The loss of a medal stung because of its deep meaning to a Langley man’s family history.
Fortunately, the story of René Doyharçabal’s missing medal had a happy ending, thanks to a Langley RCMP officer and an alert member of the public.
Doyharçabal briefly served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the early 1950s, but he dismisses that work.
“My personal military service was virtually nothing,” he said.
Though he trained on Harvards, a medical condition meant he couldn’t continue flying in the military.
But Doyharçabal has always taken Remembrance Day seriously, due not just to his own service but to that of his father and grandfather, and his wife’s relatives.
Both his father and his grandfather were in the French Army during the First World War.
His grandfather, Joseph Cayla, spent 18 months in the trenches at Verdun, while his father St. Martin Doyharçabal was an army cook.
After the war the family moved to Canada, where Doyharçabal was born. Other relatives stayed behind, including one woman who helped smuggle downed Allied troops out of Nazi-occupied France and into Spain.
Back in Vancouver, Doyharçabal’s parents were local supporters of the Free French forces during the Second World War.
In their honour, when he attends Remembrance Day ceremonies, Doyharçabal wears a commemorative Free French medal.
“It’s a commemoration to their military action, you might say,” he said.
It reads France Libre – 18 Juin 1940 – 8 Mai 1945, covering the time between the fall of France and the end of the war in Europe.
Doyharçabal and his wife were near the back of the crowd when they attended the Fort Langley Remembrance Day ceremonies, and it wasn’t until they were leaving that he noticed the medal was missing.
“I felt absolutely crestfallen,” Doyharçabal said. “It was a real blow.
The couple searched for it between their spot at the ceremony and back to their car without successfully finding it.
On their way out, they told an RCMP officer about the loss.
“She was obviously very concerned,” said Doyharçabal. “I guess she realized that this thing was such an important link to the family.”
Although he never expected to see it again, it was just a week before the call came from the Langley RCMP. Someone had found the medal near the church parking lot. The same RCMP officer who had taken its description dropped it off at Doyharçabal’s home.
“Which I thought was another exceptional thing,” he said.
The medal has rejoined his grandfather’s Croix de Guerre and other medals and souveniers in the small collection of family artifacts at the Doyharçabal home.
“We are so fortunate to be living in this wonderful place called Langley where such considerate people live,” Doyharçabal wrote in a letter to the Langley Advance. “Both the person who found the medal and the RCMP member showed that thoughtfulness, kindness, and love of fellow humans is very prominent here.”