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.
Thanks to Peter McH who facilitated the final connection with Janice.
The returned medal tally is now 2567.