Medals missing for 70 years returned to family of Passchendaele soldier
Hilary Caton, CTV News Toronto
Published Friday, November 10, 2017 5:33PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 11, 2017 7:27PM EST
After seven decades of separation, a piece of military history belonging to Pte. Frank Angus McKinnon, the last soldier killed in the battle of Passchendaele, has finally been returned to its rightful owners, the Haber family.
But it was a long journey.
For months Bill Haber, the great nephew of McKinnon, had been working with the Jeffrey Hoare's Auction house in London, Ont to get the medals back from an anonymous buyer who purchased the medals for $400.
Haber, who is an amateur historian and a retired principal, was always interested in his great Uncle’s military history.
McKinnon was a Private in the 102nd Canadian Infantry and was just 17 years old when he enlisted during the First World War. Roughly 4,000 Canadian soldiers died in the battle of Passchendaele.
He spent several years trying to find the medals after learning the medals were lent to a cousin by Haber’s grandmother. The cousin refused to return them to her, even though the medals were one of the few items his grandmother had left of her brother.
After finally finding them, he worked with the auction house to prepare a letter that would help him convince the buyer to return them to him. It took months but the buyer not only returned them, he did so free of charge.
“It was almost a numbing feeling. It’s surreal. It was also something we didn’t expect,” Haber told CTV News Toronto.
The package sent to Haber included the two medals, a war medal and a victory medal, a memorial plaque and a letter written by King George on Buckingham Palace stationary. Also included in the package with McKinnon’s items was a letter from the buyer.
“As a medal collector my view is that if you acquire any medal or group of medals you never own them, you only get to look after them,” the anonymous buyer wrote.
“I am only too happy, in fact very happy, to gift the medals with my blessings to you and your family.”
November 18 marks 100 years to the day that McKinnon died in one of Canada’s deadliest military battles. Haber has been planning for years to travel to Passchendaele, Belgium to honour the anniversary of his great uncle’s death on the exact day he died in battle.
He brought the death certificate and pictures with him, but now he also has his medals, which he received just four days before he left for Belgium.
The buyer asked for nothing more than a video documenting Haber’s experience on the trip.
“The mission behind this was me going to meet a lost relative. Well now have the lost medals of the lost relative coming together,” Haber explained.
“The feeling is unbelievable; we believe that my grandmother would be extremely proud and happy that this is happening. It’s all coming together the way it’s supposed to. He’s finally, finally going to be reunited with his medals.”