Long-lost WWI prayer book returned to soldier's family

26/08/2015

A Gisborne family who found a military prayer book from the 1940s has finally traced it back to its owner in the United States.

The Bible was lost by an American veteran during World War II and somehow ended up in the hands of a Kiwi soldier.

Barry Kinnaird found the military prayer book while cleaning out his late father's possessions.

"If it was my family we would love to have an heirloom like that, back in the family," says Mr Kinnaird.

It came from his grandfather, Frederic Kinnaird, who served in Egypt during the World War II.

Inside is a handwritten signature by an Anthony DeFinis, along with an American military serial number.

The family set about finding the owner, but it took years of research.

"Every year coming up to Anzac Day, my husband, Laurie, he gets quite anxious about returning the prayer book to its rightful owner because he's a very patriotic person," says Mr Kinnaird's sister, Dianne Naden. "This year, between us and Barry, we decided it had to happen."

They learned Mr DeFinis was posted as a medic in the US Navy in 1942. Mr Kinnaird says it's unclear how the prayer book ended up with his grandfather.

"Turns out Tony De Finis was actually posted to New Zealand near the end of the war before he was posted back to the USA," says Mr Kinnaird.

Ms Naden contacted the US embassy a few months back. Records showed Mr DeFinis had died, but his widow, Patricia, was found in Philadelphia. She couldn't believe it when the prayer book arrived in the mail.

"I think it's fantastic that those people would hold on to it for so long," she says. "To me it's almost like a miracle."

The family sent it over, wrapped up in a Gisborne Herald, together with kiwiana postcards, a Crunchie bar and Lemon and Paeroa.

"The response we've got back from the DeFinis family has been absolutely marvellous," says Mr Kinnaird. "They're like newfound friends for us."

Ms DeFinis says she's thankful the book has been returned some 70 years later.

"It gives you warm feelings just to receive it."

It's a family treasure, finally back where it belongs.

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