Amateur historian works to return WW II service tag to family of N.S. soldier

·4 min read
The metal service tag on a small chain reads 'H. LeBlanc' with the service number 'F 49993.' The tag was recently found in Kleve, an area of Germany where the Battle of the Rhineland took place. (Submitted by Iain Walker - image credit)
The metal service tag on a small chain reads 'H. LeBlanc' with the service number 'F 49993.' The tag was recently found in Kleve, an area of Germany where the Battle of the Rhineland took place. (Submitted by Iain Walker - image credit)

An amateur historian is working to return an 80-year-old service tag that was recently found in Germany to the family of a Nova Scotia soldier who served during the Second World War.

Iain Walker, who lives in New York, said the metal tag was found in an area of Kleve, where the Battle of the Rhineland took place in early 1945.

The tag bears the name H. LeBlanc with the service number F 49993.

"It's something that should be returned where it belongs as opposed to being in a collection or being thrown away," Walker told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Thursday.

"It just makes sense that the work should go into trying to get it home."

This isn't the first time Walker has taken items pulled from German soil and returned them to families. In the last year and a half, he's been able to return 41 artifacts to families of American soldiers

It all started when Walker started researching his late grandfather's wartime history. His research eventually took him to Germany, where he met a researcher named Uwe Benkel.

Benkel helps families around the world learn more about their relative's military history and returns precious lost items.

He helped Walker find the site where his grandfather's bomber crashed during the Second World War and even introduced him to an eyewitness to the crash.

"It was a remarkable trip and when I returned home, I felt a little bit indebted to the individuals that have helped me overseas," Walker said.

That's when he started volunteering with Benkel to return items uncovered in Germany, including military dog tags, bracelets and knives, to families.

The metal tag that belonged to H. LeBlanc is next on his list. The tag is on a metal chain and meant to be worn around the wrist or neck to identify a soldier who died in battle.

Walker said he knows the tag belonged to a Canadian soldier — rather than an American — because of its shortened service number that includes a letter at the front.

He said a Google search of the name and service number revealed only one internet record belonging to the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum. The record said a Henry J. LeBlanc with the same service number had served with the original regiment.

The regiment had fought in the Battle of the Rhineland, where the bracelet was found more than 75 years later.

"We did see some significance there with Canadian forces and the [Highlanders] unit … and we did determine that [LeBlanc] would have departed Halifax for England in 1941 [on the SS Orion]," Walker said.

Walker said not much else is known about LeBlanc. It's unclear what happened to the soldier and how he lost his bracelet.

He said the metal tag is his first Canadian item, so Walker said finding the correct LeBlanc family is proving to be difficult.

"I'm a little bit, frankly, a fish out of water on the Canadian side with some of the research … [there's] essentially records that we just can't access at this point," he said.

"So we've been putting it out there to any other amateur sleuths or anybody in Canada, specifically in Nova Scotia, that has an interest in genealogy or World War Two, if they may want to dig in and take a look."

He's had a few false alarms, but no luck yet. Still, Walker said he's optimistic.

"[Henry] was a member of a very unique group, the Nova Scotia Highlanders. It's not without its history and it's a very unique regiment that would have possibly even invaded Juno Beach during D-Day," he said

"So even though it's a common name, I'm optimistic that we will … hone in and identify him further."

Walker said anyone with information about the tag or LeBlanc can contact him on the Facebook page, Get It Home United.

He expects someone has a record or document that reveals more about LeBlanc and his family.

"I just find these projects extremely rewarding. I think that family history is important and I also think that it's extremely important to document your family history," he said.

"On these projects, I've always found it interesting that it seems to transition from something that's somewhat impersonal — where you're basically looking at an object or a piece of metal — and how it later transitions to something more personal where you find out that there was a unique person and a unique story."

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