It was an emotional morning at Langford’s Belmont Secondary school as students and staff reunited a Victoria West family with a long-lost World War One medal.
Tears were shed as library assistant Trudy Court and Grade 10 social studies teacher Chris Allen handed over the newly-restored Victory medal to Sharon Hoover. The medal belonged to George Alexander Doty, who is Hoover’s great-great uncle on her mother’s side.
“It’s a very good feeling. I feel very warm. I feel that he [George] deserves this, being recognized and talked about,” said Hoover, who originally heard about the story on TV, and while it struck a chord with her, she wasn’t quite sure why.
“I feel honoured that he’s a part of my family. I feel lucky just to have him as a relative.”
It’s been a long journey for the bronze medal. It was found some years ago by Sooke resident Dan Miller who scraps cars for a living. After being unable to locate the owner, Miller tucked it away safely in his home. It wasn’t until he heard about a Remembrance Day display at the high school in November that he decided to pass it along to Court to try and find its owner.
Since the news broke, dozens of tips about Doty have poured in from across the country, some as far away as Prince Edward Island.
Tips were filtered to students in a Grade 10 social studies class who, along with the help of Allen and Court, combed through the information on their lunch hours. They collected service and health records, a death certificate and even Doty’s autopsy report.
From there a picture of the forgotten solider, who served with the 49th Canada Infantry, emerged.
Doty was born in 1897 and had three brothers and a sister. When war broke out, Doty, along with his older brother James, enlisted and were shipped overseas. Doty fought in almost every horrific battle during World War One including Hill 70, Passchendaele, Vimy Ridge and Flanders. But it wasn’t without sacrifice. Doty sustained several injuries, the most significant was when he was shot through the jaw, the bullet entered his right cheek and out the left side of his neck.
He also got necrosis of the skin and as a result of other injuries, lost 19 teeth.
After the war and he was awarded the victory medal, and went to live with his mother in Red Deer, Alberta, before relocating to Penticton. When his mother passed away, Doty moved to Vancouver, where he later died from a heart attack at the age of 51. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver.
It was a friend who signed his death certificate, leading Court to believe he led a very lonely and isolated life after the war.
Through a series of phone calls, Court managed to get in contact with a woman named Charlene Creaser in Winnipeg, who was Doty’s great-great niece. Court then called Creaser, who gave her information for Hoover.
Court said the initial call was a bit awkward as she grilled Hoover on her family tree. But in the end, Court realized she found the medal’s rightful owner.
“It’s better than we hoped for. He’s always been her family and we were able to bring him to life. He’s not just a number, he’s a man and this is his life,” said Court, who gave Hoover a binder full of information about her family tree as well.
“It made it even more special to give him a voice. We don’t know how he felt about himself, but he’s a hero. Even if we couldn’t make him feel like that alive, we certainly passed it along to his family … I feel like I know him.”
But their work doesn’t end there. After receiving national media attention, Court received another medal from a woman in Gold River, B.C., hoping to reunite it with its rightful owner.
But Court admits that task will be a bit more difficult, given the Natal Native Rebellion medal was from 1906 and was given to allied soldiers who fought beside England and managed to survive 50 days of war. The search will commence in the new year.