Stolen medal returned to First World War vet's family
Published Tuesday, November 10, 2009 5:19PM EST
VICTORIA - The thief who left a First World War medal in an abandoned cardboard box marked "free" obviously had no idea of the infinite value of sacrifice and memories.
But City of Victoria engineering department worker Rick Brown sure did, and the family of one war veteran is forever grateful.
On Tuesday, Brown handed the medal over to the family of Maj. George Dutton Walker, who, after almost two years, had given up hope of ever seeing it again.
The British Empire Medal, inscribed The Great War for Civilization, 1914-1919, was handed out to all Commonwealth soldiers.
Walker, a British army soldier, was gassed on the front lines in France and later lost a leg in combat. He died in 1943 in Manchester, England, before his family emigrated to Canada in 1959.
His medal, which had been passed down for generations, made the journey to Canada with them.
Brown, who spends most of his workdays underground in Victoria's waterworks system, said he discovered the medal in a box outside of a home in the James Bay area of Victoria, located just steps from the B.C. legislature.
"I just couldn't turn my back on it," said Brown. "I had to find its home."
He said when he saw the name Maj. G.D. Walker on the medal, "I knew it could be traced."
Brown and his department supervisor, David Myles, a Canadian Forces reservist with the rank of major who did tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan, went to work.
They checked British and Canadian military records, with no luck. After a year with no clue to the owner's identity, they turned to police and the media.
When they saw the reports, the family realized their lost treasure had been found.
Mike Dutton Walker, great-grandson of Maj. Walker, lost the medal in 2008 when a thief broke into his apartment storage locker and stole it, along with other items.
The 39-year-old said he was heartbroken about the theft. After generations in his family, the medal was gone.
He said the thief also took a silver Second World War medal given to one of his relatives who died in Belgium from German sniper fire two months before the end of the war. That medal has yet to be found.
The Great War veteran's great-grandson could barely contain his emotions as he reflected on the return of the medal.
"It was shocking," he said. "I would have kissed that medal goodbye, this one that we have here right now. Why we're here today is the memory of what one man went through and the sacrifices he did.
"The person who ripped through my locker couldn't care less," he said.
Roger Dutton Walker, 78, Maj. Walker's grandson and father to Mike, said he didn't hold a grudge against the thief, whom he described as likely a person down on his luck and not fully appreciative of what the medal means.
"Where do you start looking when somebody pinches something like that," he said. "We never expected to see that again."
The elder Walker said Remembrance Day services in Victoria will be extra special this year because of the return of the medal.
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, who handed the medal over to the Walker family during a ceremony Tuesday, said seeing the medal returned was touching for him not only because city workers did the good deed, but because when he was younger a thief broke into his family's home and stole military service medals.