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Hunt down under for First World War hero's relatives by the Ulster family who kept his medal safe for almost a century

By Rebecca Black

Published 15/01/2016

Maire Coalter, great-niece of Captain William Young, with his 1914/15 Star
Maire Coalter, great-niece of Captain William Young, with his 1914/15 Star
Gordon Knight returns Captain Young’s war medal to Maire Coalter after his long search
Captain Young’s war medal

After a century-long round-the-world search, a First World War medal left at an hotel in Belfast has been returned to the family to which it belongs.

The 1914/15 Star was awarded to Captain William Young, a vet with the Australian Imperial Force.

But the medal was never received as it was sent from Australia House in London to the last address Capt Young had given - Robinson's Temperance Hotel, which used to stand on Donegall Street in Belfast.

The hotel was run by Coleraine man Gordon Knight's family, but as Capt Young had left no forwarding address, the family were flummoxed as to how they might get his medal to him.

The decoration lay in the hotel's safe until 1972 when it shut and the building was sold to the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Knight removed the medal for safe-keeping and in the hope he might be able to return it to its rightful owner.

He renewed his efforts to find Capt Young's family a couple of years ago - and was amazed to finally track them down not to Australia, but just down the road in Ballymoney.

"I decided that as the centenary of the First World War was approaching I would attempt to repatriate the medal to any descendants of Capt Young in Australia," he explained.

"After searching the internet I contacted the body responsible for looking after Australian service records and emailed them with the background.

"Unfortunately, they were unable to assist me, as I was not a relative of Capt Young."

However, Mr Knight was undeterred.

"I then contacted Australia House in London and was put in contact with a very helpful lady who thought it was a very interesting story," he said.

"Within a week Major Garrath Williams from the Australian Embassy in London had contacted Lieutenant Colonel Glynn Llanwarne of the Australian Army, who runs an organisation called Lost Medals Australia, and Major Tim Dawe of the Army Reserve to assist in the research.

"Imagine my surprise when they informed me that Capt Young was not Australian, but in fact had emigrated to Fremantle, Australia, in 1912 from Ballymoney."

Mr Knight then started researching more about Capt Young and discovered that he may have attended Coleraine Academical Institution - where, coincidentally, Mr Knight worked as bursar until last year - before training as a vet in Edinburgh.

Capt Young had been working for the Agricultural Department in Perth, Australia, when the Great War broke out and decided to enlist.

His visit to Robinson's Hotel in Belfast must have been a flying one, because he emigrated to the USA in 1917 and was recorded as living in New York in 1940 on the US census. Unfortunately, as Capt Young did not appear to have had children, the trail appeared to have ended.

However, Mr Knight then discovered Capt Young's name on the war memorial at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney.

Local historian Alex Blair then put him in contact with two grand-nieces of the soldier.

It was at Trinity Presbyterian Church yesterday morning where Mr Knight's hunt finally ended, and he passed Capt Young's medal to his grand-niece Maire Coalter.

In another extraordinary coincidence, it transpired that the Young family - who owned a construction firm - had built Trinity Presbyterian Church.

Retired librarian Mrs Coalter said that her sister Fionnuala Carson was the historian of the family, but added the amazing events had made her feel a real connection with history.

Unfortunately, her mother Rosemary - Capt Young's niece - never lived to see the medal being handed back.

"Capt Young was my mother's uncle, I remember her talking about him," she said.

"My sister Fionnuala has the Young family Bible and letters, so we will keep the medal safely with those."

And she added: "It has been fascinating."

Mr Knight was also delighted to have at last returned the medal to the Young family, 99 years after it was left in his grandmother's hotel.

He said had he not found the family, he had planned to donate it to a museum in Australia.

Belfast Telegraph

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