Calgarian 'totally shocked' after grandfather's WW II-era medals and photos returned by Goodwill

After word spread on social media about a collection of Second World War-era medals and photographs donated to a Calgary Goodwill, members of the community set out to search for their rightful owner.

Items from Second World War were dropped off at northeast Calgary location

Calgarian Tracey Scott claimed a collection of war medals that were awarded to her grandfather, Sgt. Robert William Finch, along with numerous photographs, on Sunday. The collection had been donated to a Calgary Goodwill store on Friday. (Helen Pike/CBC)

After word spread on Friday on social media about a collection of Second World War-era medals and photographs donated to a Calgary Goodwill, members of the community set out to search for their rightful owner.

The collection included a number of WW II-era medals and photographs, including a Memorial Cross bearing the name of Sgt. R.W. Finch. The Memorial Cross is given to the mother or widow of a Canadian soldier who has died on active duty

After posts about the items were made on social media, messages poured in from around the country, said Doug Roxburgh with Goodwill Alberta.

"Word spread quicker than we anticipated," Roxburgh said. "After speaking with [an individual] for more than a half an hour, we came to the conclusion that she was the rightful heir."

Calgary resident Tracey Scott, who was contacted by friends who saw the social media post, claimed the items on Sunday at Goodwill.

Calgary resident Tracey Scott said she was "totally shocked" to see news reports featuring images of her grandmother, mother and grandfather on Friday. (Facebook)

"[I'm] shocked … my brothers and I didn't even know [these items] existed. I lost my mom and my grandma several years ago, and this is pretty amazing," Scott said, wiping away tears.

Scott said she was "totally shocked" to see photos of her grandfather, first reading news reports about the donation online.

"I saw there's a story about Robert Finch's medals being donated. So I went to the story and saw my grandmother, my grandfather and my mother staring back at me," Scott said.

Sgt. Robert William Finch

One of the items returned to the family was a Memorial Cross belonging to Sgt. R.W. Finch. The Memorial Cross is given to the mother or widow of a Canadian soldier who has died on active duty. (Facebook)

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, Finch was a part of Fort Garry Horse, a Canadian Army Reserve armoured regiment based out of Winnipeg.

He was the son of Robert and Helene Finch and husband to Elizabeth Finch of St. Vital, Man. 

"Grandpa was the love of her life," Scott said. 

Gord Crossley, curator of the Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives in Winnipeg, said Fort Garry Horse initially began the war effort on horseback.

"We were very quickly converted to an armoured role as a tank regiment, however there weren't really any tanks to train on at that time," Crossley said.

Eventually, Fort Garry Horse made it to England at the end of 1941 and landed on Juno Beach on D-Day in 1944. The troops fought as a tank regiment in Germany until the end of the war in 1945.

Sgt. Finch was a part of Fort Garry House right from the beginning of the war effort, Crossley said, enrolling a couple of days after the war was declared.

"He and a few others were actually sent back for eight months to Canada to serve as instructors. As a result, he missed D-Day — he was still in Canada at the time — but in August of 1944, he and the others were sent back to England and became reinforcements," he said. "He joined the unit in Holland in late 1944."

Finch was wounded in February 1945 and was in hospital for two months. He was discharged on April 5, 1945, and joined Allied troops in efforts to liberate a number of cities and towns in Holland.

At that time, Allied forces sought to remove German troops and Dutch SS from Dutch communities. 

"[We did this] to prevent any retaliation against the citizens," Crossley said. "Also the Dutch had been starved, pretty much, so we gave them food and medical attention and so on, so they were very appreciative. And still are."

On the morning of April 13, 1945, Allied troops, including Finch, were readying to attack the northeastern town of Assen, as chronicled in Mark Zuehlke's 2010 book On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands.

Fort Garry Horse provided tank support during the assault, and troops were met by resistance from groups of German and Dutch paramilitary troops located in various homes.

"The narrow streets were bad for tanks, a fact proven once again that morning when a Panzerfaust round flashed out of an upper-storey window and punched into Sergeant Robert George Finch's Sherman," the book recounts.

Sgt. Finch, along with his gunner Lance Cpl. Fredrick William Lockinger, were killed.

Sgt. Robert William Finch died in combat on April 13, 1945, when Allied troops attacked and liberated the northeastern town of Assen, Holland. (Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives)

Allied forces would go on to capture Assen, along with other cities and towns like Arnhem, Zutphen and Apeldoorn in the successive days.

"The nearest town where they ended after Assen was Hooghalen, and there's a monument to this day in that town with his name and the names of the other infantrymen and Fort Garry horse members who died liberating that town," Crossley said.

Scott said she knew her grandfather had died in the war and had visited the Netherlands with her grandmother to see where Finch had been buried, laying flowers at his grave.

"Honestly, neither my mother or my grandmother ever mentioned they had these medals anywhere," Scott said. "So they were in a box on a shelf somewhere in the house, and we're still trying to find out how they got here."

Scott said she is speaking with her family to determine what to do with the medals.

"The medals are amazing, but the pictures are so much more," Scott said.

With files from Helen Pike


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