29 September 2014

Alban Charles Gray

Medals awarded to members awarded to the Merchant Marine are often difficult to research. There is a MN section as part of the WW2 nominal roll, however, these records aren't complete and there is limited other online resources. In addition, due to the nature of their profession, merchant mariners spend most of their life at sea and don't appear in the electoral rolls.
The search for Alban Charles Gray didn't start well as he is not included in the WW2 nominal roll however he did appear in the electoral rolls over many years so I was able to track him rather easily. These entries also gave me the name of his son, Cecil. The other items of information I picked up was that Alban died on Thursday Island in 1959 and Cecil died last year.
Thanks to Mary Loo, who posted the Gray family tree on Ancestry, I have been put in touch with a cousin of Cecil who I'll send the medals to in the near future.
Thanks to Marion of the Ipswich RSL for sending me Alban's medals.
The returned medal tally is now 1539.

27 September 2014

Charles Brown

All I know about NX32435 Charles Brown is that he was a sapper during WWII, he was married to Emily Robbins and they had no children. There were very few details about Brown in all the records but I was lucky enough to find a reference to Charles and Emily on an Ancestry tree. Wendy who is the tree owner was kind enough to provide me the best person to send the medal to.
Thanks to Sandra who sent me the medal.
The returned medal tally is now 1537.

21 September 2014

Launcelot Owen MC

This search has probably been one of the most taxing I have completed. In the end it was broken down in to three distinct areas. First, who were the medals awarded to, second, who was the officer and finally who was his family?
Following the ACA story on Anzac Day 2013 I was contacted by Bev and John S. They had two medals that had been recovered many years ago from a house that a relative of theirs cleared out on behalf of the Master of Lunacy. A bit of digging showed me that this was a common term used by the Supreme Court of NSW for the Office that acted on behalf of those unable to look after their own affairs due to mental incapacitation.
When the package from Bev arrived I received the first surprise. The package contained a cased Military Cross and a British War Medal. The MC was not engraved at all which didn't surprise me. The BWM was simple impressed to LIEUT L Owen. Not much to go on. A search of the Australian WWI MC recipients didn't offer up any likely candidates. So I started to look at British Officers. Once again there was no immediate answer to this problem.
On a hunch I looked at the Australian WWII nominal roll and found a likely candidate. This was N280817 Lancelot Owen, born in Terfriw Wales in 1888. The sums added up that this man could have served during WWI. However, a search for Lancelot Owen didn't lead anywhere.
I enlisted the help of the British Medals Forum membership and was soon pointed (by Kay) at a possible link in the London Gazette. This was the break I was looking for. The entry was about the awarding of the MC to T/LT Launcelot Owen. The spelling was slightly different and might not have been my man. It had taken me three days to get to this point. This is the citation.
The next step I took was one I should have taken when  found that Launcelot served in the 2nd AIF. I searched the National Archives of Australia website and to my surprise found that Launcelot's WWII service record had been digitised. This record confirmed the citation was for the right officer, it gave his wife's name, his WWI service history, that he had received the MC and was Mentioned is Dispatches. However, it was the letter on page 20 that provided many answers as well as posing more questions.
The letter was from the Master's Office of the NSW Supreme Court, other wise know as the Master of Lunacy. I have added the letter below but the most interesting bit of information was that Launcelot was lost without trace in a plane accident to the north of Australia.
Once I had the correct spelling of his name it was easy to follow Launcelot and his wife, Phyllis as they traveled around the world. Launcelot's civilian profession was as a geologist and he is recorded on many passenger manifests as he moved from job to job. In 1933 he moved to Australia and is mentioned in many news paper articles. He spent some years working as the Managing Director of an onshore drilling company exploring PNG for oil.
From the records and letters I was sure that Launcelot and Phyllis didn't have any children so turned to the final problem of finding his family. I stared in the small Welsh village of Trefirw only to discover that every second family was named Owen. This shouldn't have surprised me. Luckily not many have the first name of Launcelot and I soon worked out his parents were named Hugh and Eleanor. From the census records I put together a family tree which consisted of Hugh's parents and his siblings but not much else. I wrote to the Trefirw Historical Society but unfortunately did not hear back. By now I had spent several weeks on the search so I parked it for awhile.
On 15 September 2013, quite by chance, I came across a post on the Great War Forum about the Owen's of Trefirw. I contacted the originator, Rich, and received a reply almost immediately. Over the the next 12 hours we established that the Owens that Rich was related to was not the family I was looking for. But this inspired me to look at Launcelot's case again.
Using another series of search combinations I stumbled across a family tree which had exactly the same details of the Hugh's generation that I had worked out previously. Following the tree I could work out who were Launcelot's cousins right though to the current generation. The one person I could identify has been completely uncontactable despite months of effort.
I then had to return to square 2. I had had little luck with Launcelot's father's siblings so I looked at his mother's family. Her name was Elenore (sometimes referred to as Ellen) Roberts. Her brother was Richard Rowland Roberts. To my surprise I found that his son, Roland Cecil Roberts, died in NSW in 1987. Thanks to another Ancestry family tree I have been able to contact Roland's grandson. After all that I'll soon be able to return the medals to Launcelot's second cousin.
Thanks go to Bev and John for wanting to return the medals. Thanks also to Rich who was very generous with his own families information. He also provided me the picture of the the headstone of Robert and Jane Owen, Launcelot's grand parents. Donna and the Dolgarrog Genealogy Group Face Book page were all very helpful. Final thanks goes to Mas who provided the final link to the Robert's family in NSW.
The returned medal tally is now 1536.

04 September 2014

WW2 Defence Medal

The WW2 Defence medal awarded to WX4662 Burton Orlando Grave came to me via my friend Sandra. Burton's family was originally from Victoria but sometime around 1900 they moved to Perth. Burton was born in 1905 and had several sibling. He did marry but had no children. Of all of his siblings only one had a child, Vivian, who was tragically killed when the HMAS CANBERRA was sunk in 1942.  
I then had to go back to Burton's father's family. They had all remained in Victoria so I focused on one brother, Henry Roper Grave and quickly followed the family through to the current generation. It wasn't long before I was in contact with this branch of the family and will soon send them the medal.
The returned medal tally is now 1534.

03 September 2014

VC article from the Australian War Memorial blog

Wednesday 3 September 2014 by Robert Nichols. 

It is often asserted that it is somehow disrespectful, or otherwise inappropriate, to speak of someone “winning a VC”. This is not so. It is, in fact, perfectly permissible – and sometimes unavoidable – to say that someone has won a Victoria Cross or some other bravery award.
But why does this make some people uncomfortable? The reason seems to be because they see the term “win” as reserved for the outcomes of prizes or competitions. However, the word is plainly not restricted to such contexts. Rather, it is widely used to convey the meaning “achieve, get, or earn by effort”. For example, it is common to talk of winning respect or acclaim, of winning ore from a mine, or of winning a battle. And when we say that someone has won our respect we intend to suggest that this is because of various merits they possess or actions they have performed. Similarly, when we speak of someone winning a Nobel Prize – or even a Brownlow Medal – we don’t mean to suggest that their name has simply been drawn out of a hat, but rather that this award is due recognition of outstanding, or in any case praiseworthy, achievement. And, on the face of it, similar considerations clearly apply in the case of military awards.
There is another interesting parallel worth considering. The word “win” is clearly being used metaphorically in such contexts – just as “lose” is often used metaphorically in analogous ones. But it is curious that no one ever objects to us speaking of men “losing their lives” in battle. Surely, if there is something disrespectful about winning a VC, it should be no less so to speak of losing a life. And yet no one thinks this. Indeed, it does seem somewhat ludicrous to suggest that we cannot say that “Dasher” Wheatley won a VC, but that it is perfectly acceptable to say that he lost his life while doing so.
It is worth pointing out that the use of “win” is common in standard reference works on medals and awards; for example, Abbott and Tamplin’s British gallantry awards, Lionel Wigmore’s They dared mightily, and even the UK Ministry of Defence fact sheet on Military honours and awards. All of these works use the word quite happily. In addition, Australian official historian Charles Bean often speaks of men winning the Victoria Cross: for example, in Anzac to Amiens (1946) he refers to “Colonel Neville R. Howse, a country surgeon who had won a V.C. in South Africa”. Furthermore, Anthony Staunton, the acknowledged Australian expert on the Victoria Cross (and long-time member of the Orders and Medals Research Society of the UK), does not believe that using the term suggests the award was the result of a prize or lottery. He and other prominent scholars who have contributed entries to the Australian dictionary of biography – A.J. Hill, Kevin Fewster, and R.P. Serle spring to mind – speak freely of their subjects “winning a VC”.
Neville Howse
“In the Boer War he won the Victoria Cross.” Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 22 September 1930
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Australian soldiers have themselves typically used such expressions, as various entries in The Anzac book (1916), edited by Charles Bean and “Written and Illustrated in Gallipoli by The Men of Anzac”, make clear. For example, “Crosscut”, a member of the 16th Battalion, AIF, contributed a poem entitled “How I won the VC”.
ART00035 The original Anzacs had no problem with using the term “win”. The Anzac book, 1916 ART00035
It is also important to note that there are difficulties with other possible formulations, and so if we are denied recourse to the term “win” we will sometimes generate much unnecessary awkwardness. Take, for example:
He was awarded his VC for the valour he showed at Pozier├Ęs.
This is fine, of course, and precisely what we would often say. However, problems can arise if we are prevented from ever saying that someone won a VC. For example, Neville Howse is by common consent the first Australian to win a Victoria Cross. But, strictly speaking, he was not the first Australian to be awarded a VC. For Howse’s award was not gazetted until 4 June 1901, by which time two other Australians, John Bisdee and Guy Wylly, had already been awarded their VCs. Bisdee’s award was gazetted on 13 November 1900 and Wylly’s on 23 November.
But if we cannot say that Neville Howse was the first Australian to win a VC – the most natural and succinct formulation, and the one that most people would naturally understand – what can we say? It would have to be something like this:
Howse was the first Australian to perform an action for which he was later (successfully) recommended for the award of a VC.
Clearly, it will not always be appropriate, or desirable, to use such a laboured expression. What about this:
There were seven Australian VCs awarded at Lone Pine.
However, someone unacquainted with the situation might misinterpret this to mean something untrue; namely, that seven men took part in an award ceremony of some kind at Lone Pine. Perhaps this will work:
There were seven recipients of the VC at Lone Pine.
But this could be wrongly misinterpreted to mean that there were present at Lone Pine seven men who had each earlier won a VC. And so on, and so forth. There appear to be unfortunate complications that undermine almost every other suggestion. Hence our preference for “winning”. In the end, what we want is an expression that is readily understandable to all, that is to say, that uses plain language which people cannot misinterpret, and that allows us to make statements that are wholly congruent with the facts of the matter. And it seems clear that if we say
Seven Australians won the VC at Lone Pine
then everyone knows exactly what is meant, and what has been said is unambiguously true.
In sum, while it is not always obligatory to say that someone won a VC, choosing to do so is wholly unobjectionable. And, as we have seen, it is sometimes necessary to do precisely this if the writer wishes to make simple, clear, and accurate statements about those who have performed outstanding acts of bravery in the service of the nation.

Robert Nichols
Senior Editor