Descendant found to claim war letters

NANAIMO – First World War era letters to be sent to writer's granddaughter in California.

Forgotten letters from the First World War are about to get their final delivery to the granddaughter of the woman who wrote them.

The postmark will also bring a close to the 30-year quest by a man in Britain who vowed to get them to their author’s descendants.

Jeff Coleman, a retired banker in Watford, U.K., contacted the News Bulletin in November requesting help with finding the family of Florence Kilburn who wrote the letters in 1917 and 1918 to her fiancé, Stanley Isaacson, who was with the British Expeditionary Forces in France.

When he returned from the war, the couple emigrated to Canada, married in Montreal and eventually settled in Nanaimo.

The letters were discovered in a small suitcase in 1980 when the bank Coleman worked at in Watford conducted an audit. The owner of the letters couldn’t be found, and rather than having them destroyed, Coleman took them into his care to find a recipient. Initial attempts in the early 1980s failed, but ultimately a friend with a knack for genealogy applied her Internet information-gathering skills to come up with new leads pointing to Nanaimo in 2013.

An article that ran in the News Bulletin in late November generated plenty of response from readers eager to help. Some of them eventually got in contact with Patricia Clanton – Stanley and Florence’s granddaughter – who lives in San Diego, Calif., and sent her copies of the story.

Clanton, born in Nanaimo, is a pediatric nurse who moved to California in 1978. She comes to Nanaimo about three times each year to visit her mother who lives at Dover House.

Clanton called from San Diego Monday to say she had been in contact with Coleman and how excited she was about the news she would be receiving her grandmother’s letters.

“She was just the nicest person you could ever imagine and I was an only child and an only grandchild, so she spoiled me absolutely rotten, but she was a lovely person and I spent a ton of my childhood with her,” Clanton said of her grandmother. “The picture [of letters] that you put in the paper, that was absolutely her handwriting.”

The news of the letters has kindled Clanton’s interest in finding out more about her extended family, some of whom she has never met. “I can’t believe that he held onto them and did so much research,” Clanton said. “What a cool guy [Coleman] is. He’s just amazing.”

Coleman is just as thrilled that after more than 30 years he finally has someone to forward the letters to.

“Me, I’m more excited for Patricia and just so pleased I kept hold of the letters,” Coleman said in an e-mail. “I’ve always held strong links with my family’s history and treasure many items and places from their past, so to be able to restore, to a much-loved granddaughter, a long lost and unknown (till now) family treasure is just wonderful and very rewarding – knowing in my heart of hearts that I did the right thing.

“I feel I should be saying something very profound and meaningful, but that’s not really me,” Coleman said. “I’m more the sentimental family type who just didn’t have the heart to see all those precious letters destroyed.”