" in Afghanistan but had left the country a better place.

He said progress in Helmand had come at a "terrible cost", with 16 members of 1RGR's wider battle group killed during the deployment from April to November last year and 110 wounded.

Charles highlighted the extraordinary courage of the injured soldiers in battling their way to recovery.

He said: "I know only too well that at the end of the day it is your unwavering willpower and determination to get on with your lives that sees you through.

"You are without doubt a shining inspiration to us all and we can only wish you the speediest of recoveries."

The Prince also directly addressed the families of the five soldiers from 1RGR killed during the tour.

"You have shown enormous inner strength and courage, and this is the time when we can express our deepest sympathy for all that you suffer and endure on behalf of your loved ones," he said.

Charles, who is Colonel in Chief of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, said it came as no surprise to learn of the "numerous acts of extraordinary courage" carried out by the soldiers in Afghanistan.

He said: "I am sure that your valiant efforts have led to a considerable improvement in your area of operations.

"Above all, you have managed to make significant in-roads into the local community.

"You have played a vital role in the slow but essential process of relationship-building with local elders."

As well as presenting Afghanistan campaign medals, Charles also awarded Sergeant Bikash Gurung, 33, with the Prince of Wales Kukri, which is given each year to the senior non-commissioned officer who has done the most to enhance the reputation of the regiment.

Sgt Gurung was put forward for the honour by his company commander Major Josh Bowman, who was one of three soldiers from 1RGR shot dead by a rogue Afghan soldier in July.

He said he was "very honoured" to receive the award - which takes the form of a large traditional Gurkha kukri dagger mounted on a plaque - from the Prince in person and paid tribute to Maj Bowman.

"Every member of the battalion misses him. We will not forget him," he said.

Among those receiving a campaign medal from the Prince for serving in Afghanistan with 1RGR last year was Hindu priest Chawan Gurung, who wore his colourful lama's robes for the ceremony.

Charles also visited the barracks' Hindu temple, where schoolgirl Pooja Ghale, 10, whose father is a Gurkha soldier, placed a green, red and black garland around his neck before he was blessed.

The Prince then laid a wreath at the memorial to members of the regiment who have been killed in Afghanistan.

Charles privately presented the Elizabeth Cross to the families of the five members of 1RGR who died during last year's tour in Helmand.

Maj Bowman, 34, from Salisbury, Wiltshire, was killed alongside Lieutenant Neal Turkington, 26, from Craigavon, Northern Ireland, and Corporal Arjun Purja Pun, 33, from Nepal, on July 13.

Rifleman Remand Kulung, 27, from Nepal, who had been serving with 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment, died in hospital in Britain on August 12 after being injured when a Chinook helicopter crashed at his base two days earlier.

Rifleman Suraj Gurung, 22, from Nepal, was killed by a suicide bomber on a patrol on October 2.

General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, also attended today's medal parade.

He spoke of his "love affair" with the Gurkhas and his admiration for the resilience of the wounded soldiers.

He said: "The way they were absolutely determined to be on parade with everyone else was quite amazing.

"Clearly some of them still in pain, I'm glad to say all of them recovering."

Gen Richards said it was "humbling" to meet the families who received the Elizabeth Cross today.

"They have lost people they love dearly. But they are intensely proud of what they have done - no acrimony. I thought it was absolutely fantastic," he said.

Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years.

The name comes from the hill town of Gorkha from which the Nepalese kingdom had expanded.

The soldiers are still selected from young men living in the hills of Nepal, with about 28,000 youths tackling the selection procedure for just over 200 places each year.