Subject: ALL BRANCH - A TOUTES LES FILIALES (11-005) - Stolen war medals find long way home
Published Friday December 9th, 2011 in the Telegraph-Journal (New Brunswick)
Photo: James West/The Daily Gleaner
FREDERICTON - When Gary Campbell was asked by the RCMP to help them return three stolen war medals recovered in a raid on a crack house, his first reaction was the chances of success were slim.
"If you were going to gamble with those odds, you wouldn't want to put down very much money," the New Maryland man said Thursday.
Campbell is the medals adviser to the Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion.
"Basically what that means is if somebody?...?has a question relating to medals, there is a place on the Legion website where they can send an inquiry in and eventually it trickles over to me and I research it and make a reply," he said.
Usually the inquiries are for information on a certain medal or how to get a lost medal replaced, which can be done through Veterans Affairs for older medals or the Department of National Defence for more recent medals, said Campbell.
But the request from the RCMP in Surrey, B.C., was different.
Campbell said the RCMP initially put out a media release about the medals, looking for an owner, but no one came forward.
"The investigators on the case tried various sources trying to figure out who the medals belonged to, without any luck, so they, I guess in a bit of an act of desperation?...?sent this inquiry into the Royal Canadian Legion and it trickled over to me," he said.
But the problem with finding the owner of the Second World War medals is the medals belong to veterans of Canada and the United Kingdom and, unlike the First World War, the name of the person who received the medals is never inscribed on them, said Campbell.
"If you come across some World War Two medals, unless there's some provenance with them, you can't link them back to the veteran they were awarded to," he said. "That was the problem with these three medals."
The medals were the U.K. defence medal, the Canadian voluntary service medal with the overseas clasp, and the 1939-45 war medal, said Campbell.
"They are fairly typical of someone who served overseas in the U.K. and didn't go on to either the Italian or the northwest Europe campaign," he said.
Fortunately, in addition to the medals, the RCMP also recovered a war services badge that was issued to people during the war who were of military age but who weren't in uniform because they were in war-essential industries or had been in the military and had been released for medical reasons, said Campbell.
Those badges all had a registration number on the back, he said.
Using that number, Campbell tracked down a name - Arthur Bird - and the RCMP used that name to access the country's military archives to see if Bird had been awarded any military medals.
"They also confirmed the three medals that were confirmed matched Mr. Bird's entitlement," he said. "So it looked like we had a match."
Another lucky break came when an official at the archives found Bird's online obituary from the Toronto area in the early 1970s. It mentioned his daughter, her husband and their son lived in the Vancouver area.
That took the search back out west, said Campbell.
The RCMP tried without luck to find the family. So Campbell asked a genealogist he knew in the area to try and find them, and she found the family in Surrey, B.C., through Google.
"So based on that information, the RCMP pulled up the street address in their database and, yes, there had been a reported break-in there in 2009," he said.
That led to Bird's grandson who lived on Vancouver Island, said Campbell.
"And from there they were able to make arrangements for him to come to the Surrey detachment and receive his grandfather's medals," he said.
"I was pleased we were able to help solve the crime and, secondly, return a veteran's medals to his grandson.
"First of all when I started on this, I thought the chances of success were pretty much zero."
Even with the badge registration number, there was a good chance it had nothing to do with the medals, Campbell said.
"There were so many steps along the process where the chain of events could have failed," he said. "It is really quite surprising everything fell into place."
Campbell and his wife will be spending Christmas on Vancouver Island and have arranged to meet with Paul Jackson, the grandson of the veteran whose medals were recovered.
Most Second World War medals don't have a large financial value and, unfortunately, some scrap-metal dealers are acquiring them and melting them down for their sterling silver, he said.
Campbell said he has a lot of interest in military history. He works as the medals adviser because it's important to help the Legion, which supports veterans.
"If there is something I can do to add to that, I am pleased to do that," he said.
Campbell, a retired military officer in his early 60s, has been the medals adviser for four years and he got the volunteer position after making a medal inquiry himself about a relative.
When his request for assistance on the website went unanswered, he investigated further and found the position was vacant because the previous incumbent had passed away.
"I said if you need somebody, pick me, which they did," he said.
Campbell retired from the military six years ago with the rank of major and has written a book for the New Brunswick military heritage series called The Road to Canada, published by Gooselane Editions, about the communications route that went up the St. John River to Upper Canada.
He's working on another book about the Aroostook War, which should be out next fall.
Campbell said he plans to continue in the role of medal historian as long as the legion wants him.