Wed, Nov 17, 2021 5:00 PM

Quest to reunite lost medals

Simon Robertson initiated the search after his brother found the medals at a rubbish dump. Photo: Supplied.

Jo Kent

A nationwide search to reunite six war medals with their owner has moved to Nelson, after links to a Stoke cemetery were discovered by veterans determined to see them back in the recipient’s family.

The World War 1 and II medals were found at a refuse site in Napier, when a chance sighting of an antique silver box among the rubbish revealed the extraordinary find.

Site worker Jeremy Robertson says, when he opened the box he knew someone would be missing the collection of medals.

“My brother is an ex-military veteran, so I rang him straight away and he told me to send the medals to him and he’d try to trace the owner.”

Simon Robertson posted his brother’s find on the Facebook group ‘Onward Bar’ which is for serving and retired service personnel from the New Zealand Defence Force.

He says, within 24 hours he was inundated with messages from veterans with information about which serviceman the medals were given to and where he was buried.

Of the medals, four are for service in World Wars 1 and II, while another is for service in Kurdistan, and the last is a coronation medal. They were earned by Nelson man Alan Le Grand Campbell, who served in both the infantry and air force in the two world wars.

Central to the search is Dr Andrew Macdonald, official historian for the RSA. He says that after serving in World War 1, Campbell went on to serve in New Zealand with 23 Battalion during World War II.

“That unit was recruited from around the South Island and earned a fearsome reputation on the battlefields of Greece, North Africa and Italy.”

During World War 1, Campbell, who was born in 1896 in Wellington and died in 1960 in Nelson, managed to earn a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in the UK.

“In World War II, he briefly commanded and trained the famed A Company (the 1st Canterbury Company) of 23 Battalion for a period, winning the respect of his soldiers along the way,” Andrew says.

When Campbell died in his 60s in Nelson, his medals went to his first-born son John Graham Colin Campbell, who later died in 2011. His second son Donald James Campbell died in 2014 and all three men are buried at Marsden Valley Cemetery.

“We are really hoping that someone from the area knows of the family as it’s likely there could still be some living relatives either locally or further afield,” Simon says.

The medals were discovered in a vintage silver box which was inscribed with the date August 1926 and the initials ‘FJE’ from a member of the Blenheim Amateurs singing group.

“I’ve been in touch with them and no connection is obvious, so we are thinking the box has a separate story of its own and the medals were just put in there for safe keeping.”

Theories as to how the medals ended up at the dump include that maybe they were stolen and later discarded, or perhaps they were accidently thrown out with the box without the owner realising they were still inside.

One of the medals has an oakleaf, denoting that Campbell was mentioned in despatches for his service.

“To receive such a medal means Campbell would have had to have done something above and beyond, like pulling a comrade out of enemy fire or something like that,” Simon says. “It’s heartbreaking to think after such a celebrated career his medals ended up on a tip.”

Veterans from across the country are behind the search and ask the public to get in touch if they can help.

If you have any information on the medals, the family or the box, then email jo@waimeaweekly.co.nz.