24 October 2021

Vivian Gilbert Garner

Vivian Gilbert Garner was a 24 year old railway clerk when he enlisted in the AIF on 18 September 1914. He was allocated to 14th Battalion, AIF. His regimental number was 54 which suggest that the day he enlisted on the same day that the battalion was raised. Vivian progressed though the ranks, being promoted to Corporal and then Sergeant before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 27 April 1917. His service record is at this link

The 14th Battalion took part in the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Vivian was wounded at Gallipoli when he received a bullet wound to his chest on 2 May 1915. He then was sent to England to recover. His service record indicates that he spent a bit of time in the England at the Australian Headquarters and attended some training courses before being commissioned. Vivian re-joining 14th Battalion, 'Jacka's Mob', in France on 20 May 1917. Vivian was killed in action on 8 August 1917. He is memorialised at Menin Gate.   

This photo is of Vivian as a Corporal.

Despite having seven siblings, I did struggle to find a relative past the 1940s. There are several family trees on Ancestry which include the Garner family but they are either owned by people with no knowledge of the current generation of this family or label the current generation as private with no identifiable information for me to search. Vivian also changed his NOK on several occasions as his parents died while he was serving overseas. I was a little stumped for a few hours until I focused on Vivian's brother Leslie. 

Leslie was a teacher in Victoria and he moved around Victoria a bit as he taught at different schools. Leslie was married to Muriel and had two daughters. However, Muriel died in 1928 leaving Leslie to look after his five year old twin daughters. Leslie later married Marjorie Collins and I found their headstone but there I got no closer to the current generation.

Very often the online newspaper archives on Trove provide the answer to many of these research conundrums, it just takes the right search combinations to find the information. By searching for Les Garner I narrowed down the name of his twin daughters and then came across the following interesting articles.


Trove then came to the rescue again which provided the clue that connected me with Vivian's nephew. By searching 'Garner', 'Collins' and 'Bendigo' I found a birth notice from 1944 for a son by the name 'William'. No middle name and no other clue. On a hunch I searched Ancestry for 'William Garner' as a resident of Bendigo and found just one entry. The result was the name William Vivian Nigel Garner. This name combination was just to coincidental not to follow up. 

From there William was easy to find.  

Bill Garner i(24 works by) (a.k.a. William Vivian Nigel Garner)
Born: 1944 Bendigo, Victoria ;

Biography

Bill Garner graduated from the University of Melbourne with a BA. His career as an actor and writer began in the Carlton theatre scene of the 1970s. He has written widely for stage, television and radio. Garner's first play Cake was produced by TheatreWorks in 1986.

Garner collaborated with Peter Corris to produce the mini-series, Pokerface, for television. This resulted in a further collaboration to produce a series of spy novels featuring their protagonist Ray Crawley. Garner's name also appears on the credits of the successful television shows Blue Heelers and Chances. He was also a writer on Gillies Republic.

The next issue I faced was how to contact Bill. As it turns out , Bill and I have a mutual friend on Face Book, so I enlisted Lambis' help to connect me with Bill.

Bill and I have now spoken and he has provided me a wealth of family history information about Vivian. Bill developed a performance piece of Viv's story. It is an emotive piece and with Bill's kind permission I have chosen to share the final paragraphs. 

As my grandmother lay on her own death bed four months after Viv died, one of her daughters whispered in her ear that she was soon to have a wonderful surprise. She would see Viv again.
 
So, what legacy do I carry? The name Viv was a time bomb. At state school every Armistice Day, during the one minute silence, I would dutifully think about Uncle Viv as hard as I could, but nothing would come into my mind except the picture which always hung on dad’s wall and, after a while my mind would wander. But at thirteen, I was the best dressed cadet in the school. I volunteered for extra camps. I could alpha, bravo, charlie and butt, barrel, bipod better than anyone. At seventeen I was a Cadet Under Officer and I knew dad was quietly pleased: I was doing the right thing. But when a war came along for which I was the right age, it was the wrong war, and I opposed it. Vietnam soured any feeling I had for the military and for many years I pretty much forgot about uncle Viv, too. I travelled through Turkey without even thinking of going to Gallipoli. Then, twenty years ago, an article appeared in the local paper about a new edition of Ted Rule’s book Jacka’s Mob. They wanted photos. Now more tuned to family history, I contacted the editor, Carl Johnson, and took him a picture of Viv. Talking about Viv in Carl’s little militaria shop in Bentleigh, I felt tears welling up. Where were these coming from?
August, 1917.
The thing was still unfinished.

There was a duty I had to discharge. I had to honour that young man. I had to do this for his sake, and my father’s sake and for my own sake. I had to see Viv myself.

Bill has also provided me with a photo of Viv which was in his family home and Bill prefers tot he photo of Viv in uniform.

Below is the Memorial Plaque that Viv's family received. It was signed for by his brother Albert.


One last touching piece of information I stumbled across is Viv is also memorialised on his mother headstone.


Thank you to Leanne for sending me this Memorial Plaque. To Lambis for your help. And to William 'Bill' Vivian Nigel Garner who has been so generous with information about his uncle Viv.
The returned medal tally is now 2678.



17 October 2021

WM Bowels

The British War Medal awarded to 2624 Sapper William Morrison Bowels seemed unremarkable when it was first sent to me by Peter M. That was until I saw the unit which is impressed after his name. It says RLY UNIT. I think this is the first Railway Unit medal that I've dealt with.

When he enlisted in 1917, William was allocated to the 2nd Light Railway Operating Company. This is most likely because he was a fitter by trade. The Virtual War Memorial web site provides the following description of the unit:

Formed in Australia in January 1917 as the 5th Section, Australian Railway Troops and arrived in England on 21 July 1917. July 1917 it was redesignated to 16th Light Railway Operating Company and arrived France on 4 October 1917 where on 28 February1918 it was renumbered as 2nd Light Railway Operating Company.

The raising of these units coincided with the implementation of a battlefield rail strategy across British and Commonwealth Areas of Operations.  The widespread use of battlefield rail, particularly the narrow gauge rail network transformed supply, personnel movement and casualty evacuation.

The Light Railway Companies were operated by the Engineers and came into existence when it became clear that the maintenance of roads was becoming a severe problem, in terms of the manpower needed and enormous quantities of road stone clogging up the supply routes. In February 1916 the first new light railways were sanctioned.

I very quickly found William on an Ancestry tree and a message to the owner and confirmed a direct connection to William.

Thanks to Lee-Anne for the connection and to Peter who sent me the medal. The returned medal tally is now 2677.



09 October 2021

Ian Mills

The photo which is below of the medals in their boxes may be familiar to several readers. The Defence Force Service Medal and the National Medal awarded to A111651 Ian Leslie Mills first appeared in a Face Book post by Wendy Newman. Wendy received several links to my page made by kind friends and readers. 

Ian proved rather difficult to track down and after Wendy and I swapped emails she put her trust in me and recently the medals arrived in my PO Box. I had done a bit of research into Ian but kept going around in circles. All reference to Ian that I found had his year of death as 2001. As is turned out he died in 2006 and is buried in Bundaberg. 


Having Ian's grandmother's name unlocked a few clues. Ian's grandfather was Leslie Gordon Mills who is also buried in Bundaberg.

However, the names of Ian's parents, particularly his father's, eluded me for some time. These turned out to be Noel George Mills and Isabel Haggart. Noel served in the RAAF during WWII. 

The electoral rolls, which are available on Ancestry, only go up to 1980. While these provided the addresses that Ian, and his wife Rose, lived at doing his career in the RAAF, the key piece of information I was looking for remained elusive. Wendy knew that Ian had a son and they were living in Boonah, QLD in the 1990s/2000s. Finding these details is what caused me the most trouble. Putting all the pieces together led me to an Ancestry family tree owned by Rob.

Rob is Ian's cousin and provide me some very valuable information. Firstly, Noel died only last year at the age of 99. Secondly, that Ian has two sons, I've now been in touch with one of Ian's sons and I'll return these medal in the near future.

The returned medal tally is now 2676.




  

Vietnam War pair

This was a straightforward bit of research. I collected a package from our PO Box on Wednesday afternoon, on Thursday I found the details of the soldier and a connection to his family and yesterday I spoke to the soldier's brother on the phone. While this seems unremarkable, all those individual pieces combine to make up a much more interesting story.

These Vietnam War medals were awarded to 39973 Dennis Francis Richardson. Dennis was a Corporal in 2 RAR and completed a tour of Vietnam in 1970/71. After returning from Vietnam, Dennis discharged and settled in his home town of Melbourne, Dennis tragically died in 1981. I was a bit stumped about where to search once I had found this information but a simple Google search provided the answer.

On the 2 RAR Historical Collection I found this story. In June 2021, Dennis' brother, Jon, had visited the 2 RAR Historical Collection and the visit had been posted online. The collection is run by Jason, better known as 'Harry'. I sent Harry a message and in very short order Harry sent Jon an email. The end result is that Jon and I spoke last night and I'll be sending his Dennis' medals in the near future. 

Dennis medals were sent to me by Bob Sandow of the Mt Gambier. How the medal they ended up in Mt Gambier will remain a mystery. Thanks to Harry for all the assistance and all his efforts running the 2 RAR Historical Collection. 

The returned medal tally is now 2674.

This is Dennis taken from a group photo of his company.

30 September 2021

Jim Farrell

This is turning in to a bit of a Royal Australian Navy week. 

This group of four WWII medals were definitely awarded as part of the first batch following the end of the war. They are quite different in the naming style to those awarded to Will Prior which I posted about recently. 

The group was awarded to S3771 James (Jim) William Farrell. The stars are unnamed as normal for RAN awards at the time and the medals are named with heavy impressing and a full stop between the letter and digits of the service number. From the service number, I knew that Farrell's home port was Sydney but his period of service was very confusing. His service records consists of four pages which was a bit of a surprise. He initially enlisted for a 12 year period in 1924 but finished his service in 1927. He re-enlisted in 1940 for WWII and was discharged in 1942. The reason for the unexpectedly short period of service in the 1920s was due to Jim being declared a deserter. I found this notice in the NSW Police Gazette.


I couldn't find out the reason for him deserting or any legal action that was taken against him. All must have been forgiven in 1940 when he enlisted again. Jim was married to Helena but there is no evidence that they had children. For quite some time Jim lived in a set of terraces in Blacktown with his siblings as neighbours. The terraces are long gone having been replaced by shops.

Jim died in 1958. With no direct descendent I started looking at his siblings. His sister Veronica, known as Vera, married James French. From their headstones I worked out the names of their children.

Know these names and finding their contact details are two completely different things. I did find this family on a Ancestry family tree. The tree is owned by Erin, who told me 'Graham's youngest daughter is married to my cousin'. Erin also provided the one clue which led me straight to Graham. Erin was able to tell me which town Graham lives in. I found a G France in that town in the White Pages so I called the number and sure enough I had the right family.  
    
I originally received these medals from Crystal 'Cricket' McK who told me that the medals were found in her late parent's possessions and may have been bought at an auction. Thank you to Erin who was able to provide me with the key piece of information which put me in touch with Jim's nephew. The returned medal tally is now 2672.





28 September 2021

Will Pryor

I never fail to be surprised at the surprises these searches throw up. 

On the surface, when I first received this Australian Service Medal 1939-1945 it appeared to be quite straight forward. It was awarded to F5720 Arthur Edward Pryor, RAN. Arthur enlisted quite late in WWII, on 1 May 1945. His home port being Fremantle which is indicated by the F in his service number. Arthur gave his date of birth as 27 March 1927. Making him 18 when he enlisted. This didn't quite align with the date of birth I found for Arthur in the WA BDMs. The official record gives his year of birth as 1929 which made him 16 when he enlisted.

Arthur and his mother Annie, were easy to follow through the electoral rolls and a number of court case which were reported in the newspapers. Arthur and Annie left WA in 1948 and moved to Melbourne. The electoral rolls state that Arthur was a radio producer and scriptwriter. In the 1950's they moved to Sydney. Annie died in 1977 and that is the last record I could find of this family.

Annie is included on the Ancestry family of Jane who was able to fill in some blanks. Arthur's father was Thomas Herbert Pryor. Before WWII he separated from Annie and married a second time. He also changed the spelling of his name to Prior. Once I had this information I found Thomas' WWII RAAF service record

The next piece of information that Jane provided was that Arthur went by the name Will. Then came the next surprise. Will was a writer on the TV series Skippy. 

This medal appears to be a late issue. The naming style is not the same as those medals issued in the 1950s. The number is after the name, it is engraved rather than impressed and the engraving looks to have a shadow effect. 

Will's medal was sent to me by the Directorate of Honours and Awards and I'll send it to Jane to be the family custodian of this medal. The returned medal tally is now 2668.


  

23 September 2021

WWII group of six medal

This search and return was rather straight forward but with a couple of twists.

It commenced in the usual manner when I was contacted by James R who had this group of six WWII medals. James did know a bit of the back ground behind the medals and that they were awarded to Peter Robinson. That confused me a bit as the medals were awarded to NX14775 Edward Murtough Robinson. It wasn't until I found Edward's death notice that I understood that he was know as Peter. There was a bit more confusion when I saw a second person named Peter at the same address. It turned out that this is Edward's son.

I hit a minor speed hump trying to work out Peter's current address but I did narrow down who his daughter is and within 10 minutes of sending her a message she connected me with Peter. Thank you  Amy. As it turns out Peter lives in Canberra not far from where I work so I'll drop his father's medals off in the near future.

The returned medal tally is now 2667.






 

19 September 2021

Post update

 I've just updated the post about Mitchell Mills.

12 September 2021

More assistance to the WA Police

No story, no pictures, just an acknowledgement of assisting the WA Police again. Three more medals have been returned to the family of a Vietnam War veteran.

The returned medal tally is now 2661 

05 September 2021

Anniversary of National Service Medal - GJ Dyson

I recently received an Anniversary of National Service 1951-1972 Medal awarded to 3800688 Graham John Dyson. Graham was reasonably easy to track until 2017 when he sadly died. After that the trail went very cold. 

I did find that Graham was a champion shot and member of the Australian Match Rifle Association. I found a obituary for Graham in the Association news letter (page 6).  It was thanks to Philip B from this group who was able to connect me with Graham's family.  

The returned medal tally is now 2655.




Reg Murray

It is very uncommon to see the original packaging and documentation survive to accompany medals. I was very surprised to receive the box, outer wrapping, entitlement letter and General Service Badge letter with the WWII medals awarded QX36508 Reginald Arthur Murray.

Initially, Murray was a bit difficult to follow through the public records as on occasion his first two names are interchanged. Once I worked out his wife's name I used that as the primary search criteria. From that point it was relatively easy to follow the family and determine their son's name. I quickly found the son's details in the White Pages and the donor and I have been in contact with the family. I'll send the entire collection back to the family soon (NSW and ACT lockdown arrangements permitting).

Thank you to Albert for trusting me with these medals. The returned medal tally is now 2654.




  

24 August 2021

Hamlet Farlow

This is another occasion where the travels of a medal is a mystery.

This British War Medal was awarded to 2595 Hamlet Oscar Farlow. Hamlet was born in NSW and died there in 1949. However, his medal came to me from Jeff in Tasmania. How it travelled there is the mystery.

Other than the basic information about Hamlet and the usual administrative notes, is service record provided two interesting pieces of information. Firstly, he was court martialled for being AWOL and second, he was wounded in action. After discharge Hamlet returned to Sydney and  listed in the electoral rolls as a labourer. 

Hamlet did not have any children. However, he did come from a large family with many siblings and I have found a great nephew of Hamlet who I'll send the medal to in the near future. 

Thanks to Jeff for trusting me with the medal and to Rick for the safe hand delivery.

The returned medal tally is now 2652.




21 August 2021

John Harrison

Each piece of research we do tends to throw up one interesting piece of information that makes that case not what Bill or I expect. During this research into 3350 John Harrison there were two bits of information that made this search than bit different.

The 1914-15 Star and British War Medal awarded to John were sent to me by Trevor Hogan from the Kalamunda RSL sub-branch. Trevor and his fellow RSL members were keen to see these medals returned to John's family. When the medals arrived the first surprise was apparent immediately.

It is not unknow for medals to have mistakes on them but actually seeing a mistake is not very common. The 1914-15 Star has the number 3330, however, the British War Medal has the number 3350. John's correct number is 3350. These differences can be seen in the pictures below.

The second surprise is who John named as his next of kin. I often see soldiers who nominate a friend as the NOK. The circumstances tend to be that the soldier was an immigrant and had no family locally or left in their country of origin. John nominated his friend Annie Taylor as his NOK. Annie's address was care of Richard Taylor of Baddera, WA. It took some hours of research to determine that Annie was the 13 year old daughter of Henry Richard Taylor. 

At the time of his enlistment, John was 42 years of age. He was a single miner having emigrated from Lancashire, UK. I can only speculate that he named Annie as his NOK is case he was killed in action and she would receive any benefits. John survived the war, although he was wounded on several occasions while serving with 11th Battalion. He was discharged in late 1917 and returned to Baddera. That is the last public record I could find that confirms John's location. I think he died in 1929 having never married. 

John was born in White Haven, UK in 1873. I found his birth record but there was no additional information about his parents or any siblings. I then focused on Annie as the NOK. Annie married into a family with a very distinctive surname and were from a regional area north of Perth. Using the electoral rolls I was able to determine the names of Annie's children. One son is named Winston. This first name, combined with the distinctive surname, made the last phase of the research easy. Within 10 minutes of working out Winston's name I was speaking to him on the phone. The whole story of John, and his connection with Annie, was very exciting for Winston and he planned to share it immediately with his older sisters. Winston was extremely grateful to the Kalamunda RSL for wanting to see these medals returned to John's NOK.

I am thankful for the trust that Trever and the Kalamunda RSL placed in me to research these medals. This search is quite unusual and with an outcome that I didn't expect. 

The returned medal tally is now 2651.







14 August 2021

John Willie Clarke

I often reflect on the randomness of how medals end up with me when their journey started on the other side of the world.

This WWI British War Medal was awarded to 1918 Private J W Clarke, West Yorkshire Regiment. Based on the unit I knew he was a British soldier. However, it took a while to narrow down this soldier's full name. Using the regimental number of 1918 didn't result in any search success. I do know that as the size of the British Army grew as the war progressed, units changed their numbering systems to allow for the addition of battalions to regimental organisations, death rates and movement of individuals. It is not uncommon to see a soldier with several regimental numbers. 

The primary source to check these regimental numbers and medal entitlement are the British Army medal cards which are held in the British National Archives. These cards are accessed via the NA website on a pay per access basis or through a third party like Ancestry. The search parameters I had to work with was this soldier's initials and surname. It turned out that there were several dozen soldiers with the name J W Clarke so I went through every card individually. These cards were all filled out by hand but I eventually found the correct card with the number 1918 written on it. This card also noted another regimental number which was 240361. From there I was able to determine that J W Clarke was killed in action on 1 March 1918. However, I still didn't know what the initials J W stood for.

It took a bit of reverse engineering research that started with the date of death that finally led me to work out that J W stood for John Willie. That was the clue that led me from Bradford, Yorkshire to Port Lincoln, South Australia. John and his wife Lena had a son in 1916. This was Herbert Clarke. I followed Herbert through immigration, electoral and death records. When Herbert moved to South Australia he obviously had his father's medals with him. That answered the question of how the medal travelled from Bradford to Port Lincoln. The final pieces of information about Herbert came from his headstone.


This led me back to Ancestry and I found Herbert on a tree owned by Deidre S. I fired off messages and emails and yesterday Deidre called to confirm all this research. How the medal left the Clarke family and ended up with Johny who sent me the medal renmains a mystery.

The returned medal tally is now 2649.



25 July 2021

William Stephenson

This WWII group consisting of the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star, the Pacific Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal and the Australian Service Medal 1939-45 came to me via the Directorate of Honours and Awards. The group was awarded to QX4841 William Smith Stephenson.

I followed Bill through Trove newspaper articles rather than official records. The key to working out his family tree was a notice following Bill's death in August 1981. No children were mentioned in the notice but it did give the name of his brother in law. Through some reverse engineering of the NSW BDM records and electoral rolls I worked out the name of Bill's nephew. This is David who I just had a fascinating conversation with. David is an expert in philately and we eventually got on to the subject of the Australian Forces Post Office. Those who know me understand that mail was the subject that absorbed most of my time and effort during INTREFT.

Once again it was a pleasure to assist the Directorate of Honours and Awards. The returned medal tally is now 2648.