The hero, his widow, and a row over his George Cross

An Indian soldier's medal being auctioned in Britain has been withdrawn from sale after his widow claimed the award for gallantry was stolen

When Corporal Kirpa Ram ran screaming from a ditch for his men to take cover while he scrambled towards an unexploded grenade, he did so for the noblest reasons. Moments after he picked up the device, it detonated and killed him instantly but his actions shielded his men from a blast which would have otherwise left many of them dead.

The incident, which happened in a training exercise in November 1945 while Cpl Ram was serving in the British Indian Army near Goa, left his superiors deeply impressed. He was awarded a posthumous George Cross, Britain's highest award for bravery in peacetime, along with a citation that eulogised his "fine spirit of sacrifice and devotion to duty".

Some 65 years later, the medal symbolising the courage of Cpl Ram has become embroiled in allegations of conduct of a somewhat less distinguished nature which have put his military honour at the heart of an international dispute involving the Indian government, Scotland Yard, an eminent Mayfair auction house and the dead hero's 78-year-old widow.

Brahmi Devi, who was just 13 when her husband was killed, had the medal withdrawn from a sale of military memorabilia in London last December after she rejected claims that she had "gifted" the solid silver cross to a family friend, insisting instead it had been stolen in 2002 from a trunk containing Cpl Ram's possessions.

A subsequent campaign to repatriate the accolade, awarded in the dying days of the British Raj, has become a cause célèbre in India with representations being made by the Indian High Commission to the Foreign Office in London and detectives from the Yard's art and antiques unit being brought in.

Efforts to disentangle the disputed ownership of George Cross number 15634 reached a new stage this week when British officers were sent a DVD purporting to show a meeting where Mrs Devi surrendered the medal, worth an estimated £20,000, to a local man, who then sold it to a Delhi-based militaria dealer, together with affidavits supposedly signed by the widow.

Mrs Devi, who received the decoration on behalf of her husband in 1946 from the Viceroy of India, Field Marshall Lord Wavell, and is known her community as "Victorian" due to a mistaken belief among villagers that Cpl Ram received a Victoria Cross, has fervently denied all claims that she willingly sold the medal.

Last year Ms Devi, who never remarried after the death of Cpl Ram, instead looking after his parents in Bilaspur, India, said: "My soul will not rest till I get the medal back. Do you think any Indian woman could part with the medal that is the last remembrance of her husband?

"I had kept the medal for 56 years. In all these years, whenever I used to travel out of my village I used to bury it deep in the ground. The loss of the medal is as bad as the loss of my husband. My husband will not pardon me if I sell off the medal. Is this the way society treats their heroes who sacrificed their lives for others?"

The medal was offered to a prominent London auction house specialising in militaria, Dix Noonan Webb, by an Indian collector understood to have bought it from the Delhi dealer. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the collector or the auction house.

The company was this week still displaying on its website the affidavits allegedly signed by Mrs Devi using her thumbprint, in which she states: "I am unable to keep this medal now properly ... I have gifted this medal with my sweet will and without any pressure."

The statements, whose authenticity is disputed by Mrs Devi, are dated April 2000 – two years before she claims the medal was stolen in a burglary. Dix Noonan Webb declined to comment on the investigation when contacted by The Independent. In a statement on its website, the company's managing director Nimrod Dix said: "We take very seriously any claims in respect of stolen property and we are making strenuous investigations to clarify rightful ownership of the property prior to any sale."

The delicate task of picking a path through the claim and counter-claim in the case in Britain has been left to Yard officers, who are understood to be investigating whether the DVD supposedly showing the transaction is genuine. Indian police this week insisted the footage was inconclusive.

Given that the case has attracted the attention of chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, the region where Mrs Devi lives, as well as India's foreign ministry and much of the Indian media, the Yard was yesterday tight-lipped about the progress of its inquiries. A spokesman said: "We can confirm we are currently investigating the title dispute of a George Cross medal. We are not prepared to discuss the matter further."

Naik Kirpa Ram's citation

"At thondebhavi on 12 November 1945, Naik [Corporal] Kirpa Ram was commanding a section on a field-firing exercise. He was lying close to a Sepoy [Indian soldier] 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 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."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003