31 May 2012

WWII medals - George Douglas Williams

Behind the scenes there is usually a considerable amount of effort put in to our searches which we don't usually go in to. Many hours are spent researching on the internet or in State Library reading rooms. There is even a fair amount of shoe leather worn out to get a result. This is Bill's story of a recent search that he conducted and should be congratulated on the lengths he and Vicki went to.

"There are always two sides to any search, one the human, the other the investigative.
For the human side I must go to the article by Sarah Baker, with photographs by Scott McNaughton of Fairfax Press. Sarah’s article can be read on line at this link.
This, the investigative story, started in South Australia when Helen McDonald inadvertently received a small parcel containing the war medals of 13893 George Douglas Williams (RAAF). What made the package so special were the photos of George’s marriage to Elizabeth Baird, herself a servicewoman.
There were many people involved in the search including Helen herself, Susan, and Sarah Baker and Scott McNaughton an extraordinary news correspondent and photographer team.
The following is the email that I sent to those who were involved:

Helen, I suppose I should begin with you first. It was you who took us on trust to return George's medals and the photos to his family: in that regard may I say thank you for that trust.
So as promised to you and the others how did it end up and how did I end up as you will see in West Sunshine?
From War Graves came the date of George's death, 1990, from the Electoral Rolls that he and Elizabeth were living in Pascoe Vale at the time. However, while I did find William's grave, a ‘double’ there was no mention of Elizabeth’s. In the end it was this fact that kept me believing that she was still alive.
Early in the search while at the State Library I had taken the opportunity to look up George’s death notice. It was unreadable looking as if someone had spilt their corn flakes on it, so before I left, I requested to see the original.
Now to Pascoe Vale, the William’s last known address, unfortunately the unit had been sold several times since George’s death. The real estate agency who sold it only knew it had been occupied by an elderly lady and her daughter.
So back to the State Library to read George’s death notice. This led me to Elizabeth’s brother John and his wife Joyce, who following George’s death, had moved to Queensland and then established the pattern of moving every three years or so. While their trail petered out with their deaths in 2005, their death notices eventually led me to their son Douglas. Unfortunately, he too knew nothing since his family lost touch with Elizabeth just after the death of George. He did recall, however, that his dad mentioning that Elizabeth may have remarried, but to whom and when, well he couldn’t say.
From George William's family tree came the eventual discovery of a great niece, the daughter of his sister Myrtle. Yes she remembered Elizabeth and George and also that they had a daughter called Lynette who was she thought knocked down and killed by a bus. She also thought Lynette had married. But as she never went to either the wedding or the funeral, she is not too sure on the marriage bit and she could possibly also be wrong in regard to the accident, but it was a pleasant drive from Greensborough to Mernda.
On a different tack it was now time to try property records, and a dealer principal with a real estate agency who graciously provided the information that the William’s unit had previously been sold in 1992 by an Elizabeth Egar. Who was Elizabeth Egar?
The State Library and the ER’s provided the first time appearance of an Elizabeth and Harold Egar at Hoppers Crossing. Harold, it later transpired, had also served in the RAAF. Again the brick wall, while I did find Harold's grave, I could not find one for Elizabeth.
So I went wandering (Hopper's Crossing, is a lovely place and well worth the car trip) and spent a pleasant Sunday walking around Elizabeth and Harold’s old neighbourhood, talking to those who remembered them.
One remembered Elizabeth as a quiet little old lady who she thinks may have remarried after Harold’s death. Another that her new name was Ray or was it Grey her husband was not sure either, whilst another believed that Elizabeth used to visit him at a retirement home in Sunshine. So armed with ten or so different stories, I went home and with Vicki we went through what we now knew. There is a heck of a lot of retirement villages in the Sunshine area. I think it was the eighteenth one that I rang, that confirmed the presence of Elizabeth Gray, or Betty as she prefers to be known as.
It was there that Vicki and I met the three times married Elizabeth Baird, now Elizabeth Gray the twice re-married widow of George Williams and where this search ended, over tea and biscuits in the morning room."

The returned medal tally is now 1150.

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