Laxmi Bantawa

“SSAFA is the first line of support for Gurkha veterans”

Laxmi Bantawa

“SSAFA is the first line of support for Gurkha veterans”

Laxmi Bhakta Bantawa MBE a former Major in the Gurkha battalion now serves as an outreach worker for SSAFA’s Gurkha Services in the North. He draws on his own experience of settling and integrating into civilian life in Britain to offer much needed help to others in the Gurkha community.

After 29 years' service in the army, Laxmi retired from the forces in 2005. He’d served in Hong Kong, Brunei, Malaysia, the First Gulf War, Bosnia and Afghanistan and was also posted to Canada, Kenya, Sierra Leone and, perhaps his favourite, Hawaii.

When Laxmi left the army, he began work as Head of Security at Harewood Estate, and later health and safety: “It took me almost four years to adjust to civilian life.

“In the military I worked with a lot of people. In the Army you have commanders, friends and people to give you direction and delegate to you. In the civil sector it isn’t like that and I was totally shocked.

“As soon as you cross the guardroom gate you have nobody. As soon as you leave it’s all gone. And when you have the responsibilities of work and family, it’s hard to stay connected and in touch with people you served with.

“I didn’t get any help, because I didn’t know there was any at the time. I didn’t know about SSAFA in depth.”

 Laxmi loved his time in the Army but says he ‘survived’ 13 more years in the civil sector, until he took voluntary redundancy last year and joined SSAFA in June 2019. He now supports the Gurkha community across nine areas in the North of England, from Derbyshire to Newcastle.

He says there is work to be done: “I’ve found lots of hidden problems some of the Gurkha ex-servicemen and the community are living in some very difficult conditions. They find it hard to understand and navigate the system.

“Often when Gurkha’s resettle in the UK they feel part of British society, but they are lost. Those who came in between 2009-2012 were 60+ years old and were lost in the system- they are the people we most need to help – they desperately need help.

“Members of the Gurkha community often say they don’t know about SSAFA. They heard about the charity when they were in the Army but didn’t know they could help veterans and their families.

“When we speak to them, they realise how important the service is and that it’s the first line of support for Gurkha veterans. But we need more education, information and communication with the community so they know how to access help.

“It’s great to see, that with the help of SSAFA, they can go from having nothing to having everything they need.”

The Gurkhas have served the British community officially, since a peace treaty was signed between the Gorkha Kingdom and the East India Company after the Anglo-Nepalese War in 1816. During the war a deep feeling of mutual respect and admiration developed between the British and their adversaries and under the terms of the Peace Treaty large numbers of Gurkhas were permitted to volunteer for service in the East India Company's Army, eventually forming the first regiments of the Gurkha Brigade. The Gurkhas are often referenced as Britain’s closest friends and bravest of allies, serving alongside Britain’s forces in almost every conflict it was involved in since.

Laxmi added: “The Gurkha and the work they have done is well known within the British community.

“Now I want to help them to integrate into wider society so they can confidently live here without the need for additional support.”