Updated: Jan 23
A small relic with a big story, the item returns to the family.
Perhaps one of the questions we are asked most commonly is what happens to the relics we find during our searches?
The answer is very simple for items found with soldiers as unless they are ordnance (such as grenades) ammunition or weapons all other items get reburied with the soldier, unless the authorities choose to return an item to the family.
However, over 95% of our finds are not found with soldiers or in graves but scattered over the battlefields. Some discarded at the time, others thrown into holes, trenches or pits during post war clean up operations and other bits simply left where they were last used. Some of these items will go to local museums, most is anonymous rusty junk but some things can tell a story of a personal struggle in hard times…
This is one such story of a small relic that helps tell a story.
The story starts during one our searches in 2010 whilst using metal detectors to try and locate an area of interest. A good signal near the surface resulted in one of the members retrieving a small Soviet soldiers cigarette that has been entombed in mud for the past 65 years. These Soviet cases are often highly decorated, can have the soldiers name on them, sometimes his unit or even the places he has fought at. We have quite a few of these stored that we have found over the years and like any relics with personal details we do our best to see if the former owner can be traced or if it could be a clue to finding a lost soul.
The case was inscribed all round.
On one side it says - Елохин Миша / Yelokhin Misha.
Further round it reads Елохин М.Х. /Yelokhin M.Kh.
The next piece of text refers to his service and reads ‘Baltic Front, days of the Great Patriotic war 20/1 1944’ ‘Artist ‘Yelistratov’
To Yelokhin Mikhail Kharlampievich to remember from M... Vali
Further research led us to the fact that this case could be positively identified to the Soviet soldier Yelokhin, Mikhail Kharlampievich. He was born on November 18, 1913 in the village of Kruttsy, in the Palekhsky district of the Ivanovo region.
Initially he was a Lieutenant of the veterinary service but on September 1, 1941 he was recruited into military service by the Palekh RVK. He served in the 214th Mobile Battery until 27 May 1942 when the battery was surrounded not far from Kharkov. The unit was classed as disbanded and Mikhail was considered as Missing in Action.
However, Mikhail managed to escape the encirclement and made it back to Soviet lines. He was reassigned in June 1943 to the NKVD serving in the 303rd Separate Company. In March 1944, he transferred to the 298th Battalion of the 13th Regiment of the Government Communications of the 10th Guards Army.
Later that year he was recommended for the Order of the Red Star but in the end was awarded the Medal for Military Merit. He then took part in the Riga offensive in Latvia as part of the 2nd Baltic Front. He then served the rest of the war as part of the Soviet forces besieging the Kurland pocket until the capitulation in May 1945. He eventually left Latvia on June 19, 1945.
He did not immediately return home but was sent east to take part in the Soviet-Japanese War of August 1945. With the conclusion of the fighting he was eventually dismissed from military service in the autumn of 1947. He returned home a very sick man and despite his illness he worked as chairman of the Koutzovsky village council. Sadly, his illness was indeed terminal and he died on April 1, 1948 from Lymphosarcoma (a form of cancer) - Such was the regard he was held in that on that day, several young guys who were being taken into the Army came to say goodbye to him because he was known as a kind, honest and decent person.
He left a widow Yelokhina (Klopova) Maria Petrovna, who had been badly affected by the war losing two of her brothers. One had been killed in the battle for Moscow, the other - near Rzhev. He also had a daughter, Korunova (Yelokhina) Albina Mikhailovna, who had been born in 1938. She would marry Nikolai and have two daughters, Galya who would become a doctor and Olga a teacher in Cultural Studies.
So despite his tragic early demise ‘Grandpa Misha’ has two granddaughters, three great-granddaughters, two great-great-granddaughters, and two great-great-grandsons. For sure he would be very proud of them all.
After the case was found Talis wrote to Mikhail Stepashkin from Moscow, who several years before had come to Latvia looking for the place where his granddad was buried and agreed to help us see if we could trace the family. It was Mikhail who contacted the daughter of Mikhail Yelokhin with a letter. She received the letter but being busy with life under put it away meaning to reply to it when she had time but later could not find it. The letter was eventually found by her daughter Olga some 10 years later. It was Olga, Mikhail Yelokhin's granddaughter, who then contacted Mikhail Stepashkin asking if it was possible to return his cigarette case to the family even now 10 years after having originally made contact. Fortunately, we keep and store all such personal items and were only too happy to send it back once Talis had found the correct case from amongst the others we have stored. So it was that in October 2020 it was finally returned home. Quite how Mikhail Yelokhin lost it sadly we will never know but this small relic gave a tangible link to a lost grandfather who died far to young.
In finishing we think it’s appropriate to give the final word to Mikhail’s granddaughter Olga who on receiving the case wrote the following to us.
‘We've got it. Thank you so much, I can only bow down to you! You’re doing a very good and important job. On opening the parcel my soul was trembling and my heart beating so loud that I could hear it. We've touched our grandad. It's like hello from the frontline and the past. I now understand how people felt when they were waiting for letters from loved ones as I felt exactly the same way.
What I feel is difficult for me to describe. Mom is crying and we are all in floods of tears. You are magicians!
Thanks once again and please send our thanks to everyone involved.
Be healthy and happy, everyone Live long and be fine.