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Family reunited with First World War family treasure after Toronto man finds Bible on the street

Family reunited with First World War family treasure after Toronto man finds Bible on the street
Canada
Robert McKeown and his 16-year-old daughter gently turned the pages of a 130-year-old Bible this week that is a piece of their family inheritance.

Inside the cover of the pocket-sized book was McKeown’s name. But the inscriptions scattered throughout the pages belonged to a different Bob McKeown — the one who had received the Bible as a gift from his mother in 1903, and carried it with him throughout his service in the First World War.

The younger Robert, who goes by the name Doug, hadn’t known the Bible-turned-diary existed until that morning. Now, his daughter was reading words penned by her great-great-grandfather at what must have been the most harrowing part of his life.

The two found a flower petal pressed inside, placed there sometime in the past century.

“It sends chills up your spine. It’s very overwhelming,” McKeown told the Star while driving from London, Ont., to Toronto to retrieve the Bible. “It’s a gift from God that this has happened.”

The Bible-owning McKeown entered the war as a private in 1915 and became a captain who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, his great-grandson said. He went on to live long enough to meet Doug and his brother, Dennis, who knew him as great-grandpa Bob.

Doug and Dennis had always been determined to preserve stories about their great-grandfather throughout their lives. Now here was a gateway, in Bob’s own words.

He had limited information to work with: the name Robert McKeown, who was married to Maud McKeown, and an address listed as the place it should be returned if found.

A navy reservist who has researched war artifacts on his own and with his son, an air force member, Poot said he felt he was holding something that would be a treasure to family members.

“There was one entry about how it was a really horrible day, five casualties,” Poot had said. “There were parts of it that were scribbled out — you weren’t allowed to keep a diary in World War I.”

“Putting it on a shelf in my house means nothing to me; but if that was my grandad, that would mean the world to me,” he said. “I would like to return it to where it belongs and enjoy the ride of doing the research.”

So he used the name to pull up McKeown’s military records, and posted about the Bible on social media, hoping someone, somewhere, might know something. He attracted the attention of 27-year-old TikToker Lindsay Graves, herself a First World War family history researcher, who helped amplify the message about Poot’s unique find.

It was McKeown’s daughter’s boyfriend’s sister who read about the Bible in the Star and passed the news onto the family.

Doug and Dennis looked over the details. The names matched. The service records matched. They even had old photos of the house at the address listed, which is no longer standing.

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So, 130 years after he had received the Bible as a Christmas present, Bob McKeown’s descendants found themselves on their way to bring it back into the family.

When the younger Robert McKeown and his wife, Linda, went to Poot’s home in Toronto to retrieve the Bible, they struck an instant camaraderie rooted in their shared passion for preserving history, and brought together, ultimately, by McKeown’s Bible.

University of British Columbia historian David Borys said that such personal writing from troops during the First World War, even though it was officially discouraged in case of intelligence leaks, was fairly common, and that the resulting records lend a lot to war historians.

“Thankfully, we have many of them today and they are extremely valuable windows into the lives of individuals during such unimaginable times.”
Read more on Toronto Star
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