The head chef at the University of Leeds’s Devonshire Hall has been interested in metal detecting for about eight years and in his time he’s unearthed Roman coins and other jewels but such things are few and far between. “Mostly, I find buttons and old pennies,” he says. “When I found this I thought it was a coin also but it had a different shape.”
Once cleaned, the object proved to be a Victory Medal, awarded to soldiers of the First World War.
How it came to be in the field was a complete mystery but Rik thought one of his friends, Alan Griggs, a retired vicar who was interested in researching family trees, might be able to help.
Alan was able to uncover who the medal was awarded to - one John Doherty, who enlisted in 1915 and served in France, being decorated for his bravery, before he was gassed and hospitalised, eventually being moved into the Labour Corps. Once the war was over, he returned home and started a family.
Alan also discovered that John had descendants, some of whom he thought might still be alive - an appeal in our sister title, the Yorkshire Evening Post revealed a potential lead, which lead to a meeting and after a few dates and names were checked (and a few minor discrepancies rectified), the medal in question was handed over to one Kevin Doherty, the grandson of John.
Kevin, 67, who co-incidentally worked at the Yorkshire Post for 32 years before retiring five years ago, remembers his grandfather from his childhood. He said he was delighted to be given the heirloom.
“I was really quite surprised to tell you the truth, it did come as a bit of a shock, it’s one of those things where you end up getting quite emotional. I’m so pleased to have the medal and it’s now got pride of place on my mantelpiece in a frame.
“I do remember John, as a child I used to go stay with him on weekends, he died aged about 65 when I was about 14. He was Irish and spoke with an accent. He was a very quiet man and he never talked to me about the war. I just remember him being about 6ft 3 and built like a barn door.
“Since getting the medal, I’ve done some research and I think this medal was not awarded on its own but was part of a set.
“I understand that a lot of soldiers got rid of their medals when they got back, because many didn’t want to be reminded of the horrors they had lived through.”
But there was initially some confusion over his family connection.
Kevin, who has two children and three grandchildren, added: “Both my father and my wife’s father had the same first name, Edward and the same surname, Doherty, which caused us some confusion and still does to be honest. When we married, my wife June didn’t need to change her name.”
Alan Griggs, the retired vicar who uncovered who the medal was awarded to and helped trace, said he was pleased.
Kevin, said: “It was great to be able to give the medal back to the family. These things do not have a great monetary value but in terms of sentimental value, they mean a lot.
“I remember finding it in the field and thinking it was another penny but then the shape of it was different. Who knows how long it was buried in the ground or how it got there.
“I think it’s marvellous we’ve managed to trace the family of the man to whom it was awarded. It’s just a nice, heart-warming story for this time of year and makes it all worthwhile.”