8th of May marks one of the most remarkable celebrations of our time, it was the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. It was the day I also attended a funeral in Aldershot, the heart of the British Army to celebrate the life of a remarkable man and dear friend who fought with the Gurkhas during World War II, Richard Burgess.
Richard and I crossed paths via my grandparents who keep Beagles. After the war Richard was a Housemaster of a school, he needed a companion and expressed no desire to have a obedient Labradoor or King Charles Spaniel so he eventually decided to get a Beagle. Now, as most Beagle owners are well aware they are not well known to be the most obedient of all breeds, quite the opposite as a matter of fact!
He saw a litter of puppies, one of which crawled over to his feet and chewed on his laces and thus began his love and admiration for Beagles.
Since then, Richard has always had a Beagle by his feet. Indeed, as the years went on, many Beagles came and eventually passed away and Richard always had another to keep him company. His house was always full with war medals and memorabilia married with portraits of his four legged companions over the years.
Before he came to me asking for his final Beagle he had been living in solitude for five months after his previous Beagle passed away. I remember vividly how he said to me that those five months was the worst time of his life without that companion. I had to remind myself that this man spent many years in the jungle fighting during World War II and here he is telling me that not having a companion by his side for five months in his quiet English cottage in sunny Farnham was by far his worst period of his life without hesitation. It’s hard to comprehend this and yet summarises his devotion for dogs, more than I feel I can ever empathise with.
Part of the ‘Forgotten Army’ during the Burma Campaign the British had a strong alliance with the Nepalese Soldiers fighting against the Axis powers, most notably the Germans and Japanese. Richard was an intelligence officer feeding vital information back to command and thus he was given the nickname ‘Rabbit‘ as he often sprung from jungle to jungle without a sound to be heard. He established lifelong friendships amongst his comrades, most of whom passed away as the years went by. Echoes of this can be seen on his walls and shelves in form of war medals, memorabilia, portraits and Gurkha knives (also known as khukuri).
Admittedly he never spoke about his experiences to me, he seemed to be very reserved in that respect or perhaps I felt it was far too intrusive to ask. It is a very rare thing these days to have veterans alive to this day who can tell the tale which only fuels my fascination. When I am in my 50s there will be no first hand accounts and we will ever rely on reading books, archive footage and online research. Remarkably, however he kept diaries of his experience, tens of years worth of handwritten diaries from the war when he was 23 years old to very recently when he had guests, including myself visiting for a cup of tea. These will be kept at the Gurkha museum, I cannot think of a more fitting place for them.
‘Boo’ was his last Beagle companion who I looked after when I was still working at a boarding kennels and rescue home. Boo, as with most rescue dogs came from a broken background and it was my delight to introduce her to him. They found each other and their lives were once again filled with joy and glee. Richard was a remarkable person and I cannot express how much it was an honour to be a part of that.