Thief with a conscience returns Belfast family’s WWI medals

Some of the stolen medals which were returned to the Belfast family on Monday night
Some of the stolen medals which were returned to the Belfast family on Monday night

A thief with a conscience has returned a collection of WWI medals said to be of “great sentimental value” to a north Belfast family.

The awards – including a Military Medal for bravery – were stolen during a burglary at a house in Parkmount Street overnight on Saturday, April 9.

The Military Medal - bearing the head of King George and an inscription for bravery in the field - which was stolen in Belfast: Pacemaker

The Military Medal - bearing the head of King George and an inscription for bravery in the field - which was stolen in Belfast: Pacemaker

The family of Royal Engineers sapper McIntye Pelan made a public appeal for their safe return, and launched an internet campaign to warn potential buyers of the theft.

To the family’s surprise, a hooded figure was seen running away from their house on Monday night having placed a package containing the medals on the windscreen of the family car.

Following the burglary, the Pelan family began a social media awareness network in an effort to make it difficult for the thief to sell them on.

The Pelan family also enlisted the help of the UK Medal Detectives – a group set up “to help reunite the rightful owners with stolen, lost and found medals,” through Facebook.

One relative put photographs and news of their theft in the medals section of the Gumtree website as a further deterrent.

At the time of the theft, the PSNI also appealed for help in tracing the collection.

A police spokesman said: “These medals are of great sentimental value to the owner and police are making every effort possible to locate them. If you have any information that would assist our investigation, or if you are offered items like this for sale, please contact police on 101.”

The awards had belonged to John Pelan’s grandfather and great uncle.

A few days after the burglary, Mr Pelan told UTV the six distinctive medals – which had been passed on to him for safe keeping – were of huge sentimental value.

“I was charged with looking after them and I was going to pass them on to my nephew, but they would never have been sold because it’s purely family history and sentimental value,” he said.

Mr Pelan explained that his grandfather Sapper McIntyre Pelan fought at the Somme and rarely spoke of the horrors he must have witnessed on the battlefield.

His brother Corporal William Pelan made the ultimate sacrifice.

“These were young men who went to France and one of them gave their life, they gave their all and all this was all they have to show for it,” he added.

Mr Pelan told the BBC Newsline programme the timing of the theft was particularly upsetting.

“With this year being the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, it’s even more poignant,” he said.

The PSNI has confirmed the safe return of the medals which are understood to have been removed to undergo fingerprint testing.