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Rare war medal find coming home to Chilliwack

Quick action and financial support from the federal government has helped the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society secure a unique and historic set of war medals and bring them back to Canada.

The medals – all once awarded to members of the Coote family – were put up for auction in Norfolk England in late December.

When the museum learned of planned sale, it began an aggressive effort to secure the necessary funding to bid on the collection.

“It was an intense four days,” said Museum Director Ron Denman. “We had to make the case that these medals were of local, provincial and national significance in order to qualify for any funding.”

He said the staff at the federal Movable Cultural Property’s branch were incredibly helpful and processed the paperwork in four days when it normally takes about three months

Described as “extraordinary and scarce Canadian Expeditionary Force medals,” the collection was hailed by Chilliwack MP Mark Strahl as an important part of Canada’s historic identity.

“I am thrilled that an important piece of our history is coming home to Chilliwack and that we can honour the Coote family’s military service,” said Strahl.

Paul Ferguson, the Museum’s Heritage Collections Manager, contacted a military medals expert in England who assisted in the authentication of the medals and placed a bid for the medals at the auction house. The auction took place on December 19 and the museum bid of £2,000 was successful.

The collection consists of 12 medals awarded to Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Leslie Coote and his son Captain Ian Vernon Coote of Chilliwack for their military service. It also includes a written account from Lieutenant Russel “Ginger” Leslie Coote — Andrew Coote’s second son — documenting his remarkable wartime experiences. This acquisition will allow the CMHS to highlight the Coote family’s contribution to Canada’s military history, Strahl said.

Lt-Col. Andrew Coote was commanding officer of the 47th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1916. He appointed his son, 20-year-old Ian Coote, as his adjutant. His younger son “Ginger” Coote, meanwhile, joined the battalion as a bugler when he was only 12 and eventually fought in the trenches at 14.

All three men survived the war. Ginger Coote eventually joined the Royal Flying Corps near the end of the war and then the RAF, “thus laying the foundations of his future in aviation, founding the Chilliwack Flying Club, Bridge River Caribou Air Services and Ginger Coote Airlines,” said the Norfork auction house James and Sons in its description of the collection.

The awards of Andrew Leslie Coote reflect his long and distinguished career with the Canadian Army and his role in the development of the Canadian Militia in Chilliwack. Coote was instrumental in the formation of “D” Company of the 104th Regiment (later the Westminster Fusiliers) located in Chilliwack. The regiment was formed in 1910 with headquarters in New Westminster and Coote became the Company’s first commander.

The unit’s Chilliwack drill hall was completed in late 1913 and still stands at the corner of Princess Avenue and Edward Street. It is from this location that “D” Company proceeded to New Westminster where they joined the remainder of their regiment for overseas service during the First World War as part of the 47th Canadian Infantry Battalion. Coote served with the 47th as did his son Ian who received a Mention in Despatches, an award in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the field.

Leslie Coote continued to serve with the Canadian militia after the First World War but at the beginning of the Second World War was in England where he observed firsthand the Blitz on the United Kingdom. Returning to Canada he was instrumental in the formation of the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers (PCMR), based on the British Home Guard. The PCMR held responsibilities for home defence and was composed of men whose occupations, age or physical conditions kept them in Canada. The Aircraft Detection Corps was another organization influenced by Coote. The Corps monitored plane movements along the coast after the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour.  It was for this work that, at the age of 77, Leslie Andrew Coote was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Like his father, Ian Coote who lived in England received the same award in 1950 for his work as the local Army Welfare Officer in Chingford, England.

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