Also in the jewelry box was a British Empire Service League Canadian Legion pin. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Also in the jewelry box was a British Empire Service League Canadian Legion pin. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

In Good News 2020: Precious item found by Vernon couple returned to rightful owner

Heather and Brian Neill found the medal honouring a WWII flying officer in a discarded jewelry box

In a year unlike any other, the Vernon Morning Star is looking back at the bright side of 2020. Here is a heartwarming story from January:

A Vernon couple had hoped to connect with the family of a Second World War veteran after finding his Memorial Cross medal in a discarded jewelry box. And they did just that through the work of an “amateur sleuth.”

Heather and Brian Neill didn’t quite know what they had stumbled upon when they found a jewelry box behind the Petro-Canada gas station on the corner of 43rd Street and 25th Avenue in Vernon some years ago. The wooden box was tipped on its side and contained only a few items, most of which appeared to be broken.

“Nothing really looked very valuable,” Heather said. “But we brought it home anyway and then we took it to the RCMP and they said we’d be better off trying to find an owner ourselves.”

“Automatically we thought it had probably been stolen in a break-in or something like that, and whatever was most valuable in it was taken,” Brian said.

As it turned out, there was one valuable the alleged thief hadn’t noticed, and which the Neills themselves didn’t notice until years later.

One day Heather was looking through the box when a coin-sized metal cross caught her attention.

“I just noticed one day that it was not just a trinket,” she explained. “The cross looked like it meant something to somebody.”

READ MORE: Armstrong war veterans remember fighting for ‘best country in the world’

She then noticed what was engraved on the flip side of the medal:

F.O.

C.M. Bingham

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After doing some research and getting in touch with Veterans Affairs Canada, Heather learned she’d found a Memorial Cross bestowed to Flying Officer Clifford Marvin Bingham upon his death in 1943.

Bingham — son of Lieut.-Col. William John Bingham of Winnipeg — had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. He was 22 years old when he died.

Bingham was commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, U.K. His name is inscribed on the Bomber Command Memorial Wall in Nanton, Alta.

The Memorial Cross — also known as the Silver Cross — is typically threaded with a purple ribbon. It is granted to the mother (if living) or the widow of a Canadian Forces member who died as a result of his or her service.

In an email to the Neills, Veterans Affairs said they could not get in touch with the family the medal belongs to since privacy legislation prevents the department from doing so.

The Neills made several attempts to find the owner of the jewelry box around the time they found it, to no avail. But having learned about the Memorial Cross, they’re hoping they’ll have better luck this time around.

“I can imagine it must mean a great deal to somebody,” Heather said.

After some serious amateur sleuthing, the Neills found the Bingham family and the medal has since been sent to Ontario.

READ MORE: Bulldog returned safe to Vernon owner

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A photo of Clifford Marvin Bingham, submitted for the project Operation Picture Me. (Veterans Affairs Canada)

A photo of Clifford Marvin Bingham, submitted for the project Operation Picture Me. (Veterans Affairs Canada)