Medal found in fire remains returned to family half a century later

Mark Cummins, Sarah Scothern and Richard Howitt pieced together the mystery of the medal's journey.
DANICA MACLEAN/FAIRFAX NZ

Mark Cummins, Sarah Scothern and Richard Howitt pieced together the mystery of the medal's journey.

Richard Howitt was 10 years old and poking around in the ashes of a rubbish fire behind his family property in Matamata when he found a WW1 service medal.

For over 50 years he kept it nestled in his coin collection with his father's WWII medals.

Last week he finally returned it to the family of the soldier of whom it belonged.

Thomas James Cummins' WWI service medal survived a fire and spent over 50 years as part of Richard Howitt's coin collection.
DANICA MACLEAN/FAIRFAX NZ

Thomas James Cummins' WWI service medal survived a fire and spent over 50 years as part of Richard Howitt's coin collection.

Thomas James Cummins' medal was now in the hands of his great-granddaughter, Whangarei woman Sarah Scothern.

Originally from Drury in Auckland, Cummins left for England on June 13, 1918 on board Athenic as part of the 39th Reinforcements.

Scothern said he never made it to war, because during the voyage he got sick and was returned home.

When Howitt found the medal it "was blackened and hard to read, I thought it was somebody called Cumming," written on it, he said.

He couldn't find anyone by that name so put it away in the hope one day he would.

Fast forward to the centenary of the Great War in 2015 and Howitt, who now lived in Christchurch, heard about the Auckland Museum's Online Cenotaph records.

"I couldn't find a TJ Cumming, so I cleaned [the medal] some more and saw it was an 's' not a 'g'.

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"I left a message on the website for a family member to contact me."

Earlier this year, Scothern's husband and children had gone to the dawn service and she was browsing through the war memorial records when she found the message, but Howitt's email address was missing.

Through some self-confessed 'sleuthing' Scothern found some contact details and fired off an email.

In yet one more twist of fate, Howitt's daughter Amelia Fischer had been living in Whangarei for the past year. On October 14, Scothern, her father Mark Cummins, Howitt and Fischer all met to return the medal.

"I was pretty thrilled someone was still interested," Howitt said.

The group pieced together the movements of the medal.

Cummins, who later drowned in a boating accident, farmed in Katikati after returning home.

His youngest son, Ian, had the medal and at some point moved to a farm near Matamata. It was here Mark says his uncle's storage shed was burgled.

"That's the only way I can think that the medal got taken."

Mark and Scothern say they didn't know there was a medal for him, and it was amazing to get it.

"We're going to get another ribbon for it and put it with my grandfather's WWII medals and I'm sure my kids would love to wear it at the next Anzac Day," Scothern said.

 - Stuff

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