Paul Coates

March 21, 1958

A month ago I wrote a column concerning a mysterious medal.

About the size of a half-dollar, it had the embossed figure of a stork on its face side, plus the lettering "Wanstead High School." On the reverse was the inscription:

"Hurdles. Open. D. Farrell. 1927."

There was nothing unique about the medal. It looked like any medal any kid in any high school might win.

But the element of mystery about it came in the letter to me which accompanied it.

The letter was from Mrs. Eleanor Hatch of Hollywood.

She found the medal, she told me, in a small can which had been around
her house for maybe 20 years. It was among a miscellaneous assortment
of rusty nails, hooks and buttons.

"I never heard of D. Farrell," she wrote me, "nor have I heard of Wanstead high School."

She added that she had no use for the medal, but somehow couldn’t bring herself to throw it away.

"That’s why I’m sending it to you," Mrs. Hatch said. "In the hope that
you can find its real owner. It might have some special significance."

I mentioned Mrs. Hatch’s discovery and wish in this column, figuring that no one would claim it–but anyway, I’d made an effort.

Immediately, it was obvious I was wrong.

The column ran the same day that a man named Donald Farrell made the
papers by completing a simulated week’s flight into "outer space" in a
U.S. government experiment.

Lots of letters and calls came in asking if this man might be a descendant of D. Farrell, the 1927 hurdles champ.

There were other calls from other Farrells, plus two from persons who
told me that Wanstead High School was located a short distance from
London, England.

One call was from Bob Jarvis, president of the advertising firm of
Prestige Inc. He told me that his friend, David Farrell, president of
Trust Deed and Mortgage Exchange, thought the award-winning D. Farrell
might be a long-lost relative.

Did I have any clues, he asked?

I mentioned the two calls about Wanstead High School being near London. And from there, Jarvis took over.

He cabled the London Times for an exact location of the school.

A reply came stating that there was a Wanstead County High School near London with the address: Redbridge Lane, Wanstead E. 11

Then Jarvis sent a cable care of the school’s headmaster. Did they ever
have a student name of D. Farrell? If so, did they have a current
address on him?

The reply came this week, signed A. Ingram, Headmaster.

It read:

"Thank you for your telegram asking about D. Farrell, an old boy of this school from 1926-8.

"I am sorry to report that he was killed in the war.

"He was a Sgt. Observer in a Wellington Bomber killed in action Sept.
11, 1941. The plane was shot down in the Channel and his body washed
ashore at Dieppe.

"The last address we have of his family was: Mr. W. Farrell (father) 50 Park Road, Kingston Hill, Surrey.

"Although I have only been headmaster since 1948 there are a few colleagues who remember him.

"I am sorry I cannot be more helpful. We are proud to have his name on our War Memorial."

When Jarvis phoned me yesterday, he said that Sgt. Observer D. Farrell was no relation to his friend, David Farrell.

Afterward, I called Mrs. Hatch. Again I read her the letter from
London. With a certain sadness, she said, "I’m sorry. I’m sorry to hear

"You knew him? You remember him now?" I asked.

"No," she said. "I still don’t have any idea who he is or how he got his medal.

"But I’m sorry we’re too late to get it back to him."

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Columnists, Paul Coates and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Paul Coates

  1. Jennifer O'Neill says:

    Wow I went to Wanstead High School and finished in 2006. This is an amazing story that seems to close to home but so far away.


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