From the time Brendan Collins first spotted a portrait of a First World War soldier hanging in a local antique shop in June, he knew he had to find out who the man was.
“I thought, gosh, it’s a pity that a young follow who fought for our freedom in the war would end up nameless on a wall like that,” Collins told The Telegram.
“I had to give him back his name.”
The 72-year-old history buff made it his personal quest to find out the soldier’s identity and return the photo to the man’s family, wherever they were.
Collins bought the photo from the central Newfoundland shop for $150 and immediately went to work repairing the chipped oval frame. After re-gluing missing pieces and touching it up with a fresh coat of gilt paint, “it was back to its former glory,” he said.
The only information the shop’s owner had was written on the back of the photo — “#8359, Mrs. J.M. Nichols, Digby, Nova Scotia.”
Collins discovered three soldiers from three different regiments had that number — two from Norfolk, England, and one from Newfoundland.
Ian Walsh, past-president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 33, in Placentia scanned the soldier’s cap badge and determined it seemed to be the 112th Battalion NS Regiment, based out of Windsor, N.S.
Collins then sent a scan of the badge to the National Archives in Ottawa for verification. The national body replied that it looked to be the 112th Battalion NS Regiment.
Going back to the Nichols surname, Collins found there were 201 soldiers with that surname who served in the First World War. He went through all of them.
“I knew it would take a lot of work,” Collins said, “but I had no intention of giving up.”
At his request, several media outlets, including The Telegram and The Digby Courier, posted the photo on their websites, and the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library posted it to its blog, but there was no response.
After searching Canadian Expeditionary Force members’ files, along with Nova Scotia birth, death and marriage records, Collins came up with Harry Raymond Nichols from Deep Brook, N.S., and he searched Nichols’ descendants.
In late September, a relative of the family in Ontario sent Collins a photo of “Uncle Harry,” who dozens of other family members confirmed was the soldier in the photo.
“You’ve found your man,” a family member told Collins, who was overjoyed at the news.
“It took a while and a lot of digging, but I found him and his family,” said Collins, who gives credit to his children for helping him with challenges with the computer. “I’m really glad. It was all worth it.”
He found out Nichols immigrated to the United States in 1923 and settled in Somerville, Mass., where he and his wife lived for the rest of their lives.
Collins said he will send the photo to the family in Nova Scotia.
But there’s still one mystery — how did the photo end up in this province?
“That’s the part I’m still trying to figure out,” said Collins, whose keen interest in searching people’s history was sparked when he researched his own family tree decades ago.
“It might take me a little while longer, but I enjoy this stuff. I find it very rewarding.