The 'fighting machine' finds important job in civvy street

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 December, 1997, 12:00am

For nearly two centuries, Nepal's soldiers have earned respect as an ally and fearsome enemy, famed for service with both the British and Indian armies.

Yet the future looked bleak for Gurkhas when China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong, where most were based, and the 7,500-strong force was trimmed to 2,500.

But a new window of opportunity has opened in the SAR for ex- servicemen. They are being deployed as security guards.

'We started with 60 Gurkhas and now have 600 deployed in Hong Kong,' said Chris Hardy, managing director of Jardine Securicor Gurkha Services.

Already their reputation is spreading. The company is extending its wings across the region with operations in Malaysia, Macau, India, Papua New Guinea and Laos.

'By the end of next year, we expect to be deploying at least 1,400 Gurkhas across the region,' Mr Hardy said.

'Companies realise they are just as capable and professional as security guards as they are at soldiering.' For Mr Hardy, the idea of founding a security outfit for laid- off Gurkhas began as a 'dream'.

He was the staff officer with the British forces who announced the cuts to the Gurkha regiments. 'Shortly afterwards, I went trekking in Nepal and asked retired Gurkhas how they felt. They were worried by so many redundancies.

'But, up in the hills, I had a lot of time to gaze at the stars and think. I realised these men were experienced in a disciplined service and already had many of the skills required by the security industry.

'They are also totally committed and loyal with a gift of patience - which in the security business is indeed a gift since the job is 95 per cent boredom and five per cent frantic activity. Maintaining vigilance during the boring spells is difficult for most people.' On returning from the hills, he quit the British Army, joined forces with Jardine's and set about recruiting redundant Gurkhas.

With their distinctive pale blue caps, the ex-soldiers are now a familiar sight guarding Hong Kong housing complexes, factories, hotels, banks and offices.

One was recently commended for preventing gunmen rob a bank - then single-handedly capturing one of the robbers despite being unarmed.

'They are all qualified tradesmen, so we also had 140 engineers working on the Tsing Ma Bridge,' Mr Hardy said. Others are deployed for 'close protection courier work' - minding diamond traders and others carrying valuables into Hong Kong.

Such security instincts, harnessed alongside the company's technological know-how, are also in demand beyond the region.

'We recently received a phone call on a Thursday requesting a four-man team to board a ship in Nairobi on the following Monday,' Mr Hardy said. 'We got there in time.' Not surprisingly for a company of soldiers, Jardine Securicor Gurkha Services is operated along the same lines as a military unit. Since staff are all familiar with the way an army operates, Mr Hardy added: 'My motto is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

'I still write daily briefings and keep confidential reports.'