BOOK REVIEW: ‘Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown’


Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown

Author: Peter Duffell

Total Number of Pages: 290

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent):8


When explaining the reasons for writing this volume, the author states that, having ‘…Travelled with Gurkha soldiers in various guises for over fifty years….I thought I might be able to express a personal and distinctive view about the qualities and character of the Gurkha soldier and his service to the British Crown; as…one way of recognizing the generous people with whom I…so happily soldiered and led through a long military career’. It is an admirable sentiment and has resulted in a delightful book that is both a history lesson and an autobiography, and by being (to again quote the author) ‘…For the general reader’ is also largely free from the monotonous repetition of dry details which tend to be hallmarks of military memoirs.

The volume opens with a Dedication titled For all Goorkhas under-which a singularly-appropriate verse from Shakespeare’s King Henry V appears. This is followed in turn by the book’s Contents page and a page titled List of Maps; the title of the latter being self-explanatory. An Acknowledgements section follows. This is three and a quarter pages in length and thanks those who have contributed to the completed work. The twelve Chapters which form the bulk of the volume now appear. Within these, the reader is regaled with a well-written and eminently-readable mixture of both personal reminiscences and Gurkha-related military history. The emphasis is, of course, on the author’s military career and events there-in, but as would be expected the activities of ‘The Regiment’ forms a backdrop to these; a backdrop that is necessary but which is not intrusive or overpowering. The result is both educational and entertaining. Where necessary within each Chapter, subsections are used to provide additional information about a specific subject mentioned within the larger narrative. The volume’s Index (its final section) appears after Chapter 12 (Into the Future), the title of the latter being self-explanatory. Two photographic sections appear within the volume. Curiously, the larger of these (16 pages in length) while containing numerous illustrations of both the author and Gurkha military activities, is exclusively monochrome in format; the smaller (Eight page) section, while also showing a similar content, being equally composed of only coloured images. The reasons for the disparity are unknown. The images are informatively captioned, although not all carry source-citations. Neither Contents nor Index sections carry references to the image’s existence.  The title page of each Chapter is also graced by images of both serving and retired Gurkha servicemen. Although originally created in a variety of media, these have been reproduced as monochrome images within the volume and help to ‘Humanise’ the narrative. As already implied (List of Maps), the volume contains several maps (actually eight). These appear in narrative-appropriate locations throughout the book and relate to specific locations / military actions that are important in Gurkha history.

While this volume is well-written and eminently-readable, it is not without fault and this reviewer found several areas of concern. Of these, the most obvious is in relation to the Index. While several single-word ommissions from the Index were found during initial random searching (that of for Peninsula War on page 12 being but one example of several encountered), the subsequent discovery that Index entries for Mesopotamia, Persia and Bolsheviks (all on page 122) were also missing raises questions concerning what other, similar, ommissions that might exist. There is no way to know.  It was also noted that despite the volume containing numerous examples of military rank (both Ghurkha and British Army) the lack of a Table of Equivalents renders such rankings unintelligible to the average reader. What, (for example) is a Jemadar, what does he do and what is his British Army equivalent? The lack of a Glossary of Terms also renders such words as Badged (page 12), Padang (page 162) and Sangars (page 198) meaningless. Quotes, where used within the volume, carry no authenticating citations, those on pages 58 and 219 being but two examples. In their absence there is no way of verifying their accuracy; they might just as well be imagined. A small number of spelling mistakes were also noted.

As previously-noted, this is a delightful book that is both a history lesson and an autobiography. The ‘imperfections’ noted above notwithstanding, it may appeal to a variety of readers. Historians with an interest in ‘Things Military’, ‘International Geopolitics’ and ‘British Imperial History’ may find it informative, as might readers with an interest in both British Military history in general and the Gurkhas in particular. Military modellers might find the uniforms illustrated in the coloured images section to be of interest, while a reader wishing for a militarily-flavoured autobiographical volume may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown’