It was February 1917.
William Frank Hedger did not hold back his frustration. His company would not allow him take a leave of absence to fight for king and country. His employer, Grant Barnett Company Ltd, was adamant that if he left for England he would not have a job when he returned. The New Zealand Expeditionary Forces had another view. Thus began the story of how a British War Medal came into the hands of the HMCS Alberni Museum and Memorial (HAMM) in Courtenay.
Museum given a medal
During ANZAC Week at HAMM, a local resident, David Routledge, brought in an aged First World War medal that had somehow come into his family’s possession. The New Zealand Expeditionary Forces engraving told of the man who had earned the medal, a man that had no connection to the Routledge family. The medal, it seemed, had been found in his late mother’s mementos. The trail of where the medal had come from had long been lost or forgotten.
Lewis Bartholomew, director of HAMM, turned to the internet in an attempt to trace down the descendants of Hedger in New Zealand. He didn’t have to look too far. With only five Hedgers listed in the country, he called the second on the telephone list and talked to what would turn out to be the grand nephew of William Hedger in Wellington.
With some further assistance from the New Zealand National Archives, which provided old war records of the time, and from what little information the Hedger family had about William, the life experience of this man began to take shape.
Planning its return to family
Now Bartholomew wishes to repatriate the British Service medal to New Zealand and the Hedger family at the 2018 ANZAC DAY commemoration in Wellington. But he needs community assistance to make this happen.
HAMM is host to the Vancouver Island ANZAC DAY commemoration every year in the Comox Valley. This year’s service will be held April 21, once again in association with 19 Wing Comox. It is hoped that the Hedger medal will be on display at the event just before it is taken to New Zealand in time for their national observance on April 25, and presented to the Hedger family. This year marks the centennial of the end of hostilities of the Great War.
Umbrella man a warrior at heart
William Frank Hedger was the solicitor and general manager of Grant Barnett umbrella company during the early 1900s in London, England. At the outbreak of the war, he and his brother were sent to Wellington to open a branch of the company, as umbrellas were classified an essential war tool. However, soon after establishing the factory, William became restless and wanted to get back to Europe to fight in the war. His company would not release him as he could not be easily replaced. After a short appeals process, however, permission was granted to return to London.
Because of his age (early 40s) he was not sent to the front, but remained in service at a desk job in London with the military forces distribution department until the end of the war. 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, William had returned to New Zealand where he was back at his post at Grant Barnett and lived out his life until his passing in the 1950s. It is believed that he never married.
In trying to trace how the medal may have come into the Routledge family, it is thought that Edna Routledge may have crossed paths with William during the time that William had returned to London. Edna was born in London and was living there at that time, though she would have been about 10 years old. This would be the only time that the two of them would physically be in the same part of the world at the same time. Mrs. Routledge immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, eventually settling on Vancouver Island.
Crowdfunding page set up
The return of this medal is very important, not only to the Hedger family, but also to the history of those who fought for king and country in the Great War from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and other nations. It would also be the final leg of the journey this medal has made during the past 100 years.
HAMM has set up a GoFundMe account at http://bit.ly/2mG85fB to cover the travel expenses to Wellington, New Zealand.
Donations are also being accepted at the reception desk at HAMM in Courtenay.
For more information on this remembrance project and to see the Hedger medal,visit HAMM Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 625 Cliffe Ave. Call 250-897-4611.
–Submitted by HAMM