The controversy over the rightful ownership of a George Cross which was awarded to a pre-independence Indian soldier has ended with a court in the UK declaring the medal is the property of the soldier’s widow.
However, the widow, Brahmi Devi, who is in her 80s, has until December 31 to find the cash after a legal settlement in London where the medal had been put up for auction.
She had been married for only a few days to Kirpa Ram, a volunteer in the 13th Frontier Rifles, when he was killed in September 1945. During a field exercise in Bangalore a riflegrenade misfired and he rushed to save his men by trying to throw it away. It exploded in his hand and he died.
The medal for “conspicuous gallantry” was awarded posthumously. For more than 50 years it was her most treasured possession. Despite living in poverty, she refused to sell it but in 2002 it was in a trunk which was stolen from her home in Himachal Pradesh.
Seven years later it surfaced at an auction in London. The Indian High Commission halted the sale and called in Scotland Yard. The seller, Ashok Nath, a retired Indian army officer and medal collector, said he bought it in a curio shop in New Delhi for £4,000 (Rs 3.2 lakh) (its value has since been put at around £100,000).
Devi had rejected all monetary offers, saying she just wanted the medal returned. Shortly before the hearing her barrister, Ian Mayes QC, secured an agreement that Nath would return the medal for £12,000 (Rs 10.6 lakh) towards his own legal costs.
Mayes said: “My hope is we can raise the funds that will return the medal to Devi until she dies. She would then welcome it being placed in a museum.” Devi said: “My husband was a brave man and he saved his unit by showing great courage. All I want is the medal back in my hands before I die.”
George Cross medal
The George Cross is the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Only military personnel can win the Victoria Cross. However, they can also be awarded the George Cross for courageous acts carried out away from the enemy, such as defusing an unexploded bomb.