24 October 2020

WWII and Vietnam War medals going home

Two great stories from Bill.

Regular readers of our Blog will know that we often had to explain: ‘While we don’t yet have a photo of the medals, when one becomes available it will be immediately posted’.

With the current virus lock downs, the reductions in mail deliveries and security of mail in general, I have adopted, for the time being, a new approach. Where, in the past, I’ve had the medals mailed to me, I now leave the medals with the RSL/finder, research the family then put them in contact with the medal holder. These are two such stories

 29545 Corporal Keith John O'Leary

Keith served in Vietnam from the 24 April 1970 till the 29 October 1970. He passed away in 2009. Rather than a long search interrupted by time limitations on the Victorian Government BDM’s. It was here that War Graves came into the search and provided me the exact date of Keith’s death. The newspapers then provided me the names of the family and, above all, the name of the Funeral Directors as well as where Keith was buried.

Two phone calls later and Keeren, who had the medals, with the aid of Rob Brown OAM (President) and Glenda Marin (Secretary) of Cobram RSL, was able to start the process whereby Keith’s Vietnam Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, were on their way to Keith’s son Shaun. As to where the medals had been since Keith applied for replacement medals in 1990, until they surfaced in 2019, is a mystery.

VX111521 Private Arthur John McDonald 

The return of Arthur’s medals owes much to Tina’s husband Kevin who found the medals in a shed nearly a decade ago, and Tina who kept the search going. Tina’s search was aided by the Team at the Australian Surname Group: GenieLiz, Huggable Montie, VTinOZ, Isobella, and Tree Fae.

Rather than write a story that will in no way show the contribution of these people who together were able to find Arthur’s son, now living in Darwin, here is the full story.


When I talked to Arthur’s son, he told me he lasts remembers seeing his father’s medals sometime before his mother died in 1989.

The returned medal tally is now 2573. 

19 October 2020

Thomas McDowell

I’ve collaborated on several occasion with Ted Ayres from York, WA to return medals. This latest story is the most intriguing and the difficult search. Ted told me he had been approached by fellow York resident, Brian, about a medal he had. Brian was originally a Queenslander and had been an officer in the RAAF throughout the 70s and 80s and later a police officer.                   

The medal Brian had was a British War Medal awarded to 1910 Thomas McDowell who enlisted in Queensland in 1916 and was with the 4th Pioneer Battalion, AIF. Tom served on the Western Front where, like so many at that time, was gassed. The medal came in to the possession of Brian’s family via his grandfather who was a great friend of Tom’s. Both had been miner in Charters Towers between the wars. Tom gave Brian's grandfather a pair of engraved cuff links thanking him for being a good mate some time prior to WW2 along with the BWM. Tom passed away in 1939, however Brian recalls his grandfather and his father speaking with great affection about Tom.

Following the death of his grandfather and father, Brian became the custodian of Tom’s BWM which has now been in Brian’s family for over 80 years. Given Brian’s history of service in the ADF, he was very conscious that there might be a family of Tom’s out there somewhere who would better be the custodian of the medal.

Ted and Brian did some initial research and accessed Tom’s WWI service record and that’s when things got confusing. The service record indicate that Tom was married to Violet McDowell and living in South Brisbane at the time of enlistment in 1916. However, later in the records there is an indication that his widow, Josephine McDowell, was applying for a grant under the War Service Homes Act.

This is the point that I got involved. Thomas proved very difficult to track down and there were conflicting details in the public records. It was only by using his service number or unit name in separate searches on Trove did I piece together most of the story. Confusing the search was the fact that Thomas occasionally used his middle name of Henry. Once I confirmed that Thomas McDowell and Thomas Henry McDowell were the same person the story unfolded.

Thomas died in 1939 and I found his obituary but no children were mentioned. I was also able to follow Thomas and Violet in the Queensland electoral rolls up until 1939. The clue from the obituary that help considerably was that Thomas was born in Victoria, not in Charters Towers as listed in the service record.

I then went to the Victorian BDM records and it was at this point I found the first mention of Thomas Henry. Using the full name I found a newspaper notice placed by Mrs TH McDowell about the desertion by her husband.

The wife’s name is not given but it indicates that Thomas Henry was an engine driver which is also the employment for Thomas in the electoral rolls.

I still couldn’t confirm the link between Thomas and Josephine and on a hunch, based on the desertion notice placing the wife in Boulder, WA I looked at the WA BDMs and found a marriage between Thomas Henry McDowell and Josephine Sharkey in WA in 1902. This is just too much of a coincidence and I knew I had the right family. I also found that they had three children. Two of the three children (both sons) died in infancy. The surviving child was a daughter, Therese

The only family member that I could follow now was Therese. This is when the second major brick wall arose but it was principally through newspaper articles that I could unravel the family tree. What I did find interesting is the search started in FNQ, moved to Victoria then WA and back to FNQ. 

The next mention I found of  Therese was her marriage to Peter Doyle. Of most interest was the mention that Therese was the daughter of Mr and Mrs TH McDowell. This suggests that Thomas was still connected to Therese in some way.

Peter and Therese were the licensees of several hotels in Townsville and Ingham over the years. However, they lived a house in Railway Estate, Townsville and I could follow them through the electoral rolls. And thanks to the gossip column of the Townsville Bulletin, I knew when Josephine visited her daughter.

In the 1950s the clues ran dry except for one article that mentioned that the children of Peter and Therese Doyle were named Peter and Janice. I was running out of options until I found a family tree which included them. A message to the tree owner soon put me in touch with Jancie. The family story that Janice told me pretty much aligns with what I found although she did add that Thomas is reputed to have spent time in the South African gold fields as well.

Thanks to Peter McH who facilitated the final connection with Janice. 

The returned medal tally is now 2567.   


17 October 2020

Helping out a mate and the QPS

I'm been connected with a group of researchers for close to 20 years now. The initial common topic was the Australian Light Horse but we all have other areas of expertise. While most of our interactions are online, we have met multiple times over the years. They have also been very supportive when I've deployed. So when one asks for help, I drop everything else for them.

On Wednesday, Tim L who works for the Queensland Police Service, inquired about an Australian Defence Medal that the QPS were looking to return. By Thursday morning I was able to provide the full name of the former soldier to Tim although the contact details I found were from 2007 and not current. However, the name was enough for Tim to find the owner. Tim has now sent the medal back to Robert who is very thankful that his ADM has been returned having misplaced it years ago.

The returned medal tally is now 2566. 

11 October 2020

What's in a name?

Bill's success stories from today.

Australian Defence Medal 1939-45

At the request of the families involved much of the research has been omitted. However without the help of the team at Australian Surnames Group I feel I would still be wandering in the dark awaiting for the current restrictions to be lifted so I could physically access the Victorian State Library’s records, that is if there was anything in the records that would help the search. To date having concluded both searches, I doubt it.


The first search, well actually the first hurdle was Raymond himself, as I was later to find. His date of birth on his enlistment papers did not match up with the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages data base (BDM’s). But that is not new; many young men ‘fiddled’ their date of birth when enlisting. So it was on to Marriages and there was his marriage to Margaret.

Raymond died in 1994, which while outside the current released NSW BDM’s, it was still later enough to be picked up by the Ryerson Index. This in turn led me to the Worona Memorial Park. A quick check on line, while there was no actual Raymond there was a Raphael/Raymond. A quick check back to the BDM’s and there was a Raphael born in the same year as ‘our’ Raymond.

But back to the Memorial Park, and Raphael’s (Raymond’s) burial plaque, which mentioned his children, and his daughter’s very distinctive name. I later asked his daughter why Raymond and not Raphael? Her answer was quite simple. “Dad didn’t like Raphael, so he changed it to Raymond”.


If Raymond’s story was of changing names, then George’s was one of shortening them, and following marriage convention, where a wife would not only change her surname but also in many cases adopt those of her husband.


NX81519 Sergeant George Charles Flight


The return of George’s medal owes much to the searching skills of the Australian Surnames Group, who, when an ever widening gap opened in the search, were able to step over it.


One of the problems of research is that with the introduction of printed forms, that only just have to be filled in is that they usually only accommodate two given names. In George’s case where there were three, George Charles and Martin, literally from his Christening the Martin was almost always omitted, there being no position for a third given name on forms. So that whenever I came across George’s name written in full, I often had to stop and backtrack that I was still following the ‘right’ George Charles Flight.

BDM’s often our first ‘go to’ was strangely’ silent while it did list George’s siblings, little else could be developed. Of his seven siblings, three did not marry. One, Nancy, disappeared completely. One died having had no children.

So now it was time to follow George’s brother Joseph, and his sister Eileen.

From a promising start Joseph’s path was soon overgrown. That left Charles’ sister Eileen as the best if not the only option. From there it was ‘easy’ path to Eileen’s grandson Jonathon, Charles’ great- nephew.

As we sat talking over the phone and I went through the family tree and how we had ‘found’ the family. The one question I had to ask was who was Mrs A.E.Bridges? The name on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission postcard that was in George’s file.

To which Jonathon replied “That was Aunty Nancy”.


Once again thanks to Gary E for referring these searches to Bill.

The returned medal tally is now 2565,