Mystery Solved: Halifax Man Finds Owner Of Remarkable Wartime Memorabilia

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Mystery Solved: Halifax Man Finds Owner Of Remarkable Wartime Memorabilia

Howard Mannett says he has made a few good finds at yard sales over the years, but there is one that stands out.

Inside a bag of ordinary art supplies, bought at a benefit sale in Bedford, was something extraordinary – an envelope with a collection of military citations and letters addressed to James Gordon Austin, a regimental sergeant major with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, along with family photos.

The documents detail Austin's service in France, Belgium and Germany, from D-Day to the liberation of Europe.

“The evidence points to the fact that he was a hell of a leader and a very gallant soldier,” says Hynes.

Mannett wanted to learn more about the soldier’s remarkable career and find the envelope’s rightful owner, so he contacted CTV News for help.

“He was quite a person, quite brave for what he accomplished,” says Mannett. “I think it's something he should be recognized for.”

CTV News did a piece on Mannett’s discovery Tuesday, and James Austin’s daughters reached out once it aired.

“They said dad's name and I was shocked, I was really, really shocked,” says Susan Smith, Austin’s daughter.

Smith says she never expected to see a story about her father while watching CTV and was taken aback by news that someone had picked up their father’s belongings at a yard sale.

“Now the end comes clear, I know how they got missing and that would involve my husband,” says Trudi Lemieux, Austin’s daughter.

The envelope was sold by accident and Lemieux did not know it was missing, until yesterday.

The sisters weren't the only ones who reached out after the story aired.

CTV News received a number of emails and phone calls from people who served with James Austin.

They made note of the man's handlebar moustache, which was once cut off for charity.

“We used to watch him waxing it, and waxing it, and waxing it, and it was so hard and stiff,” recalls Lemieux.

They also shared Austin’s unusual nickname – Mick the Stick.

“I always thought his name was Mick. I did not know it was James Gordon…because everyone always called him Mick,” says Trudy.

His soldiers gave him the nickname because he was a strict disciplinarian.

“You know, he was in charge of a lot of people and he was in charge of us at home,” says Lemieux. “He was strong when he had to be, and when he didn't have to be we could twirl him around our finger my sister and I.”

“Yeah, he was strict at home. If he saw us chewing bubble gum or something, he'd say are you chewing gum? He'd make us put it on our nose,” says Smith. “Dad and I got along really well, we joked around a lot. I admired Dad.”

James Austin had a career worth admiring. He served with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles during the Second World War, rising through the ranks to become a regimental sergeant major in his early 20s. He was recognized with one of Canada's highest military honours, the Military Cross.

“He was in a POW camp over in France. I never did find out how long he was in there. He never would talk about it,” says Lemieux.

In addition to his own collection of medals, Austin brought home a German Iron Cross, something he said he took from the body of a German officer on D-Day.

He also went on to serve in Korea.

Lemieux says war left a lasting impact on her father and his service impacted his family.

“I've lived in Calgary, we've lived in Victoria, we've lived in Ontario and we went to Germany, to Hamer, we were there for five years,” says Lemieux.

Both Smith and Lemieux married military men themselves, and ended up back in Nova Scotia.

Austin’s daughters have always felt he deserved some recognition at home. Now, they say they'll be in touch with the Army Museum in Halifax to talk about a permanent memorial.

“I'd like to see his stuff being taken to the museum now that we have a place. I never knew where to send the stuff to,” says Smith.

The sisters say they're grateful to Howard Mannett for taking such good care of the documents and for making sure they ended up in the right hands.

“I would like to thank him for taking it to the station and having it aired, because without that we would have never seen those documents again,” says Lemieux.




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