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Gurkhas: London pageant marks 200th anniversary

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Media captionPeter Hunt reports from the event which marked 200 years of Gurkha service to the British Crown

The Queen and other members of the Royal Family have joined hundreds of Gurkhas marking the regiment's 200 years of service to the British Crown.

The event, in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London, is the highlight of a year of celebrations marking the anniversary.

The evening featured battle re-enactments and musical performances by the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas.

Victims of the recent Nepal earthquakes were remembered in a minute's silence.

The Queen was accompanied by Prince Philip, while Prince Charles - Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Gurkha Rifles - and Prince Harry - who lived with a Gurkha battalion in Afghanistan - also attended the event.

The Sultan of Brunei was among the other dignitaries invited to the Gurkha 200 pageant.

'A family'

It was organised by the Gurkha Welfare Trust, which gives financial and medical support to former servicemen and their families.

The Prince of Wales, a patron of the Gurkha Welfare Trust, paid tribute to "these remarkable men and their extraordinary service to our country".

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Image caption The open-air event chronicled the history of regiment
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Image caption The Prince of Wales, Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, paid tribute in a speech
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Queen, Prince Philip and the Sultan of Brunei were shown artefacts from the Gurkhas' history

He added: "The Brigade of Gurkhas is more than just a fighting force, it is also - in every sense of the word - a family.

"As with every family, they have lifetime responsibilities to one another and especially in times of great need. This has been painfully illustrated by the appalling earthquakes which have recently struck Nepal, with devastating consequences across the traditional Gurkha heartlands."

The 1,400 guests watched the open-air event, which chronicled 200 years of Gurkha service with the "story of the Gurkha soldier".

It was narrated by historian Dan Snow and actress Joanna Lumley, who campaigned to allow Gurkhas settlement rights in the UK in 2009.

The Queen was also introduced to veterans and serving Gurkhas and was shown artefacts from the regiment's history.

'Amazing honour'

Captain Dillikumar Rai, of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, had the prestigious role of carrying the Queen's Truncheon at the pageant.

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Image caption There were cheers for the Queen during the pageant
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Image caption The daughter of a serving Gurkha presented the Queen with a bouquet of flowers
Image copyright PA
Image caption Actress Joanna Lumley helped narrate the event

He said: "I am immensely proud to be serving as a Gurkha during the celebrations of 200 years of service to the Crown and to have Her Majesty present at today's event is an amazing honour."

More than 8,000 people died after the first quake hit Nepal on 25 April. A second tremor hit the country on 12 May.

Col William Shuttlewood, director of the Gurkha Welfare Trust, said: "The event raises funds not only in support of Gurkha veterans and their families in need and distress, but also to help them rebuild their communities after Nepal's recent devastating earthquakes."

Who are the Gurkhas?

After suffering heavy casualties in the invasion of Nepal, the British East India Company signed a hasty peace deal in 1815, which also allowed it to recruit from the ranks of the former enemy.

Gurkhas - whose name comes from the Nepalese hill town of Gorkha - began joining the East India Company, and later the British army.

They have since served in every major conflict involving British forces for two centuries, and won 13 Victoria Crosses - the highest British military decoration for valour.

More than 200,000 Gurkhas fought in the two world wars, and there are about 2,600 Gurkhas in the British armed forces now.

The Gurkha Welfare Trust says becoming a Gurkha is a "matter of great pride", with tens of thousands of young Nepalese men applying and only a few accepted.

Click here to listen to a BBC Radio 4 programme on the history of the Gurkhas.

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