A field marshal who helped to avert a war between Nepal and Tibet.
Oh, and did we mention that the buyer was based in Sweden?
The heavy, sabre-like weapon was on offer at the Tayler & Fletcher auction house in Bourton-on-the-Water on February 23 and sold for £3000 (plus 18% buyer’s premium and VAT) against an estimate of £300-500.
Koras were used in Nepal and north India for both fighting and sacrificial purposes. This example was presented to Lord Birdwood - Sir William Riddell ‘Birdie’ Birdwood - in the final months of his five-year tenure as British commander-in-chief of India.
Birdwood, best known for the morale he instilled in the troops of the doomed Gallipoli campaign, which earned him the moniker the ‘soul of Anzac’, recounted how a Nepal-Tibet war was averted in his 1941 autobiography Khaki and Gown (a book which included a foreword by Winston Churchill):
“In April, 1930, Maharaja Sir Bhim Shamshere Jang [the Rana ruler of Nepal]… sent me a very kind invitation to visit Nepal before leaving India.
“He added that, owing to a certain incident, it was likely that Nepal would shortly declare war on Tibet, but he hoped this would not prevent me coming… I had to point out in reply that my visit… might well be misconstrued, since it might be thought that I was coming to direct the war against Tibet.
“The Maharaja answered that the point had not struck him before, and that he could easily arrange for the war to be postponed till after my visit! Once again I returned my sincere thanks, but suggested that if war broke out immediately after my departure I should certainly be accused of having gone there to arrange for supplies and munitions; and I added that, if he really wished for me to come, it would be far better for him to make peace hastily with the enemy.
“To my great pleasure this was actually arranged, the honour of both disputants being satisfied without recourse to arms.”
Birdwood goes on to say his farewell visit to Nepal featured an exchange of honorary military titles:
“At a great Durbar held by the King [Bhim Shamshere Jang, the sixth Rana ruler of Nepal] … it was my privilege to announce that Sir Bhim Shamshere Jang had been made a British major-general, and Colonel of the 4th Gurkhas, and I presented him with his major-general’s sword. At the same time (the previous assent of King George V having been obtained) I was created a General in the Nepalese army…”
The fresh-to-market kora has a silver plaque on its sheath commemorating Birdwood’s appointment as an honorary Nepalese general. Another plaque commemorates Birdwood’s subsequent presentation of the kora to the officers of the 6th Gurkha Rifles in the same year. Birdwood was then colonel of the 6th and Bhim Shumsher Jang the newly appointed colonel of the 4th.
The sword came to auction by family descent.
Tayler & Fletcher specialist Henry Forcer Evans said: “This kora tells the story of international diplomacy tempered with humour and appeals to everyone from a jingoist to a pacifist - when one considers the background to its presentation to General Birdwood, the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword is indeed true.
“The kora attracted interest from different parts of the world including Australia, where Birdwood is still regarded as a national hero – he was one of the few British commanders that the Anzac troops held in high esteem.
“To the British, he is a little-known hero of two Indian campaigns, the Boer War, the Dardanelles and the Western Front, but determined bidding did come from UK collectors of Gurkha memorabilia as well as the Gurkha Museum in Winchester.”
Although those bidders would have made appropriate new owners, the successful bidder also has a solid connection to this sword. Forcer Evans added: “It has found a home in Sweden with a descendant of the sixth Rani ruler of Nepal.”
The underbidder was in the room and the buyer was a commission bidder.
As commander of the short-lived Dardanelles Army, Birdwood had led the one outstanding success of the Gallipoli campaign: its speedy and well-executed evacuation. On the Western Front, Birdwood was promoted to full general in 1917 and took command of the Australian Corps.
When Birdwood died in 1951, he was buried with full military honours at Twickenham Cemetery where his grave’s upkeep is still paid by the Australian government.