After a 13-year-long wait, Naik Kirpa Ram’s widow Brahmi Devi finally got back his stolen George Cross on Monday. The defence adviser at the British High Commission in India, Brig Brian McCall, handed over the gallantry medal to her at a function at the panchayat office courtyard in Bilaspur’s Bhapral village.
Expressing gratitude to all those who extended assistance in bringing the medal back to India, Devi said, “Today, I feel my husband has come back to me after 13 years. I would especially like to thank my British lawyer, Ian Mayes, who contested the case without charging any fee from me. I also thank the British as well the Himachal governments for this act of kindness.”
Remembering the day the medal was stolen from her home in 2002, she said, “I live in a small house and don’t have much property. The thieves took my trunk containing the medal but left my fixed deposit receipts untouched.” Recalling her struggle to get the medal back, Devi said, “When I met then chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal to request his help in retrieving the medal, he asked me to leave the matter to him. But I told him to let the medal remain in London itself.”
“I’ll never part with the medal till I’m alive and will now keep it in a bank locker. I’ve also drawn up a will,” she told this reporter.
McCall, after handing over the medal to Devi, said, “This is one of the most precious moments in my life and I’m fortunate to witness this rare event.”
The medal was awarded to Ram of the 8th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles of the British Indian Army, for his act of gallantry in saving the lives of his fellow soldiers at the cost of his own on September 12, 1945, during a field firing exercise at a rest camp at Thondebavi, Bangalore. Devi, then aged just 13, had been married only days before her husband left for the camp.
Meanwhile, Himachal sainik welfare, social justice and empowerment minister Dhani Ram Shandil said Bilaspur district was proud to have winners of the Victoria Cross as well as the George Cross gallantry medals among its residents.
On the occasion, David Lelliott, British deputy high commissioner, posted at Chandigarh, addressed Brahmi Devi as ‘mom’. He said this incident had strengthened military and cultural ties between India and the UK, and it was a unique example where judiciary and police in both countries worked together to ensure justice for Devi.
Appreciating the efforts of Barrister Ian Mayes, he said people of Britain did not run after money, but cared for human values. “We are grateful for the sacrifice that you and your husband made,” he told Devi.
“Today’s moment is absolutely delightful. I did not get the chance to physically hand over the George Cross Medal in my career, so I am delighted to hand it to Devi,” said defence adviser at British Commission, Brig Brian McCall.
Mayes, who handled the case for Devi for free, said, “It’s a unique case where I never met my client, and just had a single telephonic conversation. I got simple and clear instructions from my client to get the medal back to her. Sensing her need, I did what I could.”
A medal’s journey
The George Cross was awarded to Naik Kirpa Ram of the 8th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles of the British Indian Army, for his act of gallantry in saving the lives of his fellow soldiers at the cost of his own on September 12, 1945, during a field firing exercise at a rest camp at Thondebavi, Bangalore.
His wife Brahmi Devi was aged just 13 when she received the posthumous award in 1946. She had been married only days before he left for the camp
The medal was stolen from Brahmi Devi’s house at Bhapral village of Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh in 2002
In 2009, the medal surfaced in the UK and was saved from being auctioned off in London.