Lost and found: The search for the war medals of a lost local hero

Some time ago I was proud and honoured to feature here the beautifully presented history of Richard Meanley Anson written by Desmond Burton, who was lost like so many local lads in the Battle of The Somme. Richard was Desmond’s Great Uncle, and Desmond has spent a great deal of time researching the history of his relative’s death. At that time, Richard’s medals were lost and Desmond had scant hope of locating them.

Richard Meanley Anson, wearing the uniform of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, British Columbia Regiment, in 1915 or 1916 – a face that could be lads today. Image from Desmond Burton.

Well, good news: The medals have been found, and are safely preserved now with Richard’s family, as Desmond Burton contacted me a few weeks ago to tell me. It seems this blog appears to have been some assistance in the finding, and for that tiny part in this remarkable story I feel a little proud.

Desmond wrote:

Dear Bob

Greetings from Anglesey! I’m sure you’ll remember the story of WWI victim Richard Meanley Anson and the help you gave me in 2016 to publicise it. Now I have managed to gather even more information.

Way back in 2002 Richard’s medals were deposited in a Cannock charity shop after the death of an elderly relative who’d looked after them for many years, and we thought they had been lost for ever. Well, with the help of fate, patience, and considerable good fortune, we have recently caught up with the medals and are finally reunited with them once again.

The medals now have a history of their own! I’ve put a few details into the article attached, which may be of some interest.

It’s a great outcome, and we’re much indebted to you for your help in publicising the story for us. This week will see the 105th anniversary of my great-uncle’s death.

Many thanks for this and for all the other good work you do for the community.  Hoping that you are now in better health.

Kind Regards
Desmond

Desmond sent the following account which is as beautifully written as ever, of how the medals were located. Thanks are due to Paul and Sandra Heath for their immense generosity and kind spirit in restoring, preserving and donating the medals back to the Burton family. I thank them personally for their humanity. I would draw attention to the footnote in Desmond’s article where he points out that the Heath family are trying to find medals for their own hero, Alfred John Heath – see below. Please help if you can.

If you can help, or have any other comment to add, please do. Comment on this post is best, but you can also mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tug my coat on social media. Thanks.

And thanks to Desmond for a great story, and the time taken to share it with us.

We have so many lost local lads. I will always endeavour to tell their stories: We will remember them.

Desmond Burton wrote:

Reunited after 19 years! – The search for Richard Meanley Anson’s WWI medals

Richard Meanley Anson was killed in September 1916 at the Battle of the Somme while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was posthumously awarded three medals, which were delivered to his parents in Rushall. These were the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal 1914-1920, and the Victory Medal 1914- 1919. His parents were also awarded a Memorial Cross, a Canadian award intended as a memento for next-of-kin.

Richard’s medals: Image kindly supplied by Desmond Burton.

The Canadian Memorial Cross. Image kindly supplied by Desmond Burton.

After Richard’s mother Sarah died in January 1929 (his father had died in 1920), the medals needed a new home, and were passed on to his younger brother Eric and Eric’s wife Hannah. We know this because Eric and Hannah’s daughter, Sally Peltier, who sadly passed away in February 2021 in Belize, could remember very clearly seeing and handling them. At some stage, but probably after Eric died in 1973, Hannah decided that the medals should go to the family of Richard’s youngest brother Bernard. Her reasoning was that the elder of Bernard and Mildred’s two sons, born in 1923, was entitled to them because he had been named Richard Meanley in memory of the war victim. Sally was clearly very unhappy about this, and her fears were later well justified. She wrote to me in August 2020: I was just so annoyed that my mother wanted to send them to Dickie Anson; I knew none of them would care about them but she insisted that Richard Anson should have Richard Anson’s medals.

In 1966 Mildred’s husband Bernard died, leaving her and their two sons. The elder son predeceased his mother, passing away in 1994, leaving the younger son Robert and Robert’s two daughters as, we presume, the last of the line. The medals, it seems, remained with Mildred and were never passed on to Robert, who died in 2017.

In March 2002, just a few days before her 102nd birthday, Mildred Anson, having lived in Cannock for many years, passed away in Stafford Hospital. Mildred’s house in Cannock was speedily cleared out by, we presume, Robert. Much of the contents, and perhaps even the house itself, was handed over to the BHF shop in Cannock, and we believe that this was Mildred’s wish, even though no official will has been found. The contents included the medals, as well as other family items and photographs. They were very quickly sold!

By a massive stroke of good fortune, the medals were snapped up by a local couple, Paul and Sanda Heath. Paul immediately posted a short message on a family tree research site (Staffordshire Roots) asking for any information about Richard and including an email contact. Unfortunately, it was not until 9 years later, in 2011, that I started my own family research and came across Paul’s message. By that time, Paul had retired, and he and Sandra had moved to a different part of the country and also changed their email address. Hope of tracking down the medals was not so high, and it became just a matter of waiting. I continued my research, and in 2016, BrownhillsBob very kindly publicised my booklet about Richard Meanley Anson’s life.

Fast forward another 4 years to 2020, and finally Paul (sadly, not a regular BrownhillsBobber!) saw my posting, leaving a note and a new email address for me. Within 24 hours Paul and I were chatting on the phone and exchanging information and pictures! Before she passed away in Belize in March 2021, Eric’s daughter Sally was delighted to learn that the medals had finally been rediscovered, and in her very last message to me wrote: It was a nice surprise to hear from you and really amazing that uncle Dick’s medals are safe and well and well cared for! … It is really great news; I can’t really get over it. I expect you feel the same.

The framed medals and memorial to Richard Meanley Anson: Home at last.Image kindly supplied by Desmond Burton.

In August 2021, with lockdowns and travel restrictions eased, we were finally able to visit Paul and Sandra and see the medals with our own eyes. What a beautiful job of restoring and displaying them they have done, and how fortunate that the medals fell into their hands! We cannot thank them enough. But they have gone even further in their generosity by pressing us to take the medals back so that they can be kept in a branch of the family which, we trust, will never again deposit them in a charity shop! We intend to make sure they are on show to anyone who wishes to see them.

Paul & Sandra Heath, with Desmond & Porjai Burton, August 2021. Image kindly supplied by Desmond Burton.

Postscript: By finding and restoring my great uncle’s medals, Paul and Sandra have shown us great generosity. Paul is now searching for his grandfather’s war medals, and I’d like to join him in the search. The basic details of his grandfather are:

Alfred John Heath
Army No A3437
Regiment KRRC
Rank Rfn

Anyone like to join in the hunt? As Paul says: You never know, they may be out there somewhere.

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9 Responses to Lost and found: The search for the war medals of a lost local hero

  1. Ken Wayman says:

    This is an outstanding story – one to be proud of.

  2. bomoh88 says:

    Is this Desmond Burton old boy of QMS 1962 intake?? maybe a classmate of mine?

    • Desmond Burton says:

      Hello (whoever you are!): Yes, looks like me, but I was 1959 entry, and my brother Tony 1963 entry. I’m intrigued to know your identity!

      • bomoh88 says:

        I think it must be Tony Burton that was my classmate in 1 alpha (the fast stream). He lived in Stonnall and was from a farming family……………am I correct?

        • Desmond Burton says:

          Absolutely correct! Tony now lives on Vancouver Island and writes books about Mexico. I live on Anglesey and enjoy being retired! And you?…

          • bomoh88 says:

            I went from QM to Crabtree as a student apprentice. I moved to Germany, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore and landed in South Australia when I retired at 54. Now have a small farm raising beef cattle.

          • bomoh88 says:

            I have sent you a Messenger so you will discover who is Bomoh88 (There are clues in the name)

  3. Lynda says:

    This story interested me in particular as my maiden name is Anson, I wonder if there is a very distant connection

  4. Desmond Burton says:

    Hello Lynda: I don’t have anyone of your name on our family tree (yet!), but it not impossible that you are a distant relation. My grandfather was married to Edna Anson, who was Richard Meanley Anson’s younger sister. The Ansons were from Rushall. You’d need to give me a bit more information about yourself and your ancestors if you wanted me to do any searching into this. You can easily contact me with any private information through Facebook Messenger – my profile picture will look similar to the photograph of me in the story of the medals! Kind Regards.

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