War Medal Bought at Yard Sale Is Returned to Next-of-KinMarch 14, 2009 at 9:02 am | Posted in Finds, News | 23 Comments
A medal issued to the widow of a Canadian World War I soldier who died at at the Battle of the Somme was lost soon after she received it — and turned up at a yard sale decades later. Now the medal has finally made its way back to the soldier’s closest living relative.
According to the Norwich Advertiser, Walter Thomas Baker died in France during the 1916 battle — which, with 1.5 million casualties, was one of the bloodiest and most devastating in modern military history. A saucer-sized gunmetal commemorative medal of the type familiarly known as a “Dead Man’s Penny” — bearing the soldier’s name and the motto “He died for freedom and honour” — was sent to his widow. But she quickly lost track of it. Baker’s Dead Man’s Penny “was not seen again until the 1970s when it was bought at a yard sale,” according to the Advertiser. And that’s how it came to be stored in the attic of Ottawa homemaker Della Hill. It lay there half-forgotten for decades — until Hill saw a picture of another Dead Man’s Penny in a magazine article last August and realized the sentimental and historical value of that yard-sale find. Hill then devoted herself to finding Baker’s next-of-kin and returning the relic. She put out notices in Canadian newspapers, according to the Advertiser:
“Researchers from family history website Ancestry.co.uk then got in touch with Mrs Hill and started trawling through their historic military records to trace the rightful owner…. The experts soon found Mr Baker’s military service file from his time with the Canada Overseas 76th regiment, his marriage certificate and attestation papers, allowing them to trace his family tree to locate his great-great-grandniece Vanessa Rider, of Lowestoft” on Great Britain’s east coast.
Rider , “who had no idea that her distant relative had been a war hero … was reunited with the medal at Lowestoft Record Office. She was also presented with an historical record from Mr Baker’s regiment and a letter from Mrs Hill explaining how the medal had been found. Ms Rider said: ‘I could not believe it when I heard that one of my ancestors had been honoured in this way, and that I would be receiving this Penny. I never imagined something like this would happen to me.’ Military records show that Mr Baker emigrated to Canada from London with his wife just weeks before enlisting in the army and heading off the war, sailing into Liverpool in April 1916 and later being sent to the Somme.”
This confirms yet again the fact that every scavenged item has a history.