Books

Memories from five tours in Afghanistan

Captain Kailash Limbu remembers his time fighting in Afghanistan in his new book "Gurkha Brotherhood: A Story of Childhood and War."

Illustration: Joseph Joyce

In 2016, I completed the last of five active service tours of Afghanistan with the British Army. As a soldier in the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, I was in the front line of the fighting in Helmand Province between 2006 and 2014. I was also, in 2016, deployed in the Afghan capital, Kabul. On dangerous resupply missions and offensive patrols, we Gurkhas came under frequent attack from Taliban fighters and other insurgents. 

None of us will ever forget what we went through together. It formed a bond of brotherhood that nothing and no one can break – and I tell the story of it here in Gurkha Brotherhood. The book is my personal story about what it was like to serve worldwide, including those five active tours in Afghanistan. It is about what I felt, and what we had done and gone through while we were fighting behind the enemies’ lines as a brotherhood. 

I often thought I would not see the sun rising the following morning; that I was not going to escape from the death traps. We fought back with desperate determination, courage and fearlessness, and most of us survived and escaped.

When I returned home it was not to Nepal, the mountainous country in faraway South Asia where we Gurkhas grew up. It was to the UK – to Folkestone in Kent. I am a man with two homes. I hold both countries dear in my heart.

My childhood home was very different from the modern military quarters in the UK. It was built of mud and stone on the steep slope of a Himalayan valley. Its walls were brightly painted and sweet-smelling flowers grew around it. We had no electricity, no television, no modern gadgets at all. My mother cooked on an open fire and it was one of my jobs as a kid to collect dry firewood from the forest.

Even as a child I was no stranger to danger and death

I have a memory that still makes me feel guilty: of my mother in tears because the firewood I had collected that day was damp and would not light.

My mountain village was a beautiful place to grow up. I had lots of friends and we had many adventures. But it was not a fairytale. The Himalayas could be an unpredictable environment. Long before I joined the British Army and fought in Afghanistan, I learned fate can be cruel and life sometimes takes a wrong turn. Even as a child I was no stranger to danger and death. 

In the first few weeks after returning from my final deployment in Afghanistan, memories of what happened there were still fresh in my mind. Sometimes they gave me bad nights, when I could not sleep, or woke up crying. Other times I felt a surge of pride at what we had achieved. But these memories were slowly fading. 

One day, I was on the sofa in the sitting room in Folkestone thinking about the past. Not just Afghanistan but my childhood growing up in the Himalayas, which seemed like a different world and lifetime. A war film was on TV, the kind of film that makes war look quick and easy. In front of me my two children were playing. And I was really looking forward to the dinner my wife, Sumitra, was preparing in the kitchen next door – momos (dumplings) stuffed with pork and chicken. Then an idea floated into my head: get these memories down on paper while I could.

The idea excited me. That night I could not sleep so I got up, grabbed a sheet of paper and began to write. The words poured out of me, the childhood joys and scrapes, the times in Afghanistan when I feared I would not live to see the sun set at the end of the day. Some faces came up again and again in my mind. They belonged to the Gurkha brothers I lost, dear friends who stood shoulder to shoulder with me in the heat of battle.

Books 1463 Author Feature
Books 1463 Author Feature

The project got more serious. In spare moments and during those sleepless nights I sat in front of my computer and built a bigger picture of my life. This book is the result. It is a tribute to my family and the wonderful upbringing they gave me. It is a memorial to brave friends who fell in the killing fields of Afghanistan. It is the story, above all, of a boy from a simple background who laid his life on the line for his adopted country and his Gurkha brothers.

In the battlefield scenes I do not try to give a wider military or historical perspective. They are how I remember them – how they looked and felt at the time, with the bullets flying and the adrenaline pumping. Inevitably, others who were there may remember things slightly differently. But this is my reality. I dedicate it to the ones who did not make it. I hope and believe, with all my heart and soul, that in some corner of heaven they are looking down and reading it with you.

Gurkha Brotherhood: A Story of Childhood and War by Captain Kailash Limbu is out on May 27 (Michael O’Mara, £20)

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