The Pun Family

The Pun family - daughter Mira and wife Bijmati - were devastated when their father and husband, and veteran of the Brigade of Gurkhas, Suk Bahadur passed away after a short battle with cancer. During their grief they turned to SSAFA for support.

Gurkha veteran Suk Bahadur Pun served in the British Army for 20 years. The 65-year-old husband and father of four was looking forward to his retirement but died suddenly after a short battle with cancer.

SSAFA supported the Pun family in their time of shock and grief and arranged for the cost of Suk Bahadur’s funeral to be covered.

Following in the footsteps of his father, a Major in the Gurkha Regiment, Suk Bahadur Pun joined the British Army from his home in Nepal.

“My family, we are from the Magar tribe, from Western Nepal,” says Suk Bahadur’s daughter Mira Pun. “Our grandfather, Sher Bahadur Pun, was in the Army so he was just inspired by him. It’s like our family upbringing; everybody goes to the Gurkhas.”

He joined on 13 November 1974. “His date of birth was made on that day,” explains Mira. “Because back then, in the hills in Nepal, nobody was sure about their date of birth, and neither was my dad. So, his date of birth was made so that he was 18 years old on the date he enrolled in the British Army.”

An honest and hard-working soldier.

“He was an honest and hard-working soldier. He was very humble and peaceful and always very friendly with everyone. And he was loved and respected very much his seniors and by juniors who were trained by him.”

Married in Nepal in 1977, Suk Bahadur and his wife Bijmati had three daughters and a son.

“My father loved being around friends, but he gave plenty of time to us as well,” says Mira. “He was a loving family man, and he was very protective towards us.

“He was very reserved and didn't talk much, so we don't know much about his job. Maybe because we were children, and we were small he didn't say much about his work to us because we didn't understand.

“He served in Germany, Brunei, Switzerland, New Zealand, Malaysia and the Falklands,” says Mira. “He enjoyed sport and was an all-rounder, playing football, basketball, hockey. He loved swimming and was a backstroke champion.”

After serving In Hong Kong, Suk Bahadur retired from the Army in 1994 after 20 years of service with the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2 and a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

He had to go back to Nepal. We didn't have any choice.

“But he had to go back to Nepal. We didn't have any choice to stay in Hong Kong,” explains Mira.

“Later, the UK Government policy changed. But back then, when my father retired, we all had to go back to Nepal and restart everything.

“It was very challenging for every Gurkha who was retired and sent back to Nepal. All his youth was spent in the UK and the British Gurkhas, and suddenly he had no job. Because when we are in the military, we have a certain place. But suddenly when we go back to Nepal, it's a totally different culture.

“It was not only difficult for my father but for all the family. We had to start again in a new environment, making friends. We were struggling with education as well because Nepal is a very poor country; transportation, health, education facilities are not so good. That was the reality of Nepalese Gurkhas sent back to Nepal after retirement. It's not only us; most Gurkha families can relate to our story.

“It was a difficult time financially too. So, in 2003 he went to Iraq to work as a security guard for two years, then Afghanistan for one year."

He had a very close call in Afghanistan.

“It was very dangerous, but he had to go because of the family's financial situation. He never mentioned much about the work there, but we know that he had a very close call in Afghanistan. He didn't go back after that.

“Being in the Army is a very privileged thing but as a family it was difficult. We are very proud that our father was an Army Gurkha. But he had to work all around the world, separate from his family for the job. Back then it was no fun. Now, technology is quite advanced, we can talk anywhere. But when he was working in Iraq and Afghanistan, he used to call once a week.”

When Gurkha veterans won their long-running battle to be allowed to retire in the UK, Government policy changed, and Suk Bahadur came back in 2007, settling in Cumbria.

"Lots of Gurkha friends and neighbours from our village in Nepal were living in Carlisle,” explains Mira, “So he came here, and my mum and youngest sister joined him here in 2010."

We are all happy!

After a legal fight for the right to live in the UK, Mira and her other sister were reunited with the rest of her family in 2014. “We are all happy then!” she says.

Mira and her father both worked in the Cavaghan and Gray food factory in Carlisle. In his spare time, Suk Bahadar enjoyed gardening, often helping his wife Bijmati at her allotment, and enjoyed a drink with friends.

Looking forward to retiring when he turned 66 in November 2022, he left his job in January and bought a three-month return ticket to Nepal with his wife Bijmati.

“They planned to stay for there a few months, enjoying their holiday,” says Mira. “Then when they come back, it is time for their retirement.

“He was 65, a few months away from retiring. But he didn't get time. He started to get ill in Nepal. We didn't what problem he was suffering from, and the holiday instead became about hospital and his health."

There was no hope.

“Then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which was in the last stage, so there was no hope.

“So, we brought him back to the UK, so the whole family are together to support him emotionally. That's the only thing we could do,” says Mira. “But the four of us, the children, hadn't told our Mum what he is suffering from. It was difficult for us to accept and to know how to tell our Mum. We were waiting for the right time and then time went so quickly.

“For a month we stayed with him at home. We all are here, taking care of him until he was admitted to hospital. Only then did we tell Mum.

“Our father was never a person who would complain. He never showed his pain to us. We were always asking how he is feeling, he said, 'I'm okay, I'm okay.' Even in the hospital, the doctor was shocked: ‘How are you not suffering from pain?’"

He was the strong one, more than us.

“He handled it so calmly. It was amazing. He was the strong one, more than us. And because he handled it that way, we were calmer,” remembers Mira. “We now feel that he was teaching us the final life lesson, of accepting death as a natural and eternal truth. It was both surreal and awakening.”

“On the last day in the hospital, he was walking by himself. That's the kind of character he was. I was trying to hold his hand to help him, and he wouldn't let me.

“He was only in the hospital for a week before he passed away on August 26th, 2022, at the Cumberland Infirmary. They called us in about nine o'clock in the evening. All the family came to see him at his very last moments. So, we all are there, holding his hand. It was a privilege and at the same time very hard.

“We all broke down. It happened so quick; it was shocking for us. Nobody expected his death to be this sudden. We were still processing his illness.

“He always wanted to live with all the family together. The only good thing is we all were here to look after him."

It was a very hard time.

“So, we struggled. It was a very hard time. Nobody in our family was emotionally, mentally prepared, and financially, we were going through severe financial stress. I am the only one working, running our family.

“We have a small community here, called the Carlisle and District Ex-Gurkha and Nepalese Association (CADEGANA). After our father passed away, CADEGANA chairperson Bhim Limbu came to offer us condolences. He suggested seeking financial help from SSAFA for funeral expenses.

“After mulling for some time, we agreed to approach SSAFA for help. Bhim Limbu then connected us with SSAFA Gurkha Services Outreach Worker Laxmi Bantawa, who put us in contact with SSAFA Cumbria Manager Sarah Bannister.

“Sarah advised us to make a claim for a funeral payment from the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Social Fund, explaining that SSAFA would do its best to help us.

“Our claim to the DWP was declined, so with guidance from Laxmi and SSAFA caseworker Paul Imrie, we gathered all the necessary information together, including the funeral director’s invoice and documents related to household income.

“SSAFA explained the situation to the funeral director and approached prospective organisations who could pledge funds,” says Mira. “After a few weeks, we were informed that all the funeral expenses, amounting to £3,358, had been reimbursed by SSAFA directly to the funeral director. The Army Benevolent Fund had provided £2,000, £1,200 came from the Royal British Legion and the remaining £158 was from SSAFA itself.

“At that time, even a small amount would have been a big help for us, but to get the full amount was absolutely amazing news. We were overwhelmed with a mix of many feelings; of joy, of gratefulness, of humbleness and of great relief.

“At first I was a bit hesitant to reach out for help,” says Mira. "Because we might have to go through so many things. But, as soon as we came into contact with Laxmi Bantawa, he made us feel very comfortable and open up. He listened to us carefully and offered us consoling thoughts.

“He also explained what SSAFA is and how it can help us. Knowing it as an organisation of veterans and Laxmi himself, being a Gurkha Veteran, we immediately connected with on a certain level of familiarity and trust. Opening up and sharing became easier. It felt like a part of our larger extended family; our father’s own people came to help when needed.

“SSAFA have a team of excellent professionals. They know the emotional sensitivity of the situation and knows exactly how to deal with this type of case.

“We would like to extend our sincere appreciation and gratitude to SSAFA and especially to Paul Imrie and Laxmi Bantawa for their unwavering dedication, time and effort to the cause.

“We are deeply humbled by all the generosity and kindness shown by the all the people and organisations who supported us during our time of bereavement. It has been a period of great learning and realisation. You all have inspired us to become more humble, helpful and generous people ourselves.

“We are deeply touched. We shall always remember all the helping hands and keep in our heart for life. Thank you again.

“If you are a person who needs it, SSAFA is always there to help.”