A one-time Canadian Army reservist, Jake Whitney of London, Ont., couldn’t resist having a look at the medals during a visit to an antique shop in Kitchener earlier this month.
“It kind of stood out to me,” said Whitney, who purchased the medal for $45.
The name engraved into the side of the medal reads, ‘Pte. R. Kershaw’ and also includes the soldier’s service number and Manchester regiment.
“I typed that information in and looked around the Internet,” said Whitney. That googling led him to a forum on the Spanish Flu where he discovered Philip Needham, the husband of Kershaw’s great-niece, who had posted about a Pte. Roland Kershaw’s bout with the flu in 1918.
Whitney reached out and told the Needhams about his discovery.
“I mean, we were absolutely astounded,” said Needham. “Came out of the blue, really. We immediately responded to Jake and said we would like to be custodians of the medal.”
“I’m very grateful to Jake,” said Jennifer Needham, who assumes her grandmother, Kershaw’s younger sister, must have taken the medal when she moved to Toronto.
“He survived a gas attack. He lived through all of it,” said Whitney, who has been learning about Pte. Kershaw since he found the medal. He joined in 1914, and he served all the way to 1918 in several battles.”
He was killed on the first day of the Battle of Canal du Nord in France, Whitney said. He’s buried at Ribecourt Road Military Cemetery in Trescault.
“On the anniversary of his death, Philip and I went to the cemetery to leave a poppy and have a quick word with him,” said Jennifer Needham, who in recent years has been uncovering details about her family history.
“I’m incredibly honoured to to have been able to find them and do this research and return it to a family member. It’s absolutely amazing,” said Whitney.
For now the medal is safely on the couple’s sideboard in their living room at their home in Bracknell, just west of London. It’s there with another piece of more recent memorabilia.
“I sent them along a badge with the Canadian flag that I wore on my shoulder, on my uniform,” Whitney said. “I felt it was nice to send it as a part of the story to them as well.”