A letter home from a WWII soldier has been returned to his family after spending many years hidden inside the wall of a Guelph home.
Josh Teale was having renovations done on his house when a worker, Michal Zjawin, found it in a bathroom wall last week.
“I was out buying stuff for the renovations, and when I got back, the young apprentice came up to me and he showed me the letter,” recalls Teale, “They were pulling out walls up in the bathroom, and it just kind of fell out of the wall.”
The letter was dated from Oct. 8 1944, two years before the house was built. It’s written by a man named William Billings, a member of the Canadian Air Force who tells his parents, Charles and Ellen, that he won’t be home for Christmas.
“It had been originally sent to another address,” says Teale, “So I guess they must’ve brought it to the new place.”
Along with the letter, Teale says they also found an old cigarette pack and a car gage from an old vehicle.
“It was neat to have something so old within the house,” says Teale about the discovery, “And when he showed me the letter and I started reading, it was an incredibly cool piece of history to have.”
However, after the letter was found, Teale says he didn’t feel right about keeping something so personal, and decided to try and find the family to return the letter.
“The letter...being such a big part of family history, that wouldn’t be information that a newer generation would have,” he explains.
“Personally, if it were me, I would be really interested in having that part of my family history.”
Turning to social media, Teale reached out on Facebook to see if anyone would be able to help his search. He says he was surprised by how quickly it took to track the family down.
“As soon as I put that post up, it was inundated with comments and feedback and people who were interested in helping to find that family,” he says, “It was helpful that there are a lot of Billings in Guelph.”
“I figured at some point I would be able to find somebody, but I did not expect it to happen so fast.”
Teale connected with a woman named Sandy, who was William’s daughter-in-law. From her, he learned that William had passed away in 1999.
“Her boys were very close with William,” he recalls from the conversations with her, “So it was very exciting for them to get it back as this little reminder of him.”
Teale made contact with William’s grandson, Glendon Billings to arrange return of the letter.
Billings told GuelphToday his family is excited to have a memento from his late grandfather. He recalls early memories of his father pointing out his grandparents house as they would drive by.
"We were over there quite often," he says. Billings also remembers becoming closer to his grandfather in the years leading up to his death.
"(My) dad spent every weekend at granddad's, so I kept that tradition with my granddad when my dad passed away. We got closer."
Billings told Teale that the letter will help reignite William's memory.
"As time goes on...he (Glendon) says the letter really brought him (William) back to the forefront." says Teale about his conversation with Billings.
“He says their family has drifted a little bit and this will bring people back together that they haven't been able to be in close contact with."
Teale returned the letter on Wednesday. He also gave the other two items found to them as well.
“We weren't certain that it was necessarily from their family specifically, but the house itself is a part of their family history," he explains, "Whether the items are or aren't, should be passed on to the family as well."
With the unique experience coming to an end, Teale says he was happy to see a family excited over this family heirloom.
“It's an experience I've been able to appreciate and I'm glad that I was able to do that for another family.”
Since finding the letter, Teale says no other items have been within the home and expects all renovations to be completed by the new year.