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Amherst museum curator helping repatriate First World War medal with veteran’s family

Ray Coulson, curator of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum in Amherst, holds up a First World War Victory Medal belonging to Pte. R.C. McDonald of the 25th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. He’s helping a retired Canadian Navy commander in his efforts to locate McDonald’s descendants.
Ray Coulson, curator of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum in Amherst, holds up a First World War Victory Medal belonging to Pte. R.C. McDonald of the 25th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry. He’s helping a retired Canadian Navy commander in his efforts to locate McDonald’s descendants. - Darrell Cole

AMHERST – Ray Coulson is trying to solve a mystery that’s more than four decades old.

Sometime in the late 1970s a young woman was snorkeling off Hawaii when she found a World War One Victory Medal. She didn’t realize what she had found at the time, but she held onto it thinking that someday it would be nice to find its owner.

Fast forward to 2018 and retired Navy commander Philippe Menard and his wife, the woman who found the medal, were cleaning up their Ottawa area home in preparation for a move. They rediscovered the medal and decided to try to repatriate it with its owners.

That’s where Coulson comes in.

“It’s a very interesting story and one which I hope has a happy ending,” said Coulson, who is the curator of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum. “Commander Menard reached out to me to see if I could help find a family member so the medal could go home.”

In an email to Coulson, Menard said he had done some research on the medal. Along its edge, the name of Pte. R.C. McDonald of the 25th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry is inscribed.

“I did a quick search on Google and found that he enlisted in 1914 with his brother and survived the war,” Menard said in the email. “As you would know, the unit participated in many of Canada’s most significant battles of the war.”

Menard told Coulson that he knows Ronald C. McDonald was originally from the Caledonia Mines-Glace Bay area of Cape Breton and he’s hoping he may have descendants still living in the area.

From his research, he believes McDonald died in Port Alberni, B.C. in 1953.

Coulson has reached out to officials from the Cape Breton Highlanders Museum in Sydney for their assistance.

“It looks like after the war he went west like a lot of returning veterans so I really don’t know if he has any relatives left in Cape Breton,” Coulson said. “We’re hoping there’s someone out there who remembers a family connection and lets us know.”

If possible, Coulson would also like to connect a few dots and get additional information on Pte. McDonald such as how he ended up in British Columbia and how the medal ended up underwater off the coast of Hawaii.

The Victory Medal is a United Kingdom, British Empire First World War medal. To qualify for the medal, recipients had to be mobilized for war service in the United Kingdom or the British Empire, in any service, and entered a theatre of war between Aug. 4, 1914 and Nov. 11, 1918.

According to Veterans Affairs Canada there were 351,289 medals awarded to members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and a total of 5.725 million medals awarded across the British Empire.

The recipient’s name, number and rank were engraved on the first issue of the medals.

The 25th Battalion was the first of three regiments to be formed in Nova Scotia during the First World War. Regimental headquarters were in Halifax with recruitment offices in Amherst, Sydney, New Glasgow, Truro and Yarmouth.

Of the 1,000 Nova Scotians who started with the battalion when it left for Europe in 1915, only 100 were left after the first year of fighting with 900 killed, taken prisoner, missing of injured.

It fought in France and Belgium at major battles including the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Arras, Ypres and Cambrai.

By the end of the war, 53 per cent of its men had been wounded while 14 per cent died in battle.

darrell.cole@amherstnews.ca

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

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