Joan Browning is hoping to find out where her dad’s suitcase was kept between being gifted to him in the 1940s and turning up in an op shop a few weeks ago.
An Invercargill family has been reunited with a family heirloom they didn’t even know existed, but that’s just where this mystery starts.
Some time after the World War II, the residents of Seaward Downs, near Invercargill, gifted a leather suitcase to Gunner Frank Alexander Lemon as a token of honour for his service.
His daughter Joan Browning only knows this because the suitcase, with a plaque inside, turned up in op shop a few weeks ago.
No one knows if Lemon’s brothers or the other soldiers from the township received suitcases too, where the suitcase has been since then, and who dropped it off at the Habitat ReStore in Invercargill.
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“It’s blown us away,” Browning said.
Habitat ReStore Invercargill posted a photo of the suitcase on Facebook this week and friend, recognising the family name, sent her the link.
Her cousin Ian Lemon had picked it up but had no recollection of his own father James Lemon, who also served, having had one, Browning said.
They are assuming that all the town’s soldiers who returned from war would have been gifted the leather suitcases crafted by Disabled Soldiers Dunedin.
However, knowing her dad and his preference not to speak about his time in Egypt, Browning suspected her father may have not wanted it, seeing the case as an unwelcome reminder of the war.
“That’s all we can think of,” she said. “Dad never spoke of it or being presented with it.”
Her father wasn’t even keen to collect his medals, Browning said, adding that she had done so after he had died in 1991, just shy of his 77th birthday.
“A lot of people didn’t talk about it [the war]. It was hard times. They gave up a lot of their lives, but a lot didn’t come home.”
It was special to have this memory of her father’s contribution to the war, Browning said.
“It’s amazing what they [soldiers] did for New Zealand and the world, to go and fight. What we’ve got today is because they fought, and it still means a lot.”
Frank Lemon was born in 1915 to Scottish migrants who farmed at Seaward Downs.
One of five siblings, he served in Egypt alongside his brothers James and Albert Lemon.
On their return, Frank and Albert farmed together at Heriot before Frank moved his family of three to Invercargill in 1973.
He wouldn’t have had much use for the suitcase, Browning said, as the furthest he travelled after the war was to the North Island.
However, she doesn’t think anyone else might have used it, because it was still in a good condition.
Browning was eager to hear from whoever had donated the suitcase to the Habitat ReStore.
“It would be nice to know where it’s been and why it’s only come to light now.”
Habitat ReStore Invercargill manager Christine Shearer said this was the first time she had been able to return a family heirloom to its family.
“I’ve been working in this shop for 10 years, and nothing like this has ever happened.”
The suitcase was dropped off after hours by an anonymous donor amongst a pile of other things and a staff member brought it to Shearer’s attention.
She knew it was special when she spotted the plaque and set it aside for a few weeks, before posting it on Facebook on Tuesday.
The post went live at 7am and by 8am Ian Lemon had made contact, picking it up two hours later, before giving it to Browning.
“It was so nice to see it go back where it came from,’’ Shearer said.
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