John Macintyre was preparing for work last week when his wife called him over to their computer. On the screen was a picture of his grandfather's war medal that had been assumed stolen four decades ago – with a $3,000 price tag beside it. His jaw dropped.
"It was, like, how do we get it back? I had to go to work and I was really anxious to do something about this right away," Mr. Macintyre said.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Mr. Macintyre had posted pictures and information on Facebook about his grandfather, Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Eberts Macintyre, a commander at Vimy. Without knowing the medal's history, Mr. Macintyre's brother-in-law googled the man and stumbled across the old medal on an auction site, which he forwarded to his sister.
Now, Mr. Macintyre hopes to get the medal back in his family – and find out where it's been for 40 years.
"[Finding the medal] feels great. I think it's just great timing with the 100th anniversary. I feel a little bad that I never even thought to do an online search for it myself," he said.
As far as the family has been able to piece together, the medal went missing from Lt.-Col. Macintyre's home in Chelsea, Que., after he died in 1974. It ended up in an auction house in Britain and was sold to a private, Vancouver-based collector in the nineties. When that collector was unable to find the rest of the medal set – it was with the family – he sold it to auction house Medals of War, which is where Mr. Macintyre's brother-in-law found it. Medals of War is based in Kemptville, Ont. – about an hour's drive from Chelsea.
It is a Distinguished Service Order medal, awarded "for conspicuous gallantry while leading an assaulting party after personal reconnaissance." DSOs aren't rare – the auction house sees five or six a year – but are a great honour, second only to the Victoria Cross.
Getting the heirloom back won't be as easy as staking a family claim.
Tanya Ursual, the owner of the auction house, says she gets about a call a year from people who've found a relative's medal in her collection. Unless they can prove it was stolen by providing a police report or a letter requesting the government reissue the medal, she doesn't give them back for free.
"A lot of the time, the family makes the assumption that the medals were stolen back in the day, and I think they do that because they have a difficult time accepting that somebody would ever sell the medals," she said.
Ms. Ursual says that, in such cases, she sells the medals back to the family at the price she paid for them and even offers payment plans to assist them.
Mr. Macintyre hasn't found evidence that his father filed a police report.
"The thing that gets me is nobody's ever taken one second to inquire from the family about its history," he said. "But I also understand the flip side of this: Medals – not this particular medal – medals get won in poker games. Medals get cashed in when people are hard on money."
Mr. Macintyre and Ms. Ursual will meet this week.