World War I saw the first British war Department designed and proofed kukris that were issued to Gurkha and Indian troops. Most of these knives were made in India and contracted out to many different facilities in Gorkhapore, Ghum, Dehra Dun, Rawalpindi, Cawnpore and Hassan Abdel. There were also patterns developed and made in Nepal that were issued to both Gurkha Army troops, but these are less common. The Indian factories used rail stock and springs from discarded railway carriages, so blade stock came from the steel mills used in the manufacture of the original product and from the railway yards themselves such as the Insein Railway Works. After 1880 much of the steels used by Nepali manufacturers came from India. During this time, local, smaller contractors were chosen by the regiments themselves due to distribution problems or even poor workmanship.
(Editors note: Since JP´s writting it has emerged that Nepal did NOT make Kukris for use by the Gurkhas on a large scale, at best soldiers of the Indian Army would take some pieces back when returning on leave. The Indian Kukri manufacturing was using Indian produced new steel and not "left overs". The occational piece maybe made from the rail stock and springs but not the norm.)
Military Kukri knives of the early 20th Century.
"Our Indian Troops: The Gurkha" from Army and Navy Illustrated (Magazine), Nov 7th, 1914, page 53.
Military Kukri knives of the first half of the 20th Century.
After the outbreak of war in August of 1914, the kingdom of Nepal offered to provide troops to supplement the ranks of the British Indian Army for the first time.
Eventually 120,000 Gurkhas served in the war and many were sent over the kala pani or dark waters to serve in France, Flanders, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, or Turkey. Some served in India. Gurkhas won the first two Victoria Crosses awarded to ethnic Nepalese and while there were many individual battle honours it seems all fought with distinction.
While a recruit might have brought his own kukri, the Government of the British India issued standard kukri models that were designed in the first year of the war. The marks from all suppliers vary greatly, if found at all. Many carry the “broad arrow” over the letter I indicating ownership by the Government of British India.
The MK1 and MK 2 Kukri from National Army Museum (NAM).
Fig. 1. The World War 1 Mark 2 (MK 2 ) Kukri with Issue stamps.
Fig. 3. A close up of the stamps on the MK 1 handle. JP Collection.
Inspector’s marks, place of manufacture, and dates including regimental marks will also be found on these issued knives. Some scabbards are similarly marked and on the B. P. I. P. (British Pattern Indian Produced) examples there are very small makers marks on or above the brass shape where it is stapled. During WW I individual soldiers ID numbers- three or four digit numbers- begin appearing on knives. The MK II (fig. 1) is the most commonly found WW I model as it was produced in the largest numbers. It differs from the MK I in weight and blade shape, but most obviously in the scale grips versus the earlier one piece wooden grip. (fig. 2)
In addition to the standard MK I and MK II there were two other variants that can be categorized. One is the B. P. I. P. MK I that has a solid walnut grip of slightly different shape and secured by a slotted nut threaded onto a machined tang (fig. 4 & 5 (below)) both MK I model can be identified by this nut filled into the uncovered pommel. In most cases the grips were vanished and none of these WW I models have a place for, or were issued with a karda or chakmak.
These knives while having the same shape and characteristics, will probably have chos that are different. The inspector’s marks were added after the blade and handle were joined with the number/letters going on both parts (fig. 1 & 3) or sometimes only the scabbards. After the war, some Gurkhas kept the issued kukri with its leather and wood scabbard but turned in the frog with their other gear accounting for the rarity of original frogs. While early scabbards were covered in goatskin and dyed black, these B. P. I. P. pieces were of leather made from water buffalo hide.
Fig. 2 A. The World War 1 Kukri Mark 1 (MK 1) made by two different manufacturers and times (10 year apart). Gurkha Antiques.
Fig. 2 B. The MK 1 Kukri comes with different handles and even the balde diferes depending on when it was made and by what company. There is in general two styles, the early Fat blade (ca. 1905) and the later Slimmer blade (ca. 1915). Gurkha Antiques.
The bottom half of the MK and a the upper part of the scabbard of the MK 1 Kukri, stamps on the backside of the belt frog and on bac of scabbard top.
In 1950, new born leather equipment were issued and stating, “kukri scabbards and frog to made brown” to match the new issue. This color was adopted throughout the regiments and consequently all WW I scabbards found are in varying shades from chestnut to honey. There is speculation among military collectors that the early MK I models had an all fabric scabbard with no wood frame. The theory is difficult to prove since no fabric or web material was used in the British-Indian Army of 1914 except for the rifles slings. No one has yet found a complete web scabbard with no wooden frame and a meta insert at the throat has been referred to and thee are pictures from the period that may be this type, but these are inconclusive. The practice of slipping a cloth or canvas cover over the scabbards and the frog did not become apparent until this period and unlike the more common WW II models no intact covers from the great wars exist. Careful study of WW I examples all have an event patina and wear marks on the leather and the brass chapes indicating these were never covered.
Military Scabbard of the early 20th Century are often of brown leather, particularly on the MK style Kukri.
Fig. 4. The MK 1 handle as described in the text along with other handles of the WW1 era.
Two Kukri´s which are probably regimental or battalion issued. Both have the soldiers service nr (2741 and the other 2256) stamped on them. The Kukri with 2256 stamp also has a crescent moon inlayed in brass in the blade, probably as a talisman symbol. These Kukris are not of the Official Issue pattern but were used often in WW1 and WW2.
The two Official Issue Pattern Kukri knives of WW1, the MK 1 and MK 2. JP Collection.
Official stamps on a MK 2 Kukri from WW1;
DHW = Manufacturing company.
II = Mark 2 Kukri.
1918 = Date of Manufacture/Inspection.
I (broad arrow) G = Indian Government Issue.
The broad arrow is still used by the Indian Military on Issue items.
Fig. 5. The MK 1 Kukri, in full and without a handle, shows the unique MK 1 tang construction. JP Collection.
Another kukri of interest is an alloy handled model of rough, but sturdy, manufacture that was produced by the Maharaja of Jodhpur (fig. X) in northern India and given to both Indian and Nepalese troops of the 29th Indian Brigade before they left for Egypt enroute to parts of the Mideast and the tragedy of Gallipoli. The scabbard is a rare-opening, form-fit leather and wood affair with a loop/stud arrangement to secure the knife and a flimsy belt loop and retaining strap. When these rare kukris are found, most times there is no scabbard or just the remains of one. The blades are occasionally beautifully blued and the markings if any-are a royal crest or number and letter combinations on the blade or grip. The chape on the scabbard is quiet unique and is well made of steel.
The Jodhpur Kukri,
was until some years back thought of as a WW1 Kukri. Since JP wrote this material, several points have been found indicating that it actually most likely is a later production, in the 1950´s.
One of the Kukris on the middle image has the 2nd Gurkha Rifles insignia and the text "Delhi 1857-1957" in memory of 100 years since the 2nd Gurkha Rifles fought in Delhi during the Indian Mutiny (the 2 GR was then named The Sirmoor Battalion"). A Memorial stands in Old Delhi also for the men of the regiment who fell during the battle.
All images: JP collection.
Classifying any military kukri is difficult even with established patterns since ,any were produced by a regiment’s own kamis. These men would repair issued knives and, in the process add or remove identifiable marks while the sarkis may replace a complete scabbard. However, the basic patterns were established and it is these models that evolved into the M43 and the K series that would be used to effectively in World War Two.
The years after the “Great War” saw no great model changes, although there are some very interesting kukris from this period: one is the model made for the officers of the 1/10 Gurkha Rifles. Its grip is silver banded and has a silver pommel. The karda and chakmak are also finely made and are in the unusual shape of miniature kukris. Its most important feature is the frog made specifically to be attached onto the left side of a Sam Browne belt where the sword-hangar would normally be. There is a picture take in in 1918 of three officers with their commander, Lt. Col L. A. Bethell (fig. X) wearing this rig. One of these knives seen in the photo is at the Gurkha Museum in Winchester. One of the all too rare examples of perfect provenance.
The MK 2 Kukri was made from WW1 till WW2 for the military, three different MK2 from three different times of history.
A rather odd military Kukri with scabbard, over history many variations of the Kukri is found, many which we do not know very much about though they may have military inspection stamps. The Kukri and Scababrd are most likely not original to each others. JP Collection.
A Officers Kukri belonging to Lieutenant Harold Bazzet (retired Major after WW2), ca. 1917.
Attached to the 10th Gurkha Rifles as Quartermaster (1917-1919) in Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin), Burma.
During WW2 he trained Special Service Agents in Canada.
Similar to the earlier Kukri´s with the soldiers nrs stamped on them, here is another one of military use but not a pattern standardized by the military, yet commonly found. Most antique Kukris are not of a known standardised pattern and many questions remain unansweared.
A alloy handle Kukri marked "From Rifleman
Lalbahadur Gurung, 1920-1924".
Right: A regimental/battalion Kukri from the WW1 era.
Another can be best described as a machete with a kukri styled blade. It was manufactured in India and came in a fairly crude scabbard held together with eleven rivets along its curved side with a retaining strap. There is no karda or chamak. The grip is of wooden scales secured with three rivets (fig. X). at first, it was believed that this knife was produced in the late 20’s for “pioneer” battalions, but one has been discovered dated 1919. The only pictures available show unidentified British troops carrying this in India and Assam.
The last between-the-wars variation is a stripped down version of standard kukri. It has aa plain handle, no cho and comes in a plain wooden scabbard held together by small brass screws and a brass-reinforced throat with a leather loop for belt attachment. They are unmarked and have no indication of where in India they are made (fig. X).
Throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s new frog style came into use and more Nepalese Army knives were found in British Regiments.
Described by JP as a "Pioneer" Kukri but now more often called a "Chin" Kukri. These appear from about 1918-1928 andshare a resemblance to the Chin Knife of Burma.
A Regimental/Battalion Kukri from the North West Frontier, a area the Gurkhas served in from the mid 19th century till WW2.
The common FAKE WW1 dated Kukri, has been produced in large numbers.
Various Kukri knives from the late 1800s to ca. 1930´s.
A Kubo Valley Military Police Kukri.
A Kubo Valley Military Police Kukri.
How JP found out or why he thought these were from the Kubo Valley Military Police is unknown and remains to research.
The Kubo (Kebaw) Valley Military Police was raised following the third Anglo-Burmese War (1885) in 1887 to maintain law and order as a semi-military force and consisted of Gurkhas and Assamese hillmen.
The KVMP later was to become the 10th Gurkha Rifles in 1901 and also absorbed into the Burma Military Police following a reformation of the Indian Army.
Left: A Kukri with a frog which could accomodate to village Kukris and non standard scabbards.
Read more about WW2 Kukri knives, article by Jonathan Sedwell:
"The 20th Century British Military Gurkha Issue Kukri."
Further info on the Nepalese Military Kukri by Dr. Benjamin Judkins is found here.
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