War medals stolen 25 years ago turn up on city bench, returned to family

War medals stolen from a Hamilton veteran's family over 25 years ago were found on a bench and returned to the family Tuesday through a Facebook post.

Grandson 'amazed' by the box's return

The medals recovered belonged to Second World War veteran Harry Coombs and his father, a First World War veteran. They're now in possession of the Coombs family. (Geoff Coombs)

War medals stolen from a Hamilton veteran's family over 25 years ago were found on a bench and returned to the family Tuesday through a Facebook post.

The box of First World War and Second World War medals belonging to veteran Harry Coombs was found on the corner of Barton Street and Nash Road, still in its original mailing envelope from the British Admiralty. A Facebook user, Tamara Bevan, took a picture of the box and posted it online.

 'How on earth would this little tiny box, 20-some years later, end up sitting in perfect condition on a bench?'- Geoff Coombs

"When I realized it was war medals, I looked around but didn't see anyone so I assumed someone had accidently put them down forgetting them when they got on the bus," said Bevan. 

"I brought them home and debated what to do with them. I know whoever lost them must be panicked and needed to find this person. After much thought I decided social media may be helpful ... and the response was amazing."

Somebody who recognized the last name Coombs contacted the family and the medals were returned to the veteran's grandson Monday.

Harry Edwin Coombs, was a veteran from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who eventually moved with his wife Hilda to Hamilton. Hilda died in 1986, and Harry moved in with his daughter after he had a stroke. Harry died in 1989, and his and Hilda's belongings stayed with his daughter who moved to a house on Charlton Avenue. That house was broken into, and Hilda's jewelry box was taken. At the bottom of that box were Harry's medals. 

And here they were over two decades later and four days before Remembrance Day, just a few blocks down the road, sitting on a bench. Coombs's family was stunned.

"How on earth would this little tiny box, 20-some years later, end up sitting in perfect condition on a bench?" said Geoff Coombs, Harry's grandson, who didn't know his grandfather's war medals were among the items stolen all those years.

Harry and Hilda Coombs on their wedding day in 1930. (Geoff Coombs)

"I have no idea how this could happen. We just assumed anything that was stolen at that point was lost."  

There were six medals inside the box. Those from the Second World War, including the long service medal, the naval general service medal, the star for naval service in war and the Atlantic star, all of which belonged to Harry. The First World War medals belonged to Harry's father who died in service aboard a ship called the Black Prince in the Battle of Jutland.

Geoff, 57, is an English teacher at Sir Winston Churchill. A former colleague of his saw the Facebook post and contacted him when she recognized the last name. He and Bevan met up Monday to get the medals back.

"It felt great to know I had made him very happy. I get goosebumps just thinking about it," said Bevan.

He said this recovery is a big deal for his family as well, many of whom have military backgrounds.

"My grandfather served, my father was in the the air force, my stepson served in Afghanistan, so Remembrance Day is a big deal for my family and to have [the medals] back is amazing.

"My dad passed away a year and a half ago. I would've loved for him to see it. I wish he could have."

Still, Geoff said it's a relief to have them back in the family's possession. He plans to have them professionally mounted in a place where he can keep an eye on them.

Geoff sat down with CBC Toronto's Marviel Taruc to discuss the return of the medals and what they meant to his family. Here's a snippet.


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