Tom Hanks would be proud. A charity shop is saving Private Ryan’s medals for his relatives after a chance discovery made in an old jacket handed into it.
The West Cork charity shop has mounted a campaign to reunite the two medals belonging to Private Patrick Ryan with his descendants and believe the First World War veteran may have hailed from Co Tipperary.
Ed Smith, treasurer at the Kealkil Charity Shop, based in a small village near Bantry, said they recently got the jacket in a bundle of old clothes.
“We assumed they were belonging to an old man who had passed on,” said Mr Smith. “The jacket was in a bad state and it was going for recycling. One of our volunteers, Steve Rosse, found the two medals in a pocket, which came as a major surprise.”
Mr Smith knew that Skibbereen Heritage Centre had been involved in tracing similar First World War medals to their rightful descendants and approached its manager, Terri Kearney, who passed them onto an expert, Kevin Tomlinson, who then started to trace the history of the former owner.
Thanks to his research they now know Private Ryan was a volunteer who is likely to have joined up in 1914 and dug trenches in some of the most hostile battlefields of the conflict, which possibly included Gallipoli, where thousands of his comrades were slaughtered by the Turkish army.
It is believed that Private Ryan also served in the Balkans and Egypt.
Ryan was a member of the 1st Battalion of the Munster Fusiliers and is likely to have been evacuated from Gallipoli back to Egypt in January 1916.
It is believed that he and the rest of the battalion were shipped to Marseille in March of that year and subsequently transferred to the Western Front, where Private Ryan would have seen active service during the heavy fighting of June 1916.
Private Ryan was nominated to receive a bravery award, the Military Medal, but it was not awarded for some reason.
His service record shows he survived the war and got an honourable discharge but subsequently re-enlisted — which was very uncommon at the time.