When local Comox Valley resident David Rutledge brought in a Great War medal to show staff at HMCS Alberni Museum and Memorial (HAMM), it seemed like an ordinary day for them. However, matters were soon to take an extraordinary change, and direction.
Research on the medal began immediately, a task which took three weeks short of a year to complete.
It was eventually discovered that the British War Medal was originally given to New Zealander William Frank Hedger. The British War Medal was approved in 1919 for issue to officers and men of the British and Imperial Forces who had rendered service between August 1914 and November 1918. He was probably presented his medal while still in London.
By 1920, Hedger had returned to New Zealand, where he lived out his days, until his passing in the 1950s.
Fundraising projects were set up to return the medal to the soldier’s family in New Zealand. This was not an easy task, as in the end only $250 was raised to cover expenses. However, this did not deter director Lewis Bartholomew in his motivation to deliver the medal, in person, to the Hedger family.
Just when it seemed that the medal’s journey home would not be possible as originally planned, news came from the High Commission of Canada in New Zealand that they wished to host the repatriation and hand-over in Wellington. Thus new life was breathed into the medal’s mission to be returned.
Bartholomew left for New Zealand on April 21, and the 100-year journey of a medal for Pt. William F. Hedger’s service in the Great War ended on April 24, 2018, one day short of the national ANZAC Day. The emotional 20—minute ceremony took place in the Canada Room at the High Commission of Canada in the presence of High Commissioner Mario Bot.
After the medal was in the hands of David Hedger, and safely delivered to its homeland, Bartholomew was awarded a special gift from the NZDND for his and HAMM’s efforts to repatriate a piece of history to their country.
It is not known exactly how the medal ended up locally in the Rutledge family’s hands, but it is now known how William Hedger earned it. It is not known where the medal had been for the most part of 100 years, but we finally know where the story of this century-old medal ends. It ends half a world away, in our sister Commonwealth country of New Zealand.
To view the story of the Hedger medal and to see photos of HAMM’s presence as a distinguished guest at the National ANZAC Day ceremonies, visit the museum at 625 Cliffe Ave. in Courtenay.