Campaign medals of World War I vintage lying with Darjeeling jeweller

DARJEELING
29 Jun 2018

Thirty four-year-old Mukul Ojha, a jeweler in Darjeeling town, is a man with a mission to find the family of two war veterans of the region and hand over to them the vintage silver medals of British period that is presently part of his shop’s collection.
Mukul has in his possession two silver campaign medals that were issued by the British to its officers and men. One of the medals date back to World War I, the other could have been related to a campaign against Afridi tribesmen in the North West Frontier Province.
One is the  George IVS British OMN REX ET IND IMP medal with 1914-18 inscribed on it, the First World War period. It has the name Chandra Bahadur Gurung along with his service number, rank and unit impressed on the rim. The other medal, an Indian General Service medal with a clasp ‘North West Frontier 1930-31’ has the name of Bhakta Bahadur Thapa inscribed. This was the period the British Indian army had sent an expedition to the NWFP to quell a rebellion by Afridi tribesmen.
Mukul’s shop (DN Jewelers) in Sarafi Line in Chowk Bazar was opened in the 1940s by his great grand-father Dinanath Singh. However in January 1965, Dinanath died in an accident and since then the shop had remained closed till young Mukul decided to reopen it earlier this year, in February, after five decades.
“It was my mother who persuaded me to run our family jewellery shop. We also own a wholesale shop in the town dealing with betel-nut and betel-leaf. However,  the jewellery
business being in my blood, I decided to reopen our shop, earlier this year,” he said.
It was Mukul’s father Ashit Singh who handed over a bag full of silver coins which was part of the family heirloom when the shop was reopened. “My father watched how I was running the shop and when he was confident he handed me a bag full of silver coins which also
included the two medals. Initially, I thought the medals too were coins but for a friend who informed me that they were world war medals,” he said.
Living as a Gorkha for over several decades in the hills, Mukul knew about the sentimental value of the medals and immediately started looking for their owners or their family members to hand them  over. “I can very well understand the sentiments that may be attached with the
medals. For me the sentiment is more than the monetary value. I started looking for the family members of the owners a week back through various social media sites and in the local channels,” Mukul said.
Mukul had no knowledge how the medals had come to the possession of his family. But he guessed that the owners of the medals could have sold them to his great grandfather or kept them as mortgage in a time of financial difficulty.
The jeweller said he would wait for 90 days before he donated the medals to the Gorkha War Museum Trust (GWMT) for safe-keeping and display. “A couple of person had come claiming the medals belonged to them. But I have asked them to furnish proper documents to prove their claims. After 90 days I will than hand the medals to the Trust,” Mukul said.
Hemant Pradhan, the managing trustee of GWMT who also has a huge collection of artifacts and items related with the army, confirmed the authenticity of the two medals. “The medals are definitely of the WW I and WW II period given to army men who served in the two wars on various capacity. It has huge sentimental value attached with the owners. The present owner has told me that he would donate the medals to our trust if the real owners don’t turn up with proof,” he said. (EOIC)