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Forces War Records Blog


  • Private Charles William Curtin was killed at Ypres in May 1915
  • Victory medal found more than 90 years later in a sewer in Manchester
  • Relative of labourer who found medal tracked down the soldier's family
  • Search took three years because medal had an alias name inscribed
The family of a soldier killed in the First World War have been reunited with his Victory medal - after it turned up in a sewer. Private Charles William Curtin was killed at Ypres in May 1915, aged just 35, and the posthumous award for his bravery in France was all his young family had left of him. But the bronze campaign medal went missing and was not seen for more than 90 years. Now the heirloom has been returned to Pte Curtin's grandchildren John Hodgson and Dorothy Heed, after it was found in a Manchester sewer by a labourer.

The worker's sister-in-law, retired accountant Christine Wolstenholme, spent three years tracking down the family so she could return the treasure to its rightful home. The 66-year-old's achievement is all the more impressive because the medal had been engraved with a slightly wrong name. Mr Hodgson, from Poulton, near Blackpool said: 'The phone rang one day and this lady asked if I was John Hodgson and did I have relatives in Chorlton called Curtin. 'She said a family member of hers had been working in sewers in Manchester and had found a medal and she'd spent some years since trying to track the rightful owners down. 'I was quite amazed really. Especially as my cousin Anne had tried to trace where the medal had gone once. The fact she spent all this time doing the research for strangers is just amazing.' The 70-year-old said he had never known much about his grandfather.

Pte Curtin signed up to the 2nd Battalion, Royal Lancaster Regiment, aged just 16. He married Anne Shelmerdine in 1909 when he was 26 and they settled in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester. After World War One broke out, he was posted to Ypres, and never returned to his wife and children. Records showed that he was killed in action on Saturday, May 1, 1915, in the second battle of Ypres, which claimed 100,000 lives. The couple had two daughters - Alice, who died in infancy and Mr Hodgson's mother Annie, who was just two years old when her father was killed. A death notice written by Anne was printed in the Manchester Evening News. It read: 'Oft we pause and think of you and think of how you died. To think you could not say goodbye befire you closed your eyes. Sadly missed by wife and family.' Anne remarried after the war in 1923, and she and her new husband William Dewhurst had a son called Wilfred. Anne died in her 60s in the 1940s.

Mr Hodgson, a retired television engineer, said: 'I have an old photograph of my father before he set off to war - something all soldiers would do in case they never returned. I suppose it's the same for soldiers fighting today. 'The sad thing is that he never saw my mother grow up, the kids didn't have a father, and there are still tens of thousands of children today not growing up with fathers because of war.' The yellow bronze medal would have originally hung on a ribbon with rainbow colours and was awarded to all those who had served in the Armed Forces during the wartime. Mr Hodgson said: 'It doesn't look that impressive now - it's a bit bashed up and tarnished - but it has historical and sentimental value. 'It's just amazing to have it back - it was so unexpected. The woman was so relieved she's found the right family. 'The question that still remains is, how did it get into the sewer? I suppose we'll never know.'
Search: Christine Wolstenholme, whose relative found the medal, finally realised it was inscribed with an alias.

The rusting medal, inscribed with the words: 'The Great War for Civilisation', was found dumped in drains in Chorlton in 2007 by Mrs Wolstenholme's brother-in-law. The medal had regiment and number on the side but was engraved with the name 'Pte C Williams', when the soldier's name was Charles William Curtin. The labourer did nothing about the discovery for two years, when he handed a bag of lost items he had found to his relative. She decided to make it her mission to track down the heroic recipient's family. Mrs Wolstenholme, 66, from Wem, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire said: 'I knew it was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack, but I was determined to find out whose family the medal belonged and it was the right thing to do. 'It was a lot of work but well worth it and I'm so delighted the medal is back with its rightful owners. The project suffered a setback when she fell ill, but she picked it up again last year. Mrs Wolstenholme contacted the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum in Lancaster - since that was the regiment inscribed on the brass medal. 'They gave me some information about him that led me looking into old Manchester archives, but the files were useless - I now know it was because I was looking for the wrong name'. The turning point in her quest came after she contacted the National Army Museum in London, who told her his name was Charles William Curtin. The mother of two said: 'The woman told me it was very common for soldiers to go by another name, in case they were captured and for some reason that name was put on his medal.' With the correct name, Mrs Wolstenholme finally managed to track down two possible daughters of Mr Curtin. She said: 'I found two woman with the name Annie Curtin - one in Yorkshire and one in Blackpool, so I went with the latter. I looked up their children and hoped they weren't ex-directory in the phonebook. 'John was the fourth one down I called - and I burst with excitement when I found the right family. It has now spurred me on to research my own family tree.' She was also able to tell Mr Hodgson and his sister that their grandfather's name was engraved on the war memorial statue in Ypres. The medal is now pride of place on the family mantelpiece. Read more:
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