Brecon, Powys

PUBLISHED: 22:28 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:09 20 February 2013

Wellington statue and town centre

Wellington statue and town centre

The people of Brecon have long welcomed the Gurkhas to their beautiful town with a fascinating military history, beautiful scenery, traditional shops, lovely walks and rich culture.

The people of Brecon have long welcomed the Gurkhas to their beautiful town with a fascinating military history, beautiful scenery, traditional shops, lovely walks and rich culture.

Earlier this summer the television news was dominated by the comely Joanna Lumley raising her arm and crying "Ayo Gorkhali". The Government had, grudgingly, done the decent thing and promised change to the rights of Gurkha soldiers who wished to stay in Britain.

At Dering Lines in Brecon Ms Lumley's tireless campaigning on their behalf was especially welcome. For here, close by the famous Brecon Beacons, 95 Gurkha soldiers and their families enjoy Welsh hospitality.

Major Guptaman Gurung, Officer Commanding the Gurkha Company (Mandalay) at Dering Lines, explains: "Brecon has become the Gurkha town. Our families live and work here. Gurkhas have been in Brecon for more than 30 years." This is his third tour of duty at the Infantry Battle School. When he first came here in 1991 soldiers were not entitled to bring their families. This practice has been steadily evolving and the right to settle in Britain has now been more firmly established. "In practice," says Major Guptaman tactfully, "not many will choose to do so. Our pension arrangements are better suited to the lifestyle in Nepal than to the expense of Britain."

That the Gurkhas are made welcome here is in no doubt. They are seen as quiet, generous people fully integrated into society. At the end of August they will stage their famed Durbar - a huge event to raise welfare funds for Gurkha families in need - which attracts thousands of visitors to the town. Shortly afterwards, on Sunday, September 6, these proud and fearless warriors will mark their bond with Brecon at a Freedom Parade through the town. For those with a taste for some of the best in military music this is a golden opportunity to see and hear the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas in action.

Dering Lines and its Gurkha Company are by no means Brecon's only military presence. Some 30,000 acres of the Brecon Beacons are designated as a military training and live firing area. Brecon is a garrison town and has been for many centuries. Close by the centre of the town is the Headquarters of 160 (Wales) Brigade. Next to it, at the museum of the South Wales Borderers, visitors will find a special treasure in the archives concerning one of the British Army's most famous of exploits. During the Anglo-Zulu War the outpost of Rorke's Drift was defended heroically by a small, massively outnumbered contingent from the 24th Regiment of Foot, later to become the South Wales Borderers. Twenty-four lime trees line the road close to the museum in recognition of that engagement -immortalised on film by Michael Caine in Zulu.

Brecon's small cathedral, with its unique (in Wales) walled close, is not spared the military connections either. The cathedral, a parish church until 1923, contains the Harvard Chapel. This has long been the regimental chapel for the South Wales Borderers and houses the Queen's Colours saved by Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill from the British defeat at Isandlwana the day before Rorke's Drift was attacked. The cathedral graveyard contains the remains of another Lumley. Major Charles Lumley VC was killed in the Crimea War some 20 years before Rorke's Drift.

Inevitably, the presence of so many military families in the area has an impact on the character of Brecon and on its infrastructure. The Ministry of Defence is one of the largest employers in the area and its biggest corporate consumer of goods and services. Education for the children of serving soldiers is a key ingredient to the success of Brecon as a host. Many Gurkha children, for example, attend Brecon High School that has forged a close relationship with the Gurkhas. But the nature of military service sometimes suggests boarding for children rather than day schools. And in this, Brecon and its army community are fortunate indeed to have Christ College just across the River Usk that flows through the centre of town.

Founded in 1541 the school is, today, an inescapable feature of Brecon. Originally a monastery, Christ College occupies an enviable position with its expanses of sports grounds sitting comfortably against a backdrop of the stunning Brecon Beacons. Modern boarding and teaching facilities accommodate the full range of educational needs blending these with the traditions and heritage one would expect of such a distinguished school. The Head, Emma Taylor, describes the school's philosophy as offering "an education that balances endeavour and achievement with a sense of community" and firmly believes in the role that Christ College has in the life of Brecon. She explains: "To the people of the town Christ College has always been there. We try hard to lower the walls and bring people from all parts of Brecon society in to see us."

The school's military links are important to it. According to Steve Maggs, Development Director of Christ College: "The school has around 200 pupils boarding of whom about one third are from military families. Ten are from Gurkha families; a number of soldiers' wives work here too."

Important though the military may be to Brecon, this attractive town at the heart of a National Park has much more to offer. Punch Maughan, of Brecon Beacons Tourism, says: "The town has worked hard to establish a fresh identity for itself. Fifteen years ago it was a traditional livestock market town but is now flourishing as the hub of the arts and tourism in this spectacular region." It's easy to see why. The town enjoys amazing views whichever way you look and with gems such as the basin of the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal (known, affectionately, as 'The Mon and Brec' by the boating fraternity) it can hardly go wrong. Along Britain's 2,000 miles of navigable inland waterways no other stretch of water flows through a National Park.

Overheard at the Hay Festival in May this year: "Wherever I go and I say I'm from Brecon people instantly know the name." For a community of only some 10,000 people Brecon clearly punches way above its weight. A very special town, where the blood-curdling battle cry "Ayo Gorkhali" will only ever be heard in celebration.

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