Special to the News-Optimist
Four long years ago, Emily Tucker of rural North Battleford discovered a mysterious bracelet made of gold-coloured metal. The bracelet bears the number W301958, the name “Barnes, J.M.J.” and the date: January 10, 1942. On the opposite side is the Royal Canadian Air Force crest.
Emily found the bracelet among her uncle’s belongings after he died, but she had no idea where it came from. Her uncle was Elijah (Lige) Scargall, brother of her father Aner. The family had come from Lincolnshire, England to farm at North Battleford.
During World War Two, Lige enlisted and served as ground crew in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He married late in life and had no children, so that’s why Emily inherited his effects.
Emily wanted to return the bracelet to its original owner, so she approached a wartime author named Elinor Florence, based in Invermere, British Columbia, and asked for her help.
Elinor grew up on a farm at Brada, which is still operated by her brother Rob Florence, and worked at the Battlefords Advertiser-Post back in the 1970s. She went on to pursue a long career in journalism. Her first novel Bird’s Eye View was published in 2014, about a Saskatchewan farm girl who becomes an aerial photo interpreter. The setting for the novel is based on the Battlefords.
Elinor also writes a regular blog called Wartime Wednesdays, telling true stories of Canadians at war. She set to work to find the bracelet’s owner.
“Over the past four years, I have been using all my sleuthing skills to find the bracelet’s owner,” Elinor said.
“I learned that these souvenir identity bracelets were fairly common in wartime, and don’t have much value in today’s marketplace. But I confirmed that the W in front of the number means it belonged to a woman, a member of the RCAF Women’s Division.
“Because I had her service number, Veterans Affair Canada was able to tell me her name, but it wouldn’t release any other information because I wasn’t a family member.
“I didn’t even know whether Jean was still living. In vain did I search the internet, hoping that a newspaper story about her might surface, or even an obituary.
“I posted about her on my blog called Wartime Wednesdays, on other websites and Facebook groups, hoping someone might recognize the name. I contacted the RCAF Airwomen’s Association, but they only have records of women who served after the war.
“As the years passed, I began to lose heart. Finally, in one last-ditch attempt, I wrote up a brief item and sent it to the Legion Magazine, where it was posted in The Lost Trails section.”
And who should read the item but Jean’s youngest brother and only surviving sibling, 88-year-old Jack Barnes of Cambridge in Ontario! Jack was astonished to read his sister’s name in the magazine and learn that someone was looking for her.
Sadly, Jean died in 1999 at the age of 79, but Jack and his two sons, Cory and Ron Barnes, were happy to provide her story.
Jean’s parents Norman and Mary moved to Saskatchewan from rural Ontario in the early 1900s looking for work. They tried homesteading near Mazenod, Saskatchewan before a series of crop failures forced them to return to Ontario in 1928.
Their first seven children were born in Saskatchewan. Jean Muriel Janet Barnes was born May 6, 1920, the third child and the oldest daughter.
When Jean was eight years old, the family returned to Ontario and settled on another farm, near Elmville. They had another three children, for a total of 10. Jack was the youngest of the 10 siblings.
Jean lived on the farm until she was 16 years old, and then worked in Toronto until she joined the air force on Jan. 10, 1942 – the date commemorated on the bracelet.
Her first posting after enlisting was to Guelph, Ont., for a cookery course, and from there she spent a few months in St. Hubert, Quebec.
At the time, the British Commonwealth Air Training Program was operating dozens of training airports across the country, for tens of thousands of aircrews from every Commonwealth country. North Battleford was one of the largest training bases. Called a Service Flight Training School, it was the last stop before the men headed overseas into combat.
Jean served in North Battleford from June 1943 until May 1945, when Germany surrendered. She spent the last few months of the war in Manitoba, and was honourably discharged on Nov. 22, 1945.
Jean settled in Toronto. It wasn’t until two decades after the war ended that she married Vic Blount, and the couple had no children.
After Jean’s husband died in 1992, she moved to Cambridge to be near her brother Jack and his wife Betty. She died in November of 1999 and is buried in Mississauga, Ont.
According to her brother: “Jean had a quiet, loving nature. She always had a very pleasant way with everyone, especially little ones. She helped our parents throughout their lives in many ways, and helped them to remain comfortable in their own home late into life. Jean was always very generous with her helping hands. She was my favourite sister.”
Jack himself became a woodworker in 1946, and retired in 1989. He then made woodcarving his hobby. He carved an entire collection of horses, complete with harnesses attached to sleighs, wagons, carts and more.
Jack’s wife Betty died recently, and he has been very busy cleaning out his house in Cambridge. So it was fortunate that he spared a few minutes to read the Legion Magazine and discover the item about his sister’s bracelet!
The question remains as to why Lige Scargall was in possession of Jean’s bracelet.
It is believed that they must have met in North Battleford, when both were serving in the air force. Perhaps Lige received the bracelet as a romantic memento of their time together, or perhaps the kind-hearted Jean gave it to him as a good luck charm before he headed overseas.
After the war ended, Lige moved to Alberta, where he worked in the construction industry and eventually married a woman named Mary. They never had children, either.
Lige died in 1977 and his ashes are buried in North Battleford – but he kept the bracelet among his possessions until he died.
If you have any more information about the mysterious bracelet, please contact this newspaper. To read the entire story and see more photos, visit Elinor’s website at www.elinorflorence.com/blog/rcaf-bracelet.