(CNN) – It was 2003 and Leora Krygier was rummaging in a thrift store near her Los Angeles home.
Krygier wasn’t looking for anything special, but a box of old vintage postcards caught her attention.
She spent most of an hour flipping through the box, recording faded broadcasts from places around the world, and reading the scribbled messages to family, friends, and loved ones.
One postcard stood out among the others.
“I came across this particular one that looked different from any other postcard I’d ever seen there,” recalls Krygier. “It wasn’t shiny, it wasn’t pretty. It looked like it was shipped in 1942. And it looked like it was some kind of a soldier’s thank you card.”
On the front of the faded sepia mailing was a sketch of a soldier smoking a cigarette with the caption: “We are all lit – let the fight begin.”
The message on the back was short and sweet.
“Thank you,” it said. “I’ll be out of here soon, then I’ll be lit! God bless America and FDR.”
The mail was to a WH Caldwell Esq who lives on Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn. It was signed by a private AT Maynard, a British soldier.
There was a stamp from Tottenham, London.
Krygier put down the box of postcards. She knew this was the one she wanted to buy. She bought it for around 50 cents.
Leora Krygier bought this postcard in 2003 from a store in Los Angeles.
Courtesy Leora Krygier
Back home, Krygier examined the postcard more closely.
She assumed Maynard thanked Caldwell – maybe for sending him cigarettes? But really, the message raised as many questions as it answered.
Someone who was a young man in the early 1940s would likely be in their late 70s or early 80s in 2003, Krygier realized. Chances are Maynard was still alive.
“I wonder if I could find this person who wrote it,” recalls Krygier.
It wouldn’t be a total stab in the dark – she had his last name and initials, and his serial number was printed under his signature.
And there were the details of the addressee that could be another clue.
However, in the early 1990s it was not that easy to track down people online. Krygier couldn’t make a Twitter call, and ancestral and family history websites were still in their infancy.
She thought her first port of call should be the British Army. She wrote a letter with the details and asked for more information. But she says British Army officials were initially reluctant to help.
“You kept telling me it was confidential, it was confidential, we can’t give you any information about him,” she recalls.
Krygier wrote back and asked if they could at least tell her Maynard’s first name.
After more back and forth, the British Army informed her that Private Maynard’s full name was Arthur Thomas Maynard, according to her records.
This important detail confirmed that Krygier’s next step was to consult the most recent UK census data.
Krygier is fascinated by old postcards and she noticed them.
Leah Abucayan / CNN
“I’ve basically written 50, 60 letters to random people with the same name, I don’t know,” says Krygier. “I told them my only purpose was to return the postcard, not make any money on it or anything.”
For Krygier, this search was a fascinating historical project to work on in her spare time. She had a busy day job as a judge and lawyer.
And while she really hoped her mission would succeed and find Arthur Maynard, sending letters blindly still felt like a long shot.
In her research, Krygier also discovered that there was a campaign to send cigarettes to Allied forces through the Over-Seas Tobacco Fund. She assumed that Caldwell had donated to this campaign, so Arthur wrote to Maynard to thank him.
Krygier examined Caldwell and found that he had British roots. As far as she could guess, he had no direct descendants. It didn’t seem like Caldwell and Maynard knew each other personally.
In the months that followed, Krygier received several replies from people who thought Maynard might be her father. It turned out that there were a few Arthur Maynards who fought for Britain in the war; Each one turned out to be a false tip.
Krygier went to find the letter writer.
Courtesy Leora Krygier
But one day, almost a year after their search, Krygier received an email from Michael and Valerie Boxall, who lived in the rural village of Stibbard in Norfolk, England.
The Boxalls wrote on behalf of their neighbor Tom Maynard and his sister Winnie Maynard Davis. The two siblings, now in their eighties, had a brother named Arthur Maynard who had been in the same unit as the letter writer but had since passed away.
Michael Boxall stated that he was writing on behalf of the Maynard siblings because neither of them owned a computer, but he did.
He asked if Krygier could send a photocopy of the postcard so they could try to match the handwriting.
She made a commitment, and in return the Maynard siblings sent a sample of their brother’s handwriting through Michael Boxall.
When Krygier opened the email, she gasped.
“I didn’t even need a handwriting expert to see that it was a match. It was like a perfect match. Even a layman could see that. The handwriting was perfect,” she says.
All the dead ends and unanswered letters were worth it. She had finally found Arthur Maynard.
An idea began to develop. What if she didn’t just send the postcard back across the Atlantic, but delivered it personally?
A transatlantic reunion
Leora Krygier with Winnie Maynard Davis and Tom Maynard in Stibbard in the UK.
Courtesy Leora Krygier
In the late summer of 2004, Krygier packed her bags and boarded a flight to London with her teenage daughter.
Her goal, she says, was “to draw a bow”. Her family thought she was “a little crazy,” she recalls, but they understood how much research meant to them.
Upon arriving in London, Krygier and her daughter took a train northeast of London to Norwich, England, and then continued on to the village of Stibbard.
“My daughter was 16 and it was our first mother-daughter-girl trip together,” recalls Krygier. “We also spent a week in London, where I rented an apartment and where we tried very hard not to be typical tourists.”
Meeting Tom Maynard and Winnie Maynard Davis was certainly not a typical tourist activity.
The encounter was an experience Krygier will never forget.
“They really treated me like long lost family and it was special,” she says.
She also enjoyed meeting the Boxalls and other Stibbard residents who had heard of her search.
Leora Krygier took this photo of Winnie Maynard-Davis and Tom Maynard during their visit to Stibbard.
Courtesy Leora Krygier
And Krygier was sitting in Tom Maynard’s kitchen with a cup of tea and handed the siblings the almost 60-year-old postcard.
In return, they filled in the gaps in Arthur Maynard’s private life.
“I was hoping that I would obviously have found him alive,” says Krygier. “And it turned out that this soldier had a very sad life. He had never married, never had children. But he loved classics. He loved to paint.”
Some of his brother’s delicate watercolors hung on Tom Maynard’s walls.
The group talked for hours about Arthur Maynard and showed Krygier his artwork alongside letters and artifacts from his life.
“It was like that interaction brought your brother back to life,” says Krygier.
Before she left, Tom Maynard gave Krygier some of his brother’s watercolors to take away.
She was touched and kindly accepted.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” she says.
Lost in time
Some time later, Krygier stayed in touch with the Maynard siblings and the Boxalls.
A few years later, she revisited Stibbard with her husband and daughter, and also met with the Maynard siblings at Winnie’s daughter’s house on a later trip to the UK.
Tom Maynard and Winnie Maynard Davis have since passed away, but Krygier stays in touch with the Boxalls through occasional emails and annual Christmas cards.
After the Maynard siblings died, Krygier is unsure what happened to the postcard. Although Krygier met the children of Winnie Maynard Davis, she is no longer in contact with them.
“Has anyone in the family taken it, kept it, thrown it away?” She wonders. “It’s just a really small postcard. It could have easily disappeared from the earth.”
But Krygier doesn’t mind if the postcard is lost in the ether.
“It is like that sometimes,” she says.
Finally, Maynard’s legacy now stretches across the Atlantic to Los Angeles, where some of his watercolor paintings hang on the walls of Leora Krygier’s house.
And finding the postcard also prompted Krygier to embark on her own search for family history.
“When I first visited Tom, we had many wonderful conversations about life and family,” she says. “He asked me if I had researched my own family tree and suddenly it occurred to me that I hadn’t. Then I realized that maybe this year-long research into the story of a random stranger was my detour to research my own family history and the threads that have woven into my own life. “
Krygier’s father was a World War II Holocaust survivor who left Europe in the 1940s. He met Krygier’s mother at the opera in Israel. Krygier was born in Israel and the family immigrated to the United States at a young age.
“I realized that much of his personality and behavior as a husband and father was anchored in his history as a Holocaust survivor, which I didn’t really understand as an adult,” says Krygier.
Even today, Krygier is fascinated by old postcards and enjoys following social media accounts that post snapshots of old mail.
And with her research on her own family tree more or less completed, Krygier occasionally thinks about searching a thrift store and making a new postcard the focus of a search.
“It took so much time and energy that I don’t know if I would actually do it again, but I’ve thought about it,” she says.
“Because it’s been a wonderful journey and you know sometimes just random things in life are so amazing.”