Himachal to contest London auction of rare George Cross Medal

Gorge Cross Medal of Naik Kirpa RamShimla: Not bothered about what material value London based auction house Dix Noonan Webb puts out for the rare George Cross medal which Brahmi Devi, octogenarian widow of Naik Kirpa Ram received on behalf of her dead husband on January 1, 1946, says, ‘the medal was stolen and not gifted as claimed by the auction house.’

“Theft of the medal was recorded in a police report way back in 2002,” says SS Chandel, a former army officer who brought the issue to lime light.

“Now that the auction house is considerate about the antecedents of medal arriving for sale with them, the Himachal police is assisting Brahmi Devi in filing an affidavit to lay rightful claim to the medal and stall the auction in London,” said Chandel.

The affidavits filed with the medal for auction are clearly forged, he says. Somebody named Kirpal Singh form Moga claims that the medal was gifted to him by the widow, who in turn handed it over to SL Jain for East Patel Nagar, Delhi. The affidavit of Kirpal Singh put out on the auction house website does not have a proper date. The Himahcal police are looking into the matter and have sounded the London police about the matter, he added.

Only Known Picture of Naik Kirpa Ram Group Brahmi, widowed at 13, had received the medal from Field Marshal Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India on January, 1946. Despite the young age of her widowhood, she did not remarry and held onto the precious medal until it went missing in 2002. The theft was reported at the Bharari police station.

For Brahmi, memory of her husband tied to the gallantry award is more than the estimated auction price of 20000-25000 pounds put out by the auctioneers on their website.

“For me the medal is priceless,” she said over the phone from her village Bharpal in Bilaspur district.

“In a way I’m happy that they have been able to find the medal, now I only hope that the government helps to get back the honour my husband earned in the battlefield,” she added.

Taking suo motto notice of media reports, the Himachal High Court on Friday intervened and directed the state government to file a status report within three weeks.

Challenging the auction house’s claim about necessary sale documents being with them, Himachal police has let the London Police know about the fraud being played out on a hapless widow.

“Based on our information, the auction house has consented to probe the matter. We are confident the auction will be stalled,” says ID Bhandari, additional general of police with CID.

Chandel adds, “Such a rare medal for an Indian Army soldier is covered under the Heritage Antiquity Act, and one needs know how such a gallantry award was allowed to leave the country legally or was it smuggled out of the country.”

Original Affidavit of Kirpal Singh presented with the medal for auction to DNW

Kirpal Singh affidavit of handing over Medal to SL Jian of East Patel Nagar

Footnote at Dix Noonan Webb

G.C. London Gazette 15 March 1946. ‘The King has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the George Cross, in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner, to:- No. 15634 Naik Kirpa Ram, 8th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles, Indian Army.’ The War Office recommendation states: ‘At Thondebhavi on 12th November 1945, Naik Kirpa Ram was commanding a section on a field-firing exercise. He was lying close to a Sepoy who was firing grenades from a discharger-cup, the remainder of his section being in position beside him. The third grenade to be fired fell short and landed only about 8 yards in front of the section position. Naik Kirpa Ram saw at a glance that if it exploded there many of his section would be killed or wounded. Without a moment’s hesitation he leapt up and dashed forward shouting as he did so to the men of his section, “Get back and take cover”. He picked up the grenade, but before he could throw it into a place where it could cause no damage, it exploded. The main force of the explosion was taken by his body, and he died of wounds shortly afterwards. As a result of his act only two men of his section were slightly wounded. Naik Kirpa Ram knowing full well the possible consequences, risked his life in order to save those of the men under his command. His fine spirit of sacrifice and devotion to duty will ever be remembered in his regiment and will be a constant source of inspiration to all ranks.’ Naik Kirpa Ram was born in 1918 in the village of Bharpal in the Bilaspur district of Punjab Hills, now known as Himachal Pradesh. He came from the Dogra Rajput clan, an ancient Aryan race that inhabit the Northern Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Dogras have a long tradition of military service and in the early days of the British Empire they wore beards, as a result of which they were erroneously known as ‘Hill Sikhs’. The first all Dogra regiment to be formed in the British Indian Army was in 1846 as part of the Frontier Brigade (The Punjab Frontier Force). Kirpa Ram hailed from a military family, his father Mussadi Ram having served with the 57th Wilde’s Rifles (Frontier Force) in France during the Great War. Kirpa Ram enlisted in the 13th Frontier Force Rifles on 9 January 1935, at the age of seventeen. After his initial training with 10th (Training Battalion) 13th Frontier Force Rifles, he was transferred to the 6th Royal Battalion (Scinde) 13th Frontier Force Rifles and saw field service from 2 June to 15 December, 1937, in Waziristan against the Fakir of Ipi. On raising of the 8th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Rifles in 1940, which was to comprise a company each of Dogras, Sikhs and Pathans, Kirpa Ram was transferred to the Dogra Company of the 8/13th F.F. Rifles. During the Second World War Kirpa Ram saw action against the Japanese with his battalion in the Eastern theatre. The 8th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Rifles had a splendid fighting record as is evident by their battle/theatre honours and awards: North Arakan, Kaladan, Mayu Tunnels, Maugdaw, Arakan Beaches, Ramree, Burma 1942-45. Kirpa Ram’s wife Brahmi Devi was only 13 years old when she went to receive the posthumous award of her late husband (she had been betrothed to Kirpa Ram, as was custom in those days, at the tender age of eleven). The George Cross was received by Brahmi Devi on 1 January 1946, and presented by Field Marshal Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India, on behalf of King George VI. She was accompanied by Major R. W. Niven who was Commandant of the 8/13th Frontier Force Rifles at the time Naik Kirpa Ram’s brave sacrifice. Brahmi Devi went back to the village of Bharpal in the Himalayan Foothills; she never remarried and as a devoted daughter in law looked after Kirpa Ram’s aged parents till their demise some years ago. Thereafter she has lived alone on the pension of her late husband and the small patch of land and cottage that was left to her. Although uneducated, she has been active in social work and donated part of her land to build a dispensary which was lacking in the village. The group is sold with the recipient’s ‘13 F.F.R.’ cap badge, an original group photograph (the only one known of the recipient), and two original affidavits confirming the passing of legal title of the G.C. from his widow in April 2000.

As Editor, Ravinder Makhaik leads a team of media professionals at Hill Post. Spanning a career of over two decades in mass communication, as a Documentary Filmmaker, TV journalist, Print Media journalist and with Online & Social Media, he brings with him a vast experience. He lives in Shimla.

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3 Comments

  1. says: Alexander

    The facts are that on 28 April 2000 Brahmi Devi, the widow of Nk Kirpa Ram GC, of 8th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Rifles- (this regiment allotted to Pakistan at the time of partition) sold her husbands medals to a Kirpal Singh. (Possibly due to financial constraints).

    Brahmi Devi is illiterate and cannot read or write, the affidavit was explained to her, in which she states that on her own free will she is giving the George Cross over to Kirpal Singh for services rendered, she put her right thumb impression on the document and the document was countersigned by other witnesses who were present. The process of the transfer of the GC with Brahmi Devi present was also taped on video, and a copy of this video is also known to exist, though it has not yet been traced. (The original affidavit is with the auction house in UK).

    It is said that Brahmi Devi is nicknamed Victorian because the villagers erroneously think that her husband had won the Victoria Cross, this no doubt enhanced her status a great deal and she accepted this erroneous title proudly, therefore it is understandable that as a matter of honour she could not bring about to tell people that she had sold her late husband’s George Cross. As it would bring her dishonour and shame in the martial Dogra community to which she belongs.

    On 26 June 2000, Kirpal Singh sold the said George Cross to a reputed coin and medal dealer in New Delhi. (A legal affidavit of this also exists and is with the auction house in UK).

    It is to be noted that at that time in 2000 a George Cross (GC) had little value in the market, than what it has today. This can be gauged by the fact that a Victoria Cross in 2000 would bring circa GBP 100000, while as a GC, at that time was worth no more than GBP 3500. (At present according to the 2009 rates the GC is worth approx GBP 20000 – 25000. The Indian media has given it considerable publicity the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh has taken personal interest in the matter. The Indian Police, the Indian Foreign Office and Indian High Commission in London are also all involved.It seems nobody is really interested in wanting to uncover the real facts, except that it has to be got back by any means!

    The present owner of the medal, a retired army officer purchased the same from the medal dealer in mid 2000 in good faith at the then international market value after satisfying himself that the items had been legally obtained after examining the affidavits and video, as well as by the sound reputation of the Delhi coin and medal dealer.

    He kept the medal for 9 years, and in 2009 decided to sell his entire collection of medals he had collected since the last 50 years. That is how this GC has come up for sale via the reputable DNW Auction house that has been entrusted to handle this sale.

    This is not the first time a somewhat similar incident like this has happened. Lt Col M.K. Durrani another winner of the George Cross and also from a South Asian nation is a classic example where he had actually sold his medal, pocketed the money and later claimed that it had been stolen.

    It may be of interest to note that Brahmi Devi lodged an FIR with the police that the medals were stolen in 2002, the fact is that the medals had been sold two years earlier, in 2000, the same year the present owner of the medals acquired them.

    The DNW Medal and Coin Auction house of UK with years of experience behind them are possibly correct in saying that it is most likely a distant relative or a person with vested interests who has pressurized her into making this false statement in the hope of getting the medal back.

    The best thing would be if the Himachel Government purchased the medal and presented it back to the lady giving her a decent pension to live on, so that she does not need to sell it again, it is after all a paltry sum for them – that would be the most honourable thing to do!

    1. @ Alexander

      Just to point out an discrepancy in what you reveal as the history of the George Cross medal ending up for auction in London, the original affidavit which is also put out by the website as a document attesting the authenticity of the medals antecedents clearly mentions that Kirpal Singh received the medal as a gift for services rendered and nowhere is there any mention of it being sold or purchased.

      Your assumption about “sold her husbands medals to a Kirpal Singh. (Possibly due to financial constraints),” is not substantiated by facts on record.

      The Himachal police inform us that Kirpal Singh has been detained (29.11.2009) and the claims he has made in the original affidavit would be verified – whether Brahmi Devi does at all know him or not.

      You also claim that a video about the sale – purchase does exist, let the evidence be brought forth and the investigating agency would be the right people to get to the bottom of the matter.

      Ravinder Makhaik
      Editor
      My Himachal

  2. Dix Noonan Webb Responds:-

    There has been some speculation in the Indian press that these medals were reported stolen in 2002.

    As stated from the outset in our catalogue description, which is available here, included with the medals is a sworn affidavit by the widow of Naik Kirpa Ram, Smt Brami Devi, relinquishing ownership of the George Cross and other medals to another party. It can be seen that this affidavit, which bears her fingerprints, is dated April 2000, some two years before the report of the theft.

    We take very seriously any claims in respect of stolen property and as is usual in cases like this we are making strenuous investigations to clarify rightful ownership of the property prior to any sale taking place.

    Nimrod Dix
    Managing Director
    Dix Noonan Webb

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