A ring a New Zealand pilot was wearing when he was killed during World War II was returned to his family in Nelson today after a remarkable 75-year journey that saw it travel around the world.
“You've got German villains, Freemasons, families on one side of the world, families on the other side of the world, a New Zealand consulate-general,” New Zealand’s diplomat to New Caledonia, Bruce Shepherd, explained.
The ring belonged to Flight Lieutenant Leonard Kilgour, who was killed when his plane crashed in 1944 near the village of Graffigny-Chemin.
Kilgour was flying a top-secret mission to supply French resistance fighters with troops and weapons in their struggle against the Nazis.
Generations of Kilgour’s family, who have a photo of their late relative wearing the ring, assumed it was lost. But in actuality the postmaster of Graffigny-Chemin had hidden it from the Nazis.
He figured it belonged to the only Kiwi on the plane, but he couldn't locate the family, so he passed it to his son.
“His father passed away on his deathbed said to his son, ‘You've got to find the family and return this ring,’” Mr Shepherd explains.
Roland Feutri migrated to New Caledonia, where he became a teacher for 40 years.
“On his retirement, [he] thought, 'I'll give it one more go, see if I can find the family', and then he came to see us,” Mr Shepherd said.
“I took one look at it and I thought, 'Oh, Freemasons ring', got on the email, sent an email down to the Freemasons in New Zealand.”
The wife of the Freemasons' chief librarian, a genealogist, tracked down Mr Kilgour’s family.
“I knew how much it meant to Mum and her parents. It was kind of like he was never forgotten,” one of Mr Kilgour’s family said.
After the discovery, Mr Shepherd came to Nelson to deliver the ring personally to the family.
“I've been carrying this thing around for weeks, it hasn't left my sight,” Mr Shepherd told the family.
“This is the combination of 75 years of searching on behalf of the family who recovered your uncle's body.”