Hidden alcove reveals long lost box of history

August 19, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Brian Lockhart

A curious look behind a false wall in a 145-year-old Orangeville home revealed a long lost box full of Second World War memorabilia that had likely been placed there 70 years ago and forgotten about.

The home owners are hoping to return the historic items to family of the Royal Canadian Air Force Sergeant who they believe passed away in the 1950s.

Graham and France Mitchell, purchased the Zina St. home in 2006.

The large Victorian era house had been remodeled over the years and at one time been divided into two residences with additional walls added and many of the original features hidden from view.

Graham and France decided to renovate and return the home to its original glory. That included removing walls that revealed such features like two fireplaces on the main floor that had been walled up years ago.

France has found the historic information on the past owners of the home, but the mystery of why a box of military history was stashed away in such an unusual spot and never retrieved couldn’t be explained.

“The kids were playing C.S.I., they were knocking on some paneling and the panel came to one side,” France explained. “At the very end of it we spotted a box. I actually had my son crawl in to get it. He was the only one small enough to go in there. It was two boxes, very dusty, and it was buried in there since maybe 1945 or the 50’s.”

The boxes contained documents personal to Sergeant Carl Edward Hanley, a Royal Air Force Sergeant who served during the war.

Hanley wasn’t a typical combat soldier. Born in 1896, he would have been 49 years old when the war ended. He served as a telegraph operator in Toronto. His certificate of telegraphy is one of the documents that was located.

Tracing back the history of the house, France discovered the house was owned by a local doctor, George McLean, for 34 years. Hanley was his son in law and apparently lived at the house for several years.

Hanley later became an insurance agent in Orangeville.

It is believed Hanley placed the box of memorabilia in a safe place, but passed away without revealing his secret to anyone else – so there it remained until discovered by accident.

The box contained photographs, military uniform insignia, aerial photos of the Downsview Military air base, and newspapers including a copy of the Toronto Daily Star declaring “Germany Surrenders”.

One of the most interesting documents that was found was a telegram, that may have been considered ‘top secret’ at the time. The telegram states “the war in Germany is over”, but then goes on to say that the surrender cannot be revealed to the public or press until the following day.

The telegram was dated, May 7, 1945.

It is not known if Hanley has any living relatives. It is believed he had no children.

Graham and France tried to donate the items to a local museum, but the museum declined the offer.

They would like to locate any family that would be interested in having the historic memorabilia rather than have it lost to history and along with it, the story of a soldier who served during the war.

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.