Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Uniform finds its way home

Obituary notice solves long-standing mystery of air force suit and cap

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FOR 26 years, Debbie Clark and her brother Brent Degryse have been looking for the owner of the RCAF uniform Clark found in the North End home she bought in 1981.

A few weeks ago, she was scanning the obituary notices in the Free Press and saw a familiar uniform and an even more familiar address. It showed Walter Syvolos in his military dress uniform and noted that the Second World War RCAF gunner had grown up at 900 Redwood Ave.

"Not on Redwood!" Clark recalled saying to her husband, "You're never going to believe this!" That was where she was living when she found the uniform in an old wardrobe. She had given the military dress uniform to her brother, who was interested in military history. Brent Degryse kept the suit and wedge cap with him for a quarter of a century and through several moves in Canada and the U.S. before returning to Winnipeg.

Last Remembrance Day, after several close relatives died, Debbie and Brent both vowed to find the owner of the uniform. With no name or serial number on it, they had no luck tracing its owner through the military museum at 17 Wing.

"They said that they had very few articles like the coat in their museum because they're very hard to come by," said Degryse. "They also told me that whoever owned the coat was an air gunner in World War Two." He was invited to donate the uniform to the museum.

"I said I would consider it but that I would first try and locate the family on my own."

He and Clark lost their father in January 2006, and several other loved ones in a short space of time. That inspired Clark to take an interest in genealogy. She began to read the Free Press obituary notices every day.

"Usually, these days, there's no mention of the address. In this one, there was."

She and her brother saw that Syvolos' funeral was a private family affair, so they dropped the uniform off at the chapel.

For Syvolos' grieving family, receiving the uniform was like getting a bit of their beloved "Wally Pop" back.

"It was like he had just stepped out of it," said Syvolos' daughter, Margaret Kahler.

Her dad was wearing the uniform when he married her mother, but never spoke much of the missing suit or the war in which he completed 37 missions as a gunner on a Lancaster bomber.

"I couldn't even look at it for a few days," said Kahler. She has two grown sons, and said the uniform made her think of her father as a young man heading off to war, and what it must have been like for his mother.

"I get choked up thinking about it," said Kahler, who is grateful to Clark and Degryse for returning his uniform safe and sound. "The fact that they'd taken this on as a project blows me out of the water."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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