Grandfather’s First World War medals back with family thanks to keen-eyed recycling centre worker

First World War medals belonging to Walter Westgate have been found at Strumpshaw re-cycling plant.  Site worker,Gary Downer hands over the medals to Tony Balmforth, grandson of Walter Westgate. Along with Pauline and Alan Gill and David Gurmey (county archeologist) First World War medals belonging to Walter Westgate have been found at Strumpshaw re-cycling plant. Site worker,Gary Downer hands over the medals to Tony Balmforth, grandson of Walter Westgate. Along with Pauline and Alan Gill and David Gurmey (county archeologist)

Thursday, February 13, 2014
12:45 PM

A man has been reunited with his grandfather’s war medals after a keen-eyed recycling centre worker spotted them before they were lost forever.

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First World War medals belonging to Walter Westgate have been found at Strumpshaw re-cycling plant.  Site worker,Gary Downer hands over the medals to Tony Balmforth, grandson of Walter Westgate.First World War medals belonging to Walter Westgate have been found at Strumpshaw re-cycling plant. Site worker,Gary Downer hands over the medals to Tony Balmforth, grandson of Walter Westgate.

Walter Westgate was awarded the medals for his service in the Somme trenches with the Army Service Corps in the First World War and as an air raid warden in Blofield in the Second World War.

But disaster nearly occurred when the family misplaced the First World War medals, a 1914-15 Star, the Victory Medal and the British War Medal, while sorting out Walter’s daughter’s possessions after her recent death.

They ended up at the recycling centre at Strumpshaw, near Norwich, where, luckily, worker Gary Downer, 60, spotted them at the top of the stairs leading up to one of the 
skips. He said: “I spotted the treasures while I was going through a box full of different items that had been left at the site, to see what could go 
in the recycling bins and what couldn’t.

“First of all I saw a pint-sized copper mug which was obviously very old and then I came across a couple of smallish boxes – also old. So I took a closer look and that’s when I discovered the medals.

First World War medals belonging to Walter Westgate have been found at Strumpshaw re-cycling plant.  Site worker,Gary Downer hands over the medals to Tony Balmforth, grandson of Walter Westgate.First World War medals belonging to Walter Westgate have been found at Strumpshaw re-cycling plant. Site worker,Gary Downer hands over the medals to Tony Balmforth, grandson of Walter Westgate.

“Both my grandparents were in the First World War and got wounded and survived, so it is very personal and important to me.”

Mr Downer, from Lingwood, contacted Norfolk County Council’s Historic Environment team who began to track down the owners, eventually leading them to Walter’s grandson, Tony Balmforth.

According to Mr Balmforth, who is 64, and lives in Catfield, the call 
came as a shock.

He said: “It was quite surprising because I was watching an item on The One Show with a First World War set of medals that were being reunited with a family. I wondered what had happened to Pop’s and called my brother to ask, but neither of us knew.

“Strangely, within half an hour I had got an email saying that I should urgently ring a member of my family.”

Mr Westgate was born in 1897 and brought up in Ormesby St Michael, near Great Yarmouth.

He was responsible for looking after horses in the trenches, including at the Somme, where he was gassed and sent away to recuperate.

Although Walter wasn’t given long to survive he lived in Blofield with his wife, Enid, until he was 86. Mr Balmforth added: “We are absolutely delighted to have these family heirlooms back with us, safe and sound.

“We’re so proud of Walter’s services in not just one, but two world wars. I can only think they were caught up in another box and lost by accident. They’re such an important part of our family history so we’re really grateful to the recycling team and Norfolk’s historians.” Broadland resident Mr Balmforth said that even mentioning the war to his grandfather “would start him off talking about it for hours”.

He continued: “He told me he’d lost his cap in the Somme, so I promised to take him back to find it.”

In 1972, Mr Balmforth took his grandfather on holiday to Austria and Northern France to see where he fought – an experience which he describes as moving.

David Gurney, historic environment manager at Norfolk County Council, was part of the team who tracked Mr Balmforth down.

He said: “The great clue was that they were deposited here.

“I looked at the air raid wardens in this area, and as it is a small area here to look at I eventually managed to find the family. This is the first time that we’ve worked on items found at one of our recycling centres.”

He continued: “These are not as ancient as most of the things we look at, but as we begin to commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War, medals like these begin to take on greater significance.”

Mr Gurney described the Army Services Corps as the “unsung heroes” of the war. He said: “They were part of the great logistical movement and the lines of communication. Now we have lost everyone 
who served in the war it is 
important to save these stories and objects.”

Do you have an unusual story to tell us? Email newsdesk@archant.co.uk

8 comments

  • HaHa - after 17 years, Tony Balmforth comes out of hiding.

    Report this comment

    Voice of Reason

    Sunday, February 16, 2014

  • What a wonderful story, and with a happy ending!

    Report this comment

    Boadicea 1959

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

  • Oh – YES I do. I expect all the other people that lost money do too!!!!

    Report this comment

    Voice of Reason

    Thursday, February 20, 2014

  • I see that someone else remembers Mr Balmforth and the reason why he disappeared!

    Report this comment

    Norfolk John

    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

  • Horace Wimp eh ? This is another John Norton troll......he has no mate who works at a recycling centre and it is just another gratuitous insult aimed at people who appear in EDP stories.

    Report this comment

    LARSON.E. WHIPSNADE

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

  • Knowing Mr Balmforth, l am amazed that he didn't sell them a long time ago!

    Report this comment

    Norfolk John

    Friday, February 14, 2014

  • My mate works at a recycling yard and he reckons everyone goes through stuff with a fine toothcomb as some of them have. from time to time made some very interesting valuable finds and that's without the day to day items they take home and sell on. A nice little earner as they say.

    Report this comment

    Cuthbert J. Twillie

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

  • Good for the mate of 'Horace Wimp' - Some peoples rubbish is others gold. If heshe is able to add to their miserable pittance of a wage by this means then good luck to them says I. At least on this occasion the honesty of the employee was to the fore - admirable.

    Report this comment

    ThassaRummunInnit?

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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