Vancouver Island Military Museum reunites bravery medal with family


The Vancouver Island Military Museum has reunited a family with a military medal from the First World War.

The medal, awarded for bravery, was stolen from a Nanoose Bay home three years ago but today museum staff presented the family with not only the medal but with new insight into how it was earned.

On Monday, the museum returned the military medal for bravery to the daughter of Lt. John Petrie Austin.

Austin was awarded the medal for his actions in the Battle of Lens in 1917.

“In the second attack by the 50th battalion his officer went down and John took it upon himself to gather his troops, show leadership and disregard for his own safety and he attacked that trench and took that threat out. It was a successful attack,” said Greg Devenish, a volunteer and researcher at the Vancouver Island Military Museum.

After Austin passed away in 1958, the medal went to his daughter Margaret. In 2019, her Nanoose Bay home suffered a break-in and the thief stole the medal among other things.

“Everything vanished. I didn’t realize this [the medal] had gone because dad didn’t talk about it. I didn’t realize it was that important,” said Margaret Sloat, John Austin’s daughter.

Fast forward to this winter when a City of Nanaimo employee was cleaning up after an encampment in Bowen Park.

“I opened up a fanny pack and right there was the medal and at first I thought it was a piece of a costume or something and then I read it had a name and identifying information,” said Liam Robertson, a City of Nanaimo employee.

Robertson took it to the Vancouver Island Military Museum where they started researching who Austin might have been. A newspaper article about the medal was read by his daughter.

“It’s amazing to have it back. It’s miraculous. I mean a whole series of flukes,” said Sloat.

The museum has also provided information the family never had about the war effort of John Petrie Austin and his brother Roy Austin. Roy Austin served in the Battle of the Sommes and was a prisoner of war for 27 months.

“He was such a wonderful man,” said a teary Joan Fayter, Roy Austin’s daughter. “To have all this information that we never knew. My dad never talked about it.”

The family is grateful to have the medal back and new knowledge about their families’ contributions to the First World War.

MORE: Courtenay War Museum repatriates service medal to the rightful family in New Zealand

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Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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