29 October 2017

WWI KIA with no know grave

This particular search started last week with an email from Trevor P of Bunbury WA. Trevor used to run a mowing business in Kalgoorlie and one day found a WWI medals awarded to 4791 Cecil Rourke. The story that unfolded is probably no different to many others that effected families of this time period.
Cecil was the son of James and Annie Rourke and born in Sydney in 1893. Some time before 1900 the family moved to the WA gold fields and lived in Boulder. Cecil enlisted in to the 28th Battalion  (12th reinforcements) AIF on 14 Feb 16 and joined his battalion in France on 28 Oct 16. His tenure did not last long as Cecil was killed in action between 3-6 Nov 16. Cecil has no know grave but is memorialised at Villers-Bretonneux.
Cecil wasn't the only member of his family to serve in the 28th Battalion. His brother John was in the 1st reinforcements. John enlisted in early 1915 and fought at Gallipoli. He was promoted quickly and was a Company Sergent Major at the age of 20. However, by Aug 16 he was discharged having returned to Australia with a disability.
It was John's service record which gave me the clues to find other family members. In 1967 John wrote to the Department of Defence and gave his address as 96 MacDonald St Kalgoorlie. A third brother was born in Boulder in 1902. This was William who was to young to serve in WWI but did enlist for WWII. This is a link to his service details. William did marry but I couldn't find any evidence that he had any children so I went back see if there was any other children. This is when I found Bridget Mary Rourke at the same address as James and Annie. There was no record I could find to confirm what the relationship was so I made the assumption that Bridget was Cecil's sister. It took a bit of searching but I found a marriage record for Bridget to Edward Burke but the only link I could find was that they were married in Boulder. Moving forward with this tenuous evidence I found that Edward died in 1934 but there was a son called Edward Cecil Burke. Circumstantial evidence at the best but I assumed that Edward Cecil was named for his uncle that was killed in WWI. Edward Cecil also served in WWII.       
I still didn't have concrete evidence that all these people were related so I went back to the electoral rolls and found Bridget Burke, Cecil's sister, living at 96 MacDonald St Kalgoorlie, the same address John Rouke was living at in 1967. I finally had the evidence to connect everyone but working out the next generation proved almost as difficult.
Firstly came Edward and Bridget's head stone but nothing about Edward Cecil other than he lived in Esperance and his wife's name was Olive. Using every search variable I could think of I finally found Ted and Molly Burke. The details on the headstone gave the names of their two daughters. The search details I then had to use luckily gave me both ladies surnames from their marriages in the mid 1960s. I looked up one in Esperance and there she was listed in the White Pages. This was Annette, Cecil's great niece, and when I spoke to her today she was able to confirm all the details.
The next bit is a little unnerving. As I mentioned, Trevor lives in Bunbury. Annette is due to visit her sister Beryl next week and Beryl also lives in Bunbury.
I've added pictures of both head stones that I found on line.
I find it extraordinary touching that next week is the 101st anniversary of Cecil's death and his medal will finally be back with his family. 
The returned medal tally is now 2172.


18 October 2017

Noel Shaw Hayes

This is a nice simple return but no less important than any of the others.
The medals awarded to NX110177 Noel Shaw Hayes came to me from Rick and Helen L who found the medals amongst Rick's parent's effects but there was know family connection to Noel. The search was pretty easy as I found Noel on a Ancestry family tree. This tree is owned by Noel's grandson. Nice and neat and the medals will be sent off to Jamie in the near future.

The returned medal tally is now 2171.

Fritz Wurm

This is one of those complicated stories where the family heritage and the research to find the current generation were both difficult to unravel.
The medals came from WO2 Michael S who told me the following story:
‘Having recently conducted a deceased estate clean out of one of my grandparent residences, I discovered two WW1 Service medals belonging to a member of the 24th reinforcements, 6 Bn Pte Fritz Wurm. How my Grandmother came to be in possession of the medals is a long and complicated story, but PTE Wurm’s story is certainly very interesting.
Having done some research I was able to determine he was from the Benalla (Vic) local area, possibly a very distant relation of mine and almost certainly on board when the transport ship was torpedoed in the English Channel in 1917. I have learned much about his post war life and burial location, but I have not been able to identify who his next living relatives are........Mavis Ryan and Leila Pollard (Mansfield District) who was my Grandmother was a lifelong friend with Mavis. With Mavis’ death the majority of the estate was willed to my Grandmother – which is how I came to be in possession of the medals.’
Michael also came across the medals of 408526 WO John Claude Ryan and he sent me both groups.
My initial thought is that Fritz (Fredrick) Wurm must have been subjected to some good natured teasing during WWI at the very least. Although it looks like Fritz had a pretty interesting war even when not fighting in France with 6th Battalion AIF.  Below is an article that was published following the sinking of the SS Ballarat on Anzac Day 1917 on which Fritz was a passenger.

The story of the SS Ballarat is interesting just on its own:
‘SS Ballarat was a vessel before becoming a troopship, carrying Australian troops.
In February 1917, Ballarat left Melbourne on passage to Devonport with 1,602 Australian troops (reinforcements from Victoria for the 2nd and 4th Australian Brigades) and a general cargo which included copper and bullion. This was the ship’s thirteenth voyage, which caused concern amongst some of the troops.
By April, the ship was approaching the end of its voyage. On the 25th, as Ballarat steamed into the English Channel, the Australian officers arranged a memorial service to commemorate Anzac Day.  At 2pm, as preparations were underway, a massive explosion tore a hole in the starboard side of the ship and Ballarat started taking water instantly. Despite a number of lookouts and an escorting destroyer, nobody had seen the U-boat UB-32 approach and fire a torpedo.
Vessels were summoned to take the Australian soldiers and crew off the sinking liner and within an hour all of them had been safely rescued. Ballarat was taken in tow and hopes were high that she might be saved, but in the early hours of the next morning she sank approximately 9 miles south of the Lizard Point.
The captain of Ballarat, Commander G. W. Cockman, R.N.R., D.S.O., received the congratulations of the Admiralty and the Australian troops were congratulated by the King.
Today the remains of the Ballarat lie in approximately 80 metres of water off the Cornish coast.
Originally a passenger liner built in 1911 in Scotland by Caird & Company. Prior to the war she was used to transport emigrants from the UK to Australia but in 1914 the British government requisitioned her for war service. Ballarat initially served as an Indian transport.’
(Source: http://forgottenwrecks.maritimearchaeologytrust.org/ballarat)

The more I dug in to the family history the more interesting it got. Fritz’ father, also Fritz, immigrated to Australia from his native Germany in the early 1870s. He was a watchmaker and established a jeweler business in Benalla in 1873. The newspaper accounts I found indicated that the Wurm family were well regarded in this part of Victoria and that the business was very successfully.
Fritz Snr and his wife Dorathea had a large family, but as I have found on so many occasions, this does not always translate to a vast network of descendants in the current generation. In total Fritz had six sisters and three brothers. 
It appears that his brother Charles was the closest to Fritz. Charles married Margaret and had a daughter, Mavis. When Fritz died in 1970 all his possessions were left to Mavis. Mavis married late in life and didn’t have any children. Mavis’ husband was John Claude Ryan which answers the questions as to why Fritz’ medals and John’s medals came from the same source.
I followed the family line of one of Fritz’ brothers. The impact of the Depression had an impact on this family and there were accounts of the police being called to the family home. Accusations of assault were played out in the courts and subsequently reported in the press. It looked like Fritz’ bother tried to make a clean break and was using his wife’s maiden name rather than Wurm. I lost this family after WWII.
It was Charles’s obituary that gave me the next clue to follow. It says that Charles’ sister was Dora (Mrs J Stewart). Using the Victorian BDM records and the electoral rolls I followed Dora and her husband John. It wasn’t straight forward due to a number of moves around Victoria but the end result was I’ve recently been in contact with Fritz’ great nephew Jeff and his wife Jan. Jan has done also conducted some family research and the Wurm name is very familiar to them.
The returned medal tally is now 2167.

10 October 2017


This is the third person's medal that has been referred to me recently but the circumstance are such that I can't give to many details. However, this particular soldier deserves to have his story told, even if it is only briefly.
2926 PTE Richard Ernest Wallis was not quite 21 years old when he enlisted on 28 June 1915. He was initially posted to 57th Battalion but later transferred to 59th Battalion. Although his service record is 27 pages there is little information apart from the bare facts. There are the standard entries about hospitalisation and battalion transfers until the entry of 28 July 1916 which just says 'Missing'. The next entry on 28 August 1916 simply expands this to declare that, following a court of inquiry, Richard was killed in action on 19 July 1916.
The 59th Battalion War Diary entry of 19 July reads:
'59th Battalion attacked enemy position in four waves. First wave going over parapet at 6.45pm. Other three waves following at five minute intervals. Attack did not penetrate enemy trenches being held up by intense rifle and machine gun fire approximately 100 yards from enemy front line'.
It must have been during this action that Richard was killed and his body not recovered.
Through some research being done by the Fromelles Association I have been put in contact with Richard's great niece and his 1914/15 Star will be returned shortly.
the returned medal tally is now 2161.

09 October 2017

More Vietnam War medals heading home.

Bill's accompanying commit with these photos:

'One of those to help the Police. Really all I can say is well done Carly.'

The returned medal ally is now 2160


04 October 2017

William Burke

This medal is another that was sent to me by Stuart H, the previous success was the return of the Ryan medal.
I was originally a little surprised by the regimental number which is five digits long. Just by the nature of the numbering by unit system used by the AIF it was uncommon for numbers to go beyond four digits, but that is a whole other research subject.
This BWM was awarded to 66878 William Frederick Burke and is impressed with his unit initials GSR. This, along with the longer than usual number, stumped me for a while until I found a reference to General Service Reinforcements. This was an enlistment arrangement used towards the end of WWI to fill individual gaps as it became apparent the war was drawing to close. I found this article to explain how soldiers who were GS Reinforcements would be employed.
The GSR even had a dedicated colour patch.
William's enlistment date was in June 1918 when he was just 19 years. He was from Mogo on the NSW south coast. Mogo is well know to RMC Staff Cadets from my era as there is a large state forest there that was used as a training area.
Even though William missed the main effort for WWI he wasn't finished serving his country. He enlisted for WWII in 1942. However, it is a bit difficult to work out exactly what he did during his 18 months.
I was unable to find any evidence that William had any children but I have located a relative who lives close to me and I'll be meeting her shortly to hand over William's British War Medal. 
The returned medal tally is now 2152.

02 October 2017

No story to tell

Every so often there are a set of circumstances that just means that the full story can't be told.
The call for assistance came from a fellow researcher on the British Medals Forum who had taken responsibility for several sets of medals. Three of the medals were awarded to two Vietnam War veterans who I tracked down and spoke to today.
We think we now know why their original medals where missing and there is no suspicious circumstances. One reason was that there was an official double issue. While this is rare it is not unheard of.
Anyway, there are no details or pictures to post, just an update to returned medal tally which is now 2151.