31 August 2013

Duncan Lawson

Since 2006 I've had a Tobruk Siege commemorative medal which was sent to me by the Queensland RSL. This medal was produced by the Rats of Tobruk Association to acknowledge the part they played in the slowing down of Rommel's forces and the eventual defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa. Many WWII medal groups include this commemorative medal although it is not an official medal.
The Tobruk Siege commemorative medal I received has the name D Lawson on the back. There is no service number so I could never be 100% sure which D Lawson I was looking for. Today, I received an email which put all the pieces in place.
The email came from the great niece of QX6996 Duncan Allan Lawson whose name is Bec. She came across our listing of lost medals on the Lost Medals Australia website. Bec tells me that all Duncan's medals were lost to the family in Queensland where this medal came from. A review of the WWII nominal roll showed that I could eliminate many potential candidates by this initial and name combination due to their enlistment date or other factors. This narrowed the search down to two soldiers and it was Duncan's unit that confirmed for me that we had the right man. I'll forward the medal to Bec in the near future.
The returned medal tally is now 1310.

29 August 2013

Gus Cahill

Another great story about Bill's research and the return of three more medals. The returned medal tally is now 1309.

One of the important elements of a successful search to locate the owner of medals is how and where they were ‘found’. In this case even though I have returned the medals, there are as many unanswered questions as answered.
The initial request for help came from Veterans Affairs, who had been contacted in regard to the war medals of a Sergeant Augustine (Gus) Cahill, whose medals had been found in 1968. Over the intervening years various groups it appears had attempted to return them but with no success. The last holder of the medals who had them for 4 years, had given up. Would we, Lost Medals Australia, enquired Veterans Affairs, be willing to look at the issue.
From preliminary research it soon developed that the medals mentioned did belong to Sergeant Cahill. However, the medals in question the 1939-1945 War Medal, The Defence Medal, and The Australian Active Service Medal, made up possibly half of the medals Gus would have received for his WW2 service.
Gus served with the 2/1 Field Company during WW2, discharging in October 1945. He would later re-join after having ‘fiddled’ his date of birth, reducing it by two years so he could serve in Korea as an infantryman with 3 Battalion RAR.
So where were the other two additional medals he should have received for his Korean War service?
At this point you will note the condition of the medals, someone had cleaned them with an abrasive cloth. This scratching even includes the inscription on the bevel. Enquires as to who had done the cleaning proved fruitless. It was all a case of ‘before my time’.
Now began the search in earnest. From War Graves came his date of death, 10 October 1984, however, the whereabouts of the death was unknown. Ryerson our first port of call, had no entries.
As he had been living in and around Mount Isa, I chose this as my starting place, and fortunately I found his grave. I also found another that then led me to believe there was a possibility Gus had married at some time. But had he? This is one of the problems we always face as we search through a family, we cannot second guess. The return of the medals is too important. It would take several Interstate phone calls, one letter, and countless emails over 2 month before I could confirm that Gus had never married.
Having hit the brick wall, and now accepting that Gus had not married, and therefore the possibility of an heir having evaporated, I then chose to go back and look to Gus’ family tree. And what a tree it turned out to be, Gus was the youngest of 7 brothers. More importantly all the brothers had been born in Victoria, and when their father moved to Sydney, NSW, they all followed.
It was from Trove that I found and read Gus’ mother’s death notice which included the names of her three surviving sons, Gus, Frederick and Raymond.
Trove the online newspaper data base when coupled with the Second World War Nominal Roll, and the RyersonIndex, make up a powerful search combination, if one has the patience to work through, what at times seems a daunting list of newspaper articles.
This in turn brought me to his surviving brothers Fred and Ray, their subsequent marriages and sadly their passing. It was from these latter two dates that I eventually found Frederick’s wife Jeanette.
At this time Jeanette went into care and I lost contact. It was quite some time before I was able to contact Susan her daughter, Gus’ niece and to whom the medals will be returned.
In the meantime I have written on behalf of Susan to the Department of Defence, Honours and Awards Section to find out if Gus’ Korean War Medals were ever issued.
A postscript: Rarely do I go back at the end of a search, to try and see if I can find out something about the history and travels of the lost medals.
Eventually the following stories came to light.
One non-attributable story is that the medals were stolen during the school holidays by a group who were suspected of being involved in running a burglary operation. Perhaps this could explain why only three ‘silver’ medals were recovered, these being one person’s share The rest could well have been split up among the others in the group.
Another also non-attributable story was that a parent ‘confiscated’ them, and not knowing what to do, put them in a drawer where they stayed for many years. At this point common sense told me to stop, I stopped.
But in closing can I say that from 1968 to 2013 is a long time for something that has been ‘found’ to remain ‘missing'.

Cyril McCarthy - an update

The story about Cyril McCarthy's dog tag has gone viral, in a medium size way. As a result of the successfully location of Cyril's grand son, Jennifer King has written another story which was published on ABC online today. The McCarthy family has supplied a photo of Cyril on his wedding day and of his WWI medals.

27 August 2013

Albert RN

This another cracking yarn from Bill which takes the returned medal tally to 1306.
After the return of medals when either Glyn or I sit down to write the story, the decision on how far to go on the personal side is always uppermost in our minds.
There are several reasons for this approach. For example:
The return may have involved the Police, and as a consequence of legal obligations, we can say nothing that might identify the people involved.
Due to the value of the medals, it might be necessary to protect a family against becoming a victim for the second time.
The return has come about as a result of a request from a Government Department, in such cases the limitations of the Privacy Act, prevent us from saying almost anything, even on occasions the name of the recipient of the medals.
Finally, and in many ways the hardest, is to refrain from publishing a story that will embarrass the family.
So please understand that at times you may well read only a brief reference to the person to whom the medals were initially awarded, as well as to whom the medals are actually returned.
This then is the background to the return of what I have chosen to call “Albert RN’s Medals”. British movie fans of the 50’s will pick up on the name. Others can Google it.
With the closing of many RSL sub-branches of late, odd things have turned up during the clean-up.
Such was the case of a recent return where on looking through a set of filing cabinets, that had been used for many years as impromptu storage, an envelope containing three unmounted medals was discovered.
In the envelope along with the medals was a photo copy of what was believed to be part of the medals original recipient’s service file. And just as well, for the service file referred to a British WW2 Seaman, and as readers of this blog well now the British did not engrave or impress their WW2 medals.
How long the package had been in storage I cannot say, the last secretary of the club thought about 10 years at a minimum, at least before his time anyway. However, it was only after they had conducted their own exhaustive search that I was bought in.
So where to next? Limited in the ability to buy a complete copy of the actual service file, I chose a different path. Through a quiet query to our friends at the Australian Surname Group, I was able to build up a list of people sharing both the surname and the same given names as ‘Albert’. Strangely enough, but fortunately, only NSW and Victoria were involved.
Discounting NSW, after all the medals had been ‘found’ in Victoria, I then started to work my way through the list, looking, if not for ‘Albert’, then for a next of kin.
It has taken a year on and off for me to find Albert’s next of kin, his two sons, one of whom is now deceased. But it was whilst explaining the search, with the surviving son and his children that the following came to light.
When ‘Albert’ died nearly 27 years ago, the youngest son can still remember his father’s medals pinned to a small velvet cushion, but that is it. After the service, when he asked where his father’s medals were, the oldest brother told him that the funeral people had misplaced them, but they were looking. Needless to say they were still ‘missing’ when I contacted the family.
It was while I was explaining how long the medals may have been at the club, he volunteered that it was nearly 14 years since his older brother passed away, and that his sister in law died two years later. The daughter thought that a bit odd, as her Aunt, and at this point she even went to the trouble of opening up her iPad, and checking the address of the Club where the medals had supposedly originated from, had been in a retirement home less than a kilometre from the club.
At this point I decided that I would accept another cup of coffee, and quietly turned the conversation around, suggesting that they have the medals mounted, and not left singularly. This has now been done.
Oh and how many names were there. Let’s just say, too many, and I am glad I did not have to go to NSW. As I do not think you would be reading this story till sometime next year. Late next year.

25 August 2013

Cyril McCarthy

Two months ago I was contacted by Philippe Clerbout from a research group in France. Philippe told me that one of his members had found a WWI dog tag issued to an Australian soldier and they were hopeful to return it to the family. Philippe had contacted some other groups and the ABC.
The dog tag was worn by 827 Cyril Michael McCarthy who served with 33rd Battalion, AIF. Using the service record, the electoral rolls and death notices I put together a family tree for Cyril. I knew that Cyril died in 1979, that he had three sons, six grand children and numerous great grand children. Unfortunately, as McCarthy is a reasonably common name, I just couldn't work out who the current generation was from the White Pages and other resources.
As a result of Philippe's contact with the ABC, they were keen to do a story. So with journalist Jennifer King I put together a story which was published on ABC online yesterday. Since then social media has gone wild. I've had several hundred emails many of which confirmed the information I already had. However, one email provided the key.
In the past I mave put links to the Australian Surname Group who we have a wonderful relationship with. One of the senior researchers, Sue H, took the McCarthy research the next step which I couldn't and provided a clue through the White Pages. Sue was spot on and minutes later I was talking to Cyril's grand son Bernard.
I've also let Philippe know the result and we will arrange for the medal to be sent shortly. Bernard tells me that he has Cyril's British War Medal and Victory Medal.
The returned medals tally is now 1303.

24 August 2013

The search for Cyril McCarthy

For a while now I've been searching for the family of Cyril Michael McCarthy after his WW1 dog tag was found in France. I've collaborated with the ABC to try to track down a descendent. I have the first names of Cyril's family down to his great grand children but McCarthy is to common for me to narrow it down further.This link is to the ABC story.

Norm Heslington

The Vietnam War pair awarded to 5716836 Norman Kenneth Heslington were included in the parcel that I recently received from the WA RSL. From the nominal roll I worked out that Norm was a conscript and served with the 2nd Battalion, RAR. A search of Ancestry.com revealed that he was a child immigrant who travelled to Australia on his own to join his brothers at Fairbridge, south of Perth. Many readers, especially those from Perth, will know about Fairbridge Farm School.
It took me about a fortnight to locate Norm and today I was able to talk to him and find out his story. Norm was the longest resident of Fairbridge having lived there for 12 years. He was conscripted and served in Vietnam. Norm has been the President of the Old Fairbridgians Association and he has pointed me at this web site about the the situation today.
Norm lost his medals in the mid 1980s. He tells me that he has five medals in total and has been wearing replica medals for some years. It is obvious that someone has had the Vietnam War pair mounted but missing the other medals. I've provided Norm with the contact details of Honours and Awards so that he can obtain official replacements and see if he is entitled to any medals that have been awarded since he completed his service.
Thank you again to Wendy at the WA RSL who sent the medals to me. The returned medal tally is now 1302.

20 August 2013

Wilfred Randall

I am so pleased that the milestone of 1300 medals returned by Lost Medals Australia has been achieved by Bill. Here is his story about the WWII medals awarded to Wilfred Randall.

I have commented before on the weird and wonderful places where medals turn up.
In the case those awarded to NX12938 Wilfred James Randall, it was doubly perplexing. For Margaret, our donor, there was not only the issue of how did they come to be in her father’s Lodge Case along with his regalia and his own medals, but just as importantly for her, who was Wilfred James Randall?
When her own very long and detailed search failed to find any family link to Wilfred, she turned to Veterans Affairs. It was at this point through our links to Veterans Affairs that I became involved.
One of the first things I was able to tell Margaret, was that Wilfred who served in the Army, died in 1975 in RHG, Concord. She added that her father died there in 1977, but that he had served in the RAAF. At that point, we diverged, and the search began.
One issue that complicated the search was that Wilfred’s father had been christened William and Wilfred, for some strange reason, also chose to go by the name William, shunning Wilfred. The result was the need for a constant rechecking as each fact to ensure I was tracing the Wilfred/William and not his father. This consumed a lot of time.
In fact, when I finally contacted one of his two nieces, she didn’t refer to him as Wilfred, but as ‘Uncle Bill’, as it appeared so did most of the family. In one case it led not so much as to an argument with a member of the family, but a need to actually explain the family tree, and where Wilfred fitted in.
Initially, when I found Wilfred’s marriage and the birth of his son Richard, I thought I was on a straight forward track. Sadly, both his wife and son predeceased him and at this point he seems to have spent many years wandering outback N.S.W.
Eventually, I returned to finishing the family tree, now populated with Wilfred’s six sisters, and two brothers. Despite all this information, it was the next generation that proved difficult. Outside of multiple marriages, or perhaps because of them, there were very few off-spring in successive generations. With the on line NSW, BDM’s cut off dates, I was forced to rely on TROVE, and the Ryerson index of Death Notices.
It was these resources that led me to Wilfred’s mother’s date of death, and her subsequent death notice. And as you would expect, if you follow this blog, me to the State Library
Fortunately and unlike many of today’s death notices, it detailed all the children, including one daughter, Beverley’s married name.
Even though the State Library micro fiche collection only goes up to 2008 it is still a valuable resource. Taking the chance that Beverley had not passed away in the intervening years, I next went on line to White Pages, and there was Beverley’s husband still at the same address.
Later that night I sat down and having worked out what I would say, I rang Beverley. As you can imagine after all these years, remember it is 38 years since her Uncle Bill died, she was at first non-plussed referring me to her older sister Elaine, who she professed knew more about the family tree than anyone. She certainly did. Elaine walked me through the family tree I had sketched out, pointing out the multiple marriages of some of her family and where in many cases there had been no children of the marriage. At this point Elaine called a halt to our discussion. The return of the medals, and exactly to whom in the family they should be returned, was too important, to be rushed.
Accordingly, she wanted to sit down with her sister Beverley and decide on the best course of action.
On Sunday just passed Elaine rang, she and Beverley had thought long and hard about not only accepting the medals and in particular their significance, but to whom in the family they should be passed.
Beverley and Elaine have decided that the best person in the family to accept the duty and care of the medals is Beverley’s Grandson, a current serving soldier, who has just returned from Afghanistan.
So now Beverley and Elaine have one another’s phone numbers, and addresses. Perhaps they will be able together to work out the mystery of how did Wilfred’s medals come to be in the care of Margaret’s father.
My thanks to Margaret, for not taking the easy course and leaving the medals in her father’s case. Thanks also to Beverley and Elaine for looking beyond just accepting the medals and to their future keeping and security.

15 August 2013

Ruth Fenton

I have often mentioned the wonderful relationship that I have with the RSL National and State Branch Headquarters. This story is another example of our collaboration.
Last night I received a package of medals that have been handed in to the WA RSL. The first medal I looked at was awarded to WFX17049 Ruth Epsie Fenton. From the number I knew I was looking for a lady. However, a search of the name and initials and the service number bought up a nil result on the WW2 nominal roll. It took a little bit of playing around but I eventually located Ruth's entry. The F from her service number is missing and the entry is under her maiden name; Ruth Epsie Nichols.
Once I have this information I located an Ancestry family tree and fired off a message. This evening I was contacted by Ruth's daughter, Gail, who I'll return the medal to in the near future.
Thank you to Wendy at the WA RSL who sent the medal to me. The returned medal tally is now 1298.