A medal for bravery earned during a battle in the First World War has been returned to the veteran’s family.
The Military Medal – awarded to Sgt. John Petrie Austin for successfully leading an attack against an enemy trench position in 1917 – was returned to his family during a presentation at Vancouver Island Military Museum on Monday, Jan. 31.
The medal was found and turned over to military museum staff by Liam Robertson, a Nanaimo city worker who was part of a crew cleaning up garbage in a park in early December.
The medal, Robertson said, was in a shopping cart filled with items that was going to be tossed in a dumpster bin, but when the cart proved too heavy for two men to lift, Robertson started emptying the cart by hand.
“One of the things was a fanny pack and right in the fanny pack there was this medal,” Robertson said. “I thought at first maybe it was a piece of a costume or something and then I read on the side it had a name and identifying information, so in talking with my coworker, we agreed that it would be a good idea to bring it to the museum because the gentlemen here would know what to do with it.”
Margaret Sloat, Austin’s daughter, said she knew little about her father’s military history. He died when she was 15 years old, she said, from emphysema resulting from a poison gas attack in the First World War. She had no idea what the significance of the medal was.
“Dad never talked about it. He would never wear it…” Sloat said. “I didn’t even know he’d been injured except for being gassed. That’s what he eventually died of.”
Sloat said the medal was in a box of jewelry stolen from her home in Nanoose Bay in 2019.
It was by fluke the medal came back to her, she said, when she happened to spot a link to a News Bulletin story about the medal on social media.
“John Austin. I said, isn’t that interesting. That’s my dad’s name, but you know, there’s a million Austins around and then the further on I read, I started thinking, my God, this all sounds familiar. This is my dad,” she said. “It was strictly a fluke. A total fluke.”
She said if the house hadn’t been robbed she wouldn’t ever have learned about her father’s war record because I she had no idea of the medal’s significance.
Greg Devenish, a VIMM director and volunteer who did the research to identify John Austin, presented the medal to Sloat. He also provided Joan Fayter – daughter of John Austin’s brother Roy, who was also injured in the First World War – with the information about her father that he compiled during the research into her uncle’s military history.
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) January 26, 2022