British Columbia

WW II veteran's ring returned to namesake nephew thanks to efforts of Dutch memorial group

A Dutch historical foundation was able to locate the descendent of a young pilot killed in the war and return the airman's ring to him.

Airman Ernest Hallding, 23, was shot down above the Netherlands in 1943

Ernest Hallding, left, died in the Second World War in the Netherlands. His nephew, Ernest Smith, was recently handed Hallding's ring, which had been found in a Dutch field in 2005. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

For more than 60 years, Ernest Claude Hallding's ring lay buried in a cattle farmer's field near the village of Akkerwoude in the Netherlands.

On Sunday, it adorned the hand of his namesake nephew, Ernest Smith, who laid a wreath in remembrance of his fallen uncle in their hometown of New Westminster.

"It is totally amazing that this could happen," Smith said. 

Hallding was Smith's mother's brother. As the Second World War began, Hallding enlisted along with his brother Bill and served as a pilot.

On May 1, 1943, the 23-year-old's plane was shot down. He died along with five other crew members. 

Ernest Hallding, middle row far left, as a pilot. (Doug Kerr/CBC)
 

In 2005, according to the Netherlands-based Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, an amateur archeologist named Jan Leegstra found Hallding's ring when he was digging around the crash site. 

The ring was badly damaged and Leegstra decided to get it repaired by a local silversmith.

Other than uncovering the initials E.C.H. on the ring, Leegstra didn't have any luck finding any relatives until May 2018, when he got in touch with the foundation.

Using the location where the ring was found and the initials on the ring — E.C.H. — the Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation were able to find the fallen pilot's relatives. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Using the initials as a clue, the foundation began an investigation.

"Through a long series of emails and investigations, they tracked me and my mother down," Smith said. 

"They sent this ring to her [around a month ago]. I'm named after my uncle Ernest so I have inherited the ring."

'Hopefully people can remember and on Remembrance Day, spare a thought for what all of these airmen and soldiers went through,' said Ernest Smith, left. (Doug Kerr/CBC)
 

While Smith, whose father also served in the war, comes every year to the New Westminster Remembrance Day ceremony, the ring gives this year a special significance. 

"It is such an honour that we and our family have received this [ring]," Smith said, noting the foundation's commitment and dedication to commemorating the airmen that fought for their freedom.

"The people there are just so full of thankfulness. They are so grateful to the Canadians."

Ernest Hallding died in 1943 when his plane was shot down over the Netherlands. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

When asked what he would tell the late uncle whose name he bears, and whose ring he now wears, Smith tears up. 

"Thank you very much."

With files from Joel Ballard

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