Belfast Telegraph

How buying a military jacket in vintage shop led man on a 13-year hunt to track down original owner

By Catherine Wylie

A 13-year search for the original owner of an old military jacket with a mysterious letter in its pocket has come to an "overwhelming" conclusion.

Proinsias O'Coinn (28), from Mullaghbawn in Co Armagh, bought the jacket in a vintage military shop for £40 on a shopping trip to Belfast when he was just 15.

He became known for wearing it to fancy dress events, at Halloween and at house parties in his college days at Queen's University, but he never gave up his pursuit of finding who he believed was its true and rightful owner - a man who signed a short letter tucked away in the jacket's pocket.

The letter said: "To whom it may concern. The uniform was given to David Griffiths from his uncle George Nelson who resides at N. Atlantic Ave Cocoa Beach, Florida. Signed, George Nelson."

Speaking to the Press Association about his hunt, which is the subject of a BBC Radio 4 documentary, the show's presenter Mr O'Coinn, said: "As soon as I read that letter I knew that I had to give the jacket back.

"As much as I liked the look of the jacket and the style of it, there was a pride attached to this jacket that I could not emulate in any way.

"I felt this pride coming from the letter.

"Even though the letter doesn't really say very much, for someone to take the time to write the letter and put it in the pocket, they wanted somebody to know that this is a genuine jacket, that this meant something to somebody. From that day I started to look for George Nelson."

Mr O'Coinn made attempts to find Mr Nelson in the days of dial-up internet connection with hopes of returning the jacket and also maybe becoming pen pals, but it was when he began working in the media years later that he made real progress.

"Life does get in the way," he said. "You get distracted and big events come up and you don't think about it for a few months.

"But I always came back to it, so he's been in my head since I was 15, this George Nelson ... I've thought about him for 13 years.

Mr O'Coinn, who wanted to keep the details of his final discovery under wraps ahead of the documentary being broadcast later this afternoon, explained that he liked to think the that jacket was living a "second life" with him.

Reflecting on his search and its conclusion, he said: "It was quite a difficult process, because it was probably a lot more overwhelming than I thought it would be."

Mr O'Coinn is calling for help in finding the jacket's matching hat and tie, which have gone missing.

"To me the jacket is complete with the hat and tie," he said.

"This 13-year journey has been amazing and it would be fantastic to be able to locate the hat and tie to complete the uniform.

"So if anyone has seen them, then please get in contact with me."

Objet Trouve: To Whom It May Concern will be broadcast this afternoon on BBC Radio 4 at 4pm.

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