Soldier son’s Nepal legacy
A PORTADOWN man has told of his “immense pride” at opening six new classrooms at a Nepal school in memory of his late son who learned the local language there.
Lt Neal Turkington of the Royal Gurkha Rifles was killed by a rogue member of the Afghan National Army, aged 26, on July 13, 2010. But before he died, he had told his friends that his ambition after his Afghan tour was to go back to Nepal – with which he had long ties – and build a new school.
Last month the Portadown soldier’s ambition was fulfilled when his father Ivor officially opened an extension at the school where Neal learned Nepalese as a new Gurkha officer. Ivor told the News Letter yesterday that unveiling the plaque for the new extension was “the most emotional moment of the entire trip”.
He said: “At that moment I felt extreme pride in what our son stood for, we felt proud to be his parents and we knew his motto in life was going to live on – ‘Seize the moment, make a different, no regrets’.”
Ivor and his wife Marie, along with Neal’s siblings Gareth and Kathy, travelled to Nepal for the opening of the new extension.
“It was an amazing welcome,” Ivor said. “The whole village came out to greet us – around 700 people. They had a two-hour cultural display for us in this remote village.”
Ivor told the News Letter his son first visited Nepal when he was aged 19 to teach English while still a civil engineering undergraduate at Imperial College London.
He said: “He stayed with a host family and cycled to outreach stations regularly to teach English. He saw that most of the villages were mud huts and that people were living in tremendous poverty. From then on he seemed to get involved in helping impoverished people.”
In his second year he led a humanitarian mission project to build clinics, schools and housing in El Salvador, returning on three more occasions.
Ivor said his son first expressed an interest in the army while studying for his GCSEs at Portadown College.
“The army careers people gave a presentation in the school, saying ‘if you want to make a difference, the army is the place to be’. Neal came home, out of the blue, aged 15 and said he wanted to become an army officer.”
He went on to do A-levels at the army’s Welbeck Defence College and decided he would join the Gurkhas.
Ivor said: “He had read so much about Nepal as being the home of the Gurkhas. Originally the British army met a significant defeat at their hands and were so impressed with them that they decided to create a regiment for them.
“Neal was so impressed with their bravery and attitude that he wanted to join them. They are extremely respectful and all young Nepalese men aspire to join the Gurkhas in the British army. They probably have as many or more Victoria Crosses than any other regiment.”
After Neal graduated from Sandhurst he was sent to the Gurkha Language School in Pokhara in Nepal to learn Nepalese, the school which has now benefitted from fundraising in his name. The construction was subcontracted to the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
Neal died during his first tour to Afghanistan. But he had told his friends in London that after he returned home he wanted to go and build a school in Nepal.
“So after his funeral his friends got together and said ‘we think this is what he would have liked – for his legacy we would like to see this through, in tribute to his spirit’.”
Ivor said that according to Neal’s diaries, the same week he had been offered a commission with the Gurkhas he had also been offered a job with a “fantastic package” working for a humanitarian organisation.
He had not applied for any such job, his father said, but rather his reputation for the humanitarian work he had already done while an undergraduate had provoked the offer.
“Neal had been carrying a knee injury he picked up playing rugby at Portadown College and it dislocated at least once a year,” Ivor said. “So I believe he could easily have left the army on medical grounds – but he was certain he wanted to be an officer in the Gurkhas, so he continued on with that.”
Ivor believed his son had intended to work for about six years in the Army and then go to work full-time in the humanitarian sector.
The backbone of the funds raised in his name – more than £100,000 – for the Nepal project have come from schools which Neal attended. They were Bocombra Primary School, Killicomaine Junior High School and Portadown College. However Craigavon Junior High School, Lurgan College and Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College – the army college where Neal studied his A-Levels – have also raised support.
But Ivor also paid tribute to an Irishman from Cork called Ed Burke, who was working in Afghanistan’s internal ministry when Neal was killed. Ed is now walking 400km along the Irish border to raise funds for the Neal Turkington Nepal Project and will call in with Ivor and Marie next week in Portadown.
“Ed latched onto the fact that Neal had been from Ireland and read that he had lived what he called ‘a relentless life’,” Ivor added.
Further funds that are raised are to be used to help another school chosen by the Gurka Welfare Trust.
Readers can donate money to the Neal Turkington Nepal Project online at www.ntnp.org.uk. Alternatively cheques made out to: NTNP (Gurkha Welfare Trust), can be sent to the News Letter, 2 Esky Drive, Carn Industrial Area, Portadown, BT63 5YY. (Please mark envelopes: Lt N Turkington Nepal Appeal).