War hero's medal returns after 92 years

AFTER soldier Walter Thomas Baker was killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, a medal commemorating his brave sacrifice was sent to his widow.

AFTER soldier Walter Thomas Baker was killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, a medal commemorating his brave sacrifice was sent to his widow.

Now more than 90 years later, the medal - known as the Dead Man's Penny - has been returned to his closest living relative in Lowestoft after being hidden in an attic on the other side of the Atlantic for decades.

The saucer-sized bronze gunmetal medal was sent home to Mr Baker's widow, living in Canada, after his death on September 20, 1916, but it was soon lost.

It was not seen again until the 1970s when it was bought at a yard sale in Hamilton, Canada. It was then passed on to Della Hill, a housewife from Ottawa, and it lay forgotten in her attic until she came across it one day while spring cleaning.

When she saw a picture of another Dead Man's Penny in a magazine article last August, Mrs Hill realised the value of the medal she had been storing and contacted her local newspaper to appeal for information.

Researchers from family history website Ancestry.co.uk then got in touch with Mrs Hill and started trawling through their historic military records to trace the rightful owner of the medal - bearing the soldier's name and the motto “He died for freedom and honour”.

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The experts soon found Mr Baker's military service file from his time with the Canada Overseas 72nd regiment, his marriage certificate and attestation papers, allowing them to trace his family tree to locate his great-great-grandniece Vanessa Rider, of Lowestoft.

Yesterday, Ms Rider - who had no idea that her distant relative had been a war hero until she was contacted by the website's experts - was reunited with the medal at Lowestoft Record Office. She was also presented with an historical record from Mr Baker's regiment and a letter from Mrs Hill explaining how the medal had been found.

Ms Rider said: “I could not believe it when I heard that one of my ancestors had been honoured in this way, and that I would be receiving this Penny. I never imagined something like this would happen to me.

“My friend had been helping me trace my family tree and after looking into the Baker family on my mother's side, we got an email from Canada saying that someone had something which might be of interest to us.

“I was a bit sceptical and thought it was a joke at first, but followed it up and found out what it was. I was absolutely stunned. It was so kind of Mrs Hill to take the trouble to find the family that it belonged to.”

Military records show that Mr Baker emigrated to Canada from London with his wife just weeks before enlisting into the army and heading off the war, sailing into Liverpool in April 1916 and later being sent to the Somme.

Ms Rider said: “I'm going to put it on display in my house mounted with a picture of Walter. It's lovely to have a real piece of history, it's so personal.”

Mrs Hill said: “It's wonderful that Ancestry.co.uk has been able to track down the rightful owner of the Penny and now it can finally go home.”

n Access to the Ancestry.co.uk network is free in all Suffolk libraries and record offices. The UK site holds about eight million historic military records, including complete WWI medal index cars and WWI service and pension records. It was launched in 2002 and is art of the global network of Ancestry websites, which contains seven billion names in 27,000 historical record collections.