Prisoner's list proves Gurkha lifeline

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In November 2003 the British government decided to pay £10,000 ($17,000) to each of its soldiers who were interned in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps during World War II.

Among those who were eligible were the Gurkhas of Nepal, who fought for Britain. But the team sent to Kathmandu to discover which Gurkhas were eligible faced an almost insuperable task of identifying who had served in the war. But now that has changed.

The sad tale of the Gurkhas was read almost by accident by Veronica O'Neal, the widow of Captain Peter O'Neal, who had served with the Gurkhas.

"I don't usually read newspapers," says Mrs O'Neal, "so it was quite extraordinary that I saw the article at all. But having seen it, I realised that I had a list of Gurkhas that my husband had kept, up in a suitcase in my loft. And I felt I had to contact someone and let them know."

In Mrs O'Neal's loft were sheets of thin paper, typed in Rangoon at the end of World War II. They contained the names of 1,000 Gurkhas who had been imprisoned by the Japanese.

Captain O'Neal was captured along with his men following the fall of Malaya (the former name for peninsular Malaysia) in 1942. He was interned in a series of prisoner of war camps, and made to work on the notorious Burma railway.

It is not known exactly how many Gurkhas were imprisoned by the Japanese, but Britain's Ministry of Defence estimates that they numbered around 3,000.

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