A long-lost World War I medal has been returned to its rightful owners – after being found 9,000 miles away in Australia.
The British War Medal was originally awarded to Private Aaron J. Peel at the end of The Great War, but mysteriously turned up 40 years ago buried in a patch of land in Western Australia (WA).
Robin McCaw, who discovered the medal on his land in Fremantle, WA, spent four decades fruitlessly trying to find descendants of Pvt Peel in order to return the honour to his family.
His search led him to post a message on the community pages of the MyHeritage genealogy website appealing for people who may help him.
Laurence Harris, Head of Genealogy for MyHeritage, said: “Robin McCaw found the medal on his land using a metal detector and then for about 40 years he had been trying to locate descendants so he could return the medal. The medal bore Pvt Peel’s Yorkshire Regiment number – 121383 – as well as his name.
“He hadn’t had a lot of luck so he posted on a community page on MyHeritage asking for people to help him.
“His post didn’t actually get any replies but we saw the post and thought it was a good story so we decided to look into it ourselves.
“I took the medal number and found a number of documents and it was relatively easy to find a Private Aaron J. Peel.
“I found he had been awarded two medals, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. I also managed to establish he enlisted in the Yorkshire Regiment 12th Battalion, which was known as the Teesside Pioneers, which was a Middlesbrough pals brigade.
“Because there was only one Aaron Peel anywhere near Middlesbrough during that era I could find he had 11 children.
“From there we decided to find living descendants and we managed to find a living descendant of Aaron.”
Laurence said they managed to trace one of Aaron’s great grandchildren, John Robert ‘Bob’ Roulston, who was living in Middlesbrough, Tees.
Laurence said: “The family were shocked we were able to find this medal and the guy out in Australia is delighted we have found the descendants.
“As far as I can tell Aaron Peel never went to Australia. Whether it was passed down the family or it had been sold for one reason or another we don’t know, but we were very surprised that it turned up there.
“Aaron was a Middlesbrough man through and through. He was born there in 1875 , he was baptised there, he died there aged 80 in 1956, and he married Emily Florence Catterick there too.
“Both Aaron and Emily appear on the 1901 and 1911 censuses and we know they had 11 children.
“Six of them died as babies or young children, which was more common back then and five lived to adulthood.
“One of their children, Joseph Arthur Peel, who was born in August 1911 is the grandfather of Bob.”
The medal was returned to Bob in a ceremony attended by a serving member of the Yorkshire Regiment in which Aaron served.
Bob, 64, a retired painter and decorator, said he was astonished to find the medal had been found.
He said: “I was quite amazed really to find out this medal belonging to my great grandfather had turned up after all these years.
“Apart from one person in the family moving out to Australia about 10 years ago, I can’t remember anyone else ever going to Australia.
“At first when I was contacted about the medal I thought it was a bit of a scam but we gave the number a ring and it all went from there.
“We found out the guy in Australia was looking for an Andrew Peel for most of the 40 years he spent trying to return it and that threw him off the scent a bit.
“It is nice to get it back in the family, however it is a bit strange after all these years.
“You have to appreciate how long the guy in Australia has spent trying to get it back to us and it’s good that he didn’t sell it or melt it down or anything like that.”
Bob said the family still have no idea how the medal might have ended up on the other side of the world.
He said: “It’s a complete mystery to how it got there. I’m starting to go through the family tree to see if we can unravel the mystery.
“At the moment all we can think is that it was stolen by someone who went to Australia and lost it, or my great grandfather gave it to someone as a memento who moved to Australia and then they lost it.”
Bob, who is married to Margaret, 64, and is dad to Darren, 43, and granddad to Lucy, 13, and Millie, eight, added despite being the custodian of his great grandfather’s war medal he doesn’t remember the man himself.
He said: “I can’t remember my great granddad at all because I was only two when he died.
“Despite being effectively brought up by my grandparents I don’t ever remember my granddad mentioning his dad‘s name and I knew nothing about him.”