28 March 2017

Leslie Smith

One of Bill's Watch This Space stories.

The search for the family of 634 Lance Sergeant Leslie Frank Smith to return his 1914-1915 Star, has been one truly out of the box and not just the box it came in. From questioning, it appears that various people have tried to trace the family but with no success. Finally the medal was left along with several others, as I was told, in the ‘too hard’ box, (no pun intended) which I recently inherited. My initial challenge was that no one knew the background to the medal, the last researcher having died leaving no notes or other information.
As an aside may I say the search for Leslie’s family has been an incredible wander and I do not use that word sparingly, through the history of Australia both during and immediately after WWI.
Leslie’s mother was christened Laura Maria Von Bullow, her parents having migrated from Denmark. However, with the advent of WWI and the anti-German rhetoric of the time, the family dropped the Von, particularly after great publicity was given to a German general by the name of Von Bullow.  
Compounding the gaps that opened up in the family tree was that Frank’s siblings had in many cases been given his mother’s family names, Waldemar and Augustus. My next problem was not so much that Maria’s family dropped the Von, but she and her husband’s family anglicised many of the Christian names of their children. Effectively a generation disappeared.  
With the help of the Australian Surnames Genealogical Group, I eventually narrowed down the family tree. It was only after trying to follow each of Leslie’s siblings and the name problem often coming back to haunt me through their marriages and the records themselves, that I was able to contact his niece Dawn. She had also done the family tree, and connected me with Leslie’s granddaughter.
It was not until after I had posted of his medal that I realised I had not photographed it or its reverse, so please viewers can you wait a few days till I receive them.

I think we can forgive Bill not taking a photo after all this effort. The returned medal tally is now 2050.

Australian Soldier Medallion

This morning I received a call on my desk phone from Frank Muglia of Kalamunda WA. I now know that Frank had been referred to me by a friend of mine, Geoff Young. Frank told me that he works for the Waste Department of the Kalamunda Council and that he had found an 'I am an Australian Soldier' medallion. These medallions are named but the individual did not appear on the Defence phone directory.
I enlisted my DCO colleague Roland to help me and within an hour Roland found that our man discharged in 2015 but we had a contact phone number. I provided this to Frank with the hope that I would get some feedback. With in 10 minutes Frank rang me back to say that the number we provided as the correct one to put his in contact with the soldier we were searching for. Our man is a current member of the Victorian Police Force who discharged from the Army Reserve after 23 years service. He was amazed that someone had contacted him and that his medallion had turned up in WA. There really is no obvious explanation to this question.
I am really pleased to have helped out Frank who is dedicated to his job and that he wanted to see this return through to the end.
The returned medal tally is now 2048.

21 March 2017

Arthur Rourke

After weeks of no activity we have had some pleasing success this week. Here is another story from Bill.

I received the WW1 Victory Medal of 1234 Private Arthur Rourke from David in July 2015. It is a search that I have come back to twice before, each time looking for that one piece of evidence that would take me the next step. But always to no avail.
Finally, it was the team at Australian Surnames Genealogy that provided the break through, when, for the third time, I opened the search. A break through that took me to Albert’s great niece Monica, who, as it transpired, is the family historian. She is also the keeper of the medals of 978 Gunner Harry Wilson, another family member. 
This is my message to Monicia:
‘You know it has certain obligations that go with it. You or you descendants will wear it on Anzac Day, and if they will let you, and even if they won’t then push your way into the local Anzac Day parade, you may have to march at the back with descendants, but you will be in front of the Scouts.
But above all please have a plan in place that the medal will always have a home. That there is an order of precedence following you.’

Arthur, was like so many young men who answered the call during WW1; young men who went, served and returned. But in Arthur’s case, as a result of a gunshot wound to his right leg and constant attacks of bronchitis, he was discharged as medically unfit for further service in April 1918. As a consequence of his service he suffered recurring health problems, which, in turn, led to his early demise.
In researching the family I came across his obituary in the Catholic Press , dated  15 July 1926.
Mr Arthur Rourke.
The death occurred on the 8th inst. of Mr. Arthur Rourke, of Knight-street, Arncliffe. The deceased, who was the youngest son of Mrs. and the late Thos. Rourke, of Inverell, was a single man, and 38 years of age. He was a member of the 33rd Battalion, A.I.F. Since the war he had not been in good health, but no serious consequences were anticipated. His kind and genial disposition gained for him hosts of friends and he bore his suffering with exemplary fortitude. He received all the consolations of his holy Church from the Rev. Father Lynch. The funeral took place at Rookwood Cemetery, where Rev. Father Carmody officiated. The late Mr. Rourke is survived by an aged mother, who had received widespread sympathy in her bereavement, and three brothers — John (West Maitland), Alfred (Brisbane), Walter (Rind wick), and three sisters — Mrs. S. Nichols (Denton Vale), Mrs. J. Lyons (Sydney) and Mrs. C. Wilson (Melbourne).— R.I.P.’

The returned medal tally is now 2047.

20 March 2017

John Peter Webb Pennington RNVR

Frustrating, annoying and a complete waste of time. After more than nine years of research this is how I have come to considered the search for the family of John Peter Webb Pennington.
I received Pennington's Victory Medal in 2008 from Gary Y who told me that the medal came to him with the story that it was linked to a 'Nurse Pennington from The Entrance'. It didn't take long to work out that John was a member of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and served aboard the HMS Changuinola, an armed merchant cruiser. Also, that he died of disease on 16 March 1917. Pennington was on a family tree I found which indicate that his wife was Mary and that they had two sons.
Over the years I, and many others, have revisited this search. Each time a little bit more information was available on the net. When I got Ancestry membership I eventually tracked Mary on the electoral rolls. She was indeed a nurse and it looks like she was the private nurse of a wealthy family who lived at the Entrance, NSW. Her part of the story in Australia appears to have started prior to 1930 but there was no children with her. This explains how Pennington's medal ended up in Australia.
I eventually found Mary's death notice which made no mention of any children. Once again I parked the search.
The next time I had a look I decided to chased down the wealthy family to see if any of the children, who would now be in their 80s knew about Mary. I had no luck going down this particular rabbit hole.
Convinced that there was a living decendant out there somewhere I started all over again. By now the information available indicated one son had died as an infant and another was still alive. As the years passed I formed the opinion that there was either only one child or if there was two, both had died young.
Based on my notes I have gone over this particular case on no fewer than 9 occasions. I usually make all my notes on one side of an index card, occasionally I go to the reverse side and very rarely I start a second card. As pictured I've added note pages and Post-It Notes to the card as I've found more information.
I had a bit of time up my sleeve on Sunday so I revisited Pennington. From my previous searches I did know that Pennington had several siblings, his eldest brother was Howard. Some new information on Ancestry led me to a family tree which included Howard. With fingers crossed I sent off a message to the owner. Within 12 hours I had a reply and the tree owner is connected to Howard's great grand children. Finally I have a solution and I'll send the medal back to the UK in the near future.
I mentioned that Pennington had died of disease in 1917. His ship was patrolling in the North Sea at the time and the log shows his death. This link is to a transcript of the log and further links go to the scanned log pages. I have added a picture of the relevant page as well. Pennington's remains were interred at the Voe Cemetery on the Shetland Islands. Prior to WWI, Pennington worked as an insurance agent and he is memorialised on the Refuge Assurance Company War Memorial located in the grounds of Fulshaw Hall, Wilmslow, Cheshire.
Another point of interested, well to medal collectors any way, is what appears to be a naming mistake. Before the 'Z' of the service number there appears to be a misprinted letter followed by a dot and then the service number starts correctly.
After nine long years this search is done. I hope that Gary's email address is still active so I can let him know the result.
The returned medal tally is now 2046.

18 March 2017

Bob Schafer

This is another example where the circumstances don't let us tell the full story. However, I think that the fact that Bill walked the streets of a suburb looking for people who knew a veteran who died in 1985 speaks volumes about the effort that goes in to some returns. 

Miniature medals, not being inscribed, are almost impossible to return. Glyn and I have always relied on some documentation associated with the find to help guide our way. However, it was a 1919 penny that had been ground down, silver plated and inscribed ‘R P SCHAFER V33055’, that led me to the Australian War Memorial and its WW2 Nominal Roll.
While War Graves could give me Robert’s date of death, 1 October 1985, the leads dried up. Next came a search (by hand) through a RSL Club’s set of old personnel cards, that been carefully filed away. This gave me an address.
So I went walking and while I was able to locate Robert’s last abode before his death, talking to neighbours only produced a mountain of conflicting information, which finally distilled down to:
 “After Bob died, Sally went to Queensland”
“They had a son and a daughter, but the son died just after Bob”.
And the proverbial ‘that was before we came to live here”.
Finally through a long ‘round robin’ of dates, and possible addresses, I was able to locate Carol the daughter of Robert and Thelma Schafer. But who was Sally? She was Robert’s mother and his NOK on his enlistment papers.
Now having located who Sally was, it was easy to look back and find her death and cremation at Fawkner. Even then there was no actual link between her's and Robert’s cremation.
The final chapter took place when I contacted Luke, who found the medals, and informed him that he could expect a phone call from Carol to claim the medals.
And the son? He didn’t die, he is still quietly living in Melbourne.
It does leave Carol with one unknown, where were her father’s original medals?
The returned medal tally is now 2045.

15 March 2017

Alfred Dunn

The first of the Watch This Space stories from Bill.
Sometimes, as Glyn will avow, we get lucky.
Vanessa, the great niece of 1029 Private Alfred Dunn, had only posted her family data online two days before the team from Yuki went looking and found it.
I am always asked how do you know you know you have the right family? Well in this case DNA. Yes it has slowly crept into Family research.
However, the best part of the search, which concluded last night was when I returned Alfred’s British War Medal to his niece Virginia, was the story that Vanessa told me that I think links this family indelibly.
'Mum’s great uncle Alfred Dunn died in 1939 of peritonitis, after appendicitis. Mum has a special connection to Alfred. After he died each of his siblings received a few pounds from his estate and my grandfather used his share to pay the doctor to deliver my mother (his first child). She was born a few weeks after Alfred passed away. Mum has attended many Anzac dawn services over the years to commemorate Alfred and her other relatives who served in WWI.
I have attached a small photo that Mum has of Alfred Dunn.
I’ve spoken to Mum and she said she would be very honoured and proud to care for Alfred’s medal. Mum believes she is now the oldest surviving Dunn left from her generation.'

The returned medal tally is now 2040.