Toronto

92-year-old reunited with family's lost WW I medals

Last July, a staff member at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore location in Peterborough, Ont., stumbled onto a historical find that was steeped in mystery.

Package included British War Medal, Victory Medal and Silver Jubilee

A Peterborough, Ont. woman has been reunited with her father and grandfather's lost First World War medals. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

All sorts of everyday items regularly come through Habitat for Humanity's ReStore locations, from furniture and dishes to home décor and appliances.

But one Sunday afternoon last July, a staff member at a store in Peterborough, Ont., stumbled onto a historical find that was steeped in mystery — stuffed in the bottom of a box of old, stained Tupperware.

"She was ready to throw the whole box in the garbage, but something told her to dig deeper in that box and make sure there wasn't anything else in the bottom," said Christina Skuce, director of philanthropy and communications for Habitat for Humanity Peterborough and Kawartha Region.

Those instincts proved fruitful. At the bottom of the box was a little pouch, adorned with a sticky note that simply read "Dad's medals" and a tube with "Dad's war stick" written on it.

Startlingly, inside were medals and a "swagger stick" from the First World War, including the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the Silver Jubilee. They were priceless heirlooms that somehow ended up in a donation bin.

Catherine Allen, right, embraces Jill Bennett, who helped reunite the Allen family with their medals. (Nazima Walji/CBC)

On Wednesday, the package made its way back to its rightful home, as 92-year-old Catherine Allen was reunited with medals that were awarded to her father — Maj. George Raymore Scott, and her grandfather, Honorary Capt. Reverend Andrew Joseph Vining — in the First World War.

"To know that they'd been found, and that someone had gone to the effort to find out to whom they belonged … this is very special," Allen said.

The reunion wasn't an easy process, but this chapter of Habitat for Humanity has a secret weapon for moments like these. Board member Jill Bennett describes herself as an amateur genealogist, an interest ignited by a drive to find her biological parents after her adoptive mother and father died some years ago.

"Turns out I'm really good at it," she said with a smile. Now, when her location needs research done, she's the one to do it.

The medals included the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the Silver Jubilee. (Nazima Walji/CBC)

In this instance, there wasn't a ton to work with. The name G.R. Scott was engraved on some of the medals, while A.J. Vinning was on others. So Bennett contacted the Royal Canadian Legion and started poking around on Ancestry.com.

"You just snoop around," she said. In the end, it took her about 60 hours of work to track down Allen's family, with help from Maj. W.G. Campbell, medals adviser with the Royal Canadian Legion.

"It was just very rewarding, and very exciting," Bennett said. "I became very emotionally attached … It was an honour."

Allen told CBC News that she was baffled when she got a call from Bennett about the medals — because she didn't even know they were missing.

"I was flummoxed," she said. Allen thought her niece had them, but thinks they may have been in an old cupboard she once had that ended up at the ReStore location.

'G.R.S' was printed on this 'swagger stick,' which was carried by military officers in the First World War. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

Her father and grandfather served in the First World War as a medical officer and a padre, respectively.

Allen said she remembered seeing her father wearing those medals decades ago, but much of his time overseas remains a mystery to her.

"When you talk to people who served in the war, they don't really tell you much," she said.

"It's too horrifying. They didn't speak specifics."

Allen said she plans to pass the medals on to her son.

"He will treasure them."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from Nazima Walji

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