Burnley war hero’s medals back with family

Gary Blakeley, his mother Catherine Blakeley and Andrew McKay
Gary Blakeley, his mother Catherine Blakeley and Andrew McKay
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After a fruitless 40 year search for the wartime medals of a fallen relative, a Canadian ex-pat has finally found them – thanks to a Burnley war researcher.

Gary Blakeley, who has lived in Canada since emigrating from the UK in 1987, has been fascinated in the First World War exploits of his remarkable Burnley ancestors ever since his grandmother presented him with his great-grandfather’s medals when he was 12 years-old.

Pte Thomas McCarthy

Pte Thomas McCarthy

His great-grandfather James McCarthy was killed in the Battle of Boesinghe in 1915, but Gary had nothing to remember James’ younger brother Thomas by, and so started a decades-long search.

That search took Gary, who lives in Toronto, to the Burnley in the Great War website and local war researcher Andrew Mackay.

Gary said: “I emailed Andrew after reading one of his articles about Boesinghe online.

“I’d told him about James and his brother, and how I would love to know more about Thomas.

“It was 6am in Canada when I awoke to an email from Andrew who said he had Thomas’ medals. I just thought wow. I had been searching for all these years and suddenly I’d located them.

“Thomas was killed at Gallipoli, but his body has never been found. I’ve visited the battlefield but now I also have something very personal to Thomas.”

Andrew, who bought the medals off a collector, invited Gary to visit Burnley and collect the medals.

James and Thomas were two of four brothers who served in the First World War in the East Lancashire Regiment. The Burnley Express at the time remarked that the Leyland Road family was “hard hit.”

Their brother John lost an eye while Michael was also wounded. A fifth brother, Dennis, was rejected for military service but served in munitions.

Gary, who is currently staying in Burnley with his mother Catherine, is now planning to visit Belgium where he will take part in the centenary commemorations.

He added: “To lose two sons and have two others badly wounded must have been very hard for my great-grandmother. I am very proud of the sacrifice they all made. It is so sad that Thomas never lived to have a family of his own and that James never knew his youngest son. I will do my best to remember them.”