Guy Black (centre) presents the First World War ‘Death Penny’ of Antonio Donatelli to his nephew George Donatelli as George’s wife Judy looks on. Black found the plaque at an antique store in 2006 and managed to locate the Donatelli family in Mission. / Submitted Photo

First World War memorial plaque returned to Mission family

Antonio Donatelli was killed in action in 1918, now a local landmark could bear his name

It has been 100 years and one month since Mission’s Antonio Donatelli was killed in action during the tail end of the First World War.

Last week, members of the Donatelli family were presented with a long-lost memento that honoured his sacrifice – thanks to the efforts of Guy Black, a Good Samaritan from Port Moody.

It was back in 2006 that Black, a war memorabilia collector, came across an interesting item at an antique store: a plaque with Antonio Donatelli’s name on it.

“It is the original plaque given to his mother by the government, back in like 1918-20,” explained Black. “It’s called a memorial plaque; some people call it a ‘death penny.’ It’s a large round bronze disc and it has his name impressed into it. So anyone who died in the war would get one. It would be sent to the family.”

At first, the item became another piece in his collection, but Black recently decided to do some research to try to find Antonio’s family, especially considering 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

During the First World War, Antonio was part of a local regiment – Vancouver’s Seaforth Highlanders – and Black’s research led him to Mission’s George Donatelli, Antonio’s nephew.

Black contacted the family, but didn’t tell them about the plaque.

“My hobby is being an advocate for veterans and for remembrance,” he said.

Part of that is his volunteer involvement with the BC Place Naming Program.

This program allows families to request that a land feature – such as a stream or a hill – be named after a B.C. resident who died while on active war service.

“This is an important lasting tribute to these men and women. I help for free, and so far I have successfully had a total of six mountains and lakes named,” Black said.

He told George about the program, and offered to help him apply to have his uncle honoured.

But he kept the plaque a secret.

George was skeptical at first, but eventually agreed to work with Black.

After filling out the application papers and doing more research, three possible locations were identified, all in Mission and all close to the Donatelli home.

“It’s just by fluke that, I think, they are three kilometres away, and there are two hilltops and a little bit further is an unnamed lake,” Black said.

The application is asking the B.C. government to name one of the locations after Antonio.

Last week, Black came to Mission to present George with the application forms so they could be officially sent away for processing.

That’s when he surprised him with the plaque.

“He was totally shocked,” Black said.

George’s son, Andrew Donatelli, was also on hand for the presentation.

Andrew said his father was impressed by the plaque and by Black’s efforts.

“He’s not a guy that gets overly emotional or jumps up and down. He was quite touched to have that. We didn’t know it existed,” Andrew said.

The family was aware of Antonio’s medals, but have no idea what happened to them.

“The medals are probably out there somewhere. Either someone has them in a collection or maybe they are in a museum. It would be interesting, even if they didn’t come back to the family, to at least know where they are,” Andrew said.

He said it was amazing that the plaque turned up the way it did.

As for the Place Naming Program, Andrew said there are some amazing coincidences there as well.

One of the hills identified as a possible naming site is close to the Mission Rod and Gun Club.

“Antonio’s father, James, was one of the founding members of the Mission Rod and Gun Club in the same year, 1918,” Andrew said.

And all three potential naming sites can be seen from the current club.

“And he was only born less than two miles from that spot.”

Andrew’s son Giorgio is a fifth-generation member of the gun club and his daughter, Isabella, is a volunteer and member as well.

Now that the paperwork has been filed, Black is stepping away from the process and letting the Donatellis take it over.

The family will check back with the provincial government in about six months. However, the process can take up to three or four years to be approved.

“It’s been a hundred years now. What’s a few more?” Andrew said.

If anyone is interested in learning more about the Place Naming Program, or needs assistance, they can contact Black by email at korea19501953@yahoo.com.

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Mission’s Antonio Donatelli was a member of Vancouver’s Seaforth Highlanders. He was killed in action on Sept. 27, 1918.

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