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Gurkha kukri knife's historic role in war and peace
Gurkha soldiers in front of kukri emblem
The kukri is the emblem of the Brigade of Gurkhas

The Fisher Kukri is one of the objects selected as having made made an impact on the history of the world.

The knife is housed at the Gurkha Museum in Winchester, and has come to define the Gurkhas as a unique and respected fighting force.

The kukri - a curved knife, commonly used by hill farmers in the Himalayas - has become synonymous with the Gurkha soldiers from Nepal.

It is the emblem of the Gurkha regiments in the British army and is a symbol of the Nepalese nation.

The Fisher Kukri

The Gurkha Museum in Winchester houses probably the most famous kukri - the Fisher Kukri which was used by Lieutenant John Frederick Lane Fisher in the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

The Assault on Kashmir Gate by Jason Askew
The Gurkha soldiers remained loyal to Britain during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Fisher, serving with the Simoor Battalion of Gurkhas, and a few thousand other British soldiers were vastly outnumbered on Delhi Ridge facing 35,000 mutineers in the city.

Defeat would have effectively meant Britain being thrown out of India and the course of history, with India at the heart of the British Empire, would have been very different.

Since the end of the Nepalese wars in 1816, Gurkha soldiers from the Himalayan kingdom had been allowed to join the East India company's army - it was reinforcements sent from Nepal which allowed the British to build up forces strong enough to retake Delhi - but only after seeing off ferocious attack from the mutineers.

In the close-hand combat, the Gurkhas' weapon of choice was the kukri to quell the mutiny and capture the Mogul emperor. As news of their exploits and loyalty reached the British public, their respect for and popularity of the Gurkhas was cemented.

Gerald Davies, curator of the Gurkha Museum in Winchester said: "It is really the symbol of the kukri, the strength and loyalty of the Gurkhas that has continued to this day."

Brothers in arms

The ending of the Indian Mutiny was a defining moment in the history of the British Empire. Having demonstrated their loyalty to Britain, the Gurkhas were rewarded with their own regiments in the British army.

As direct rule was imposed on India and a viceroy appointed, Gurkhas played a key role in defending and maintaining 19th century British rule in the subcontinent as well as fighting in the three regional wars in Afghanistan.

Gurkha soldiers fighting in Asian jungles during World War II
Gurkha soldiers fought in World War II

Gurkha soldiers also have fought as part of the British army in many major campaigns since including the World War I, in the jungles of Malaya and Burma during World War II and were also part of the British Task Force which took back the Falklands following the Argentine invasion in 1982.

Pictures published of the Gurkhas sharpening their kukri were part of the propaganda war prior to the Falklands conflict, designed to instil fear into Argentine conscript soldiers who knew the fearsome reputation of their prospective enemy.

The Gurkhas are also currently fighting in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission in the country and a kukri is still part of the standard kit of a Gurkha soldier.

Utility weapon

The earliest record of a kukri goes back to 1627 but the design has not changed over the centuries.

Made by the Nepalese Kami clan of blacksmiths, an average kukri is 14-16 inches in length with a steel blade and a wooden, bone or metal curved handle. Its compact size means less metal is used in its manufacture than a conventional sword.

It is also widely used utility instrument - handed down between generations for use around the hillside farms by Nepalese men and boys.

The distinctive indentation serves the practical purpose of preventing blood running down handle but also has a religious significance as at Dashain, the Hindu religious festival, a ceremonial version of the kukri, (a konra) is used to sever the head of an animal in one blow. A clean cut signifies good luck and wellbeing for those attending the ceremony.

The design is the perfect balance of weight allowing the full force of movement to be translated to into the blade.

Gerald Davies explains it is a slashing as well as a stabbing weapon:

"It can be used in the hands of a skilled kukri operator to disembowel a horse - which they did in the olden days - or cut off an arm or even a head in battle."

Symbol of loyalty

As well as an effective weapon, it is a powerful symbol of the special relationship between Nepal and the UK. Nepal is Britain's oldest ally in Asia - diplomatic relations were first established in 1815.

Gerald Davies explained: "It has stood the test of time for nearly 200 years - representing Gurkhas serving the crown. Wherever that soldier has been, in any part of the world, the kukri has been used. Our enemies have known when they are up against a Gurkha because it it the kukri that has been imprinted on their minds."

"It links two countries in a unique situation which I think we should all be proud."

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