20 December 2018

Tom Bird - WWII

Yesterday evening I received an email from a Property Officer at a Victorian Police station. He had been referred to me by a friend of mine, Rob who works at the Defence Service Center. The Victorian Police had received a group of WWII medals awarded to VX145248 SGT Thomas Bird
Thomas, who died in 1995, was rather difficult to find in the electoral rolls. Lucky his wife was a little easier to follow due to her name: Hilde Alma Amelia Bird (nee Pearce). The trail was pretty thin other than a 1977 electoral role entry for a Thomas Phillip Bird at the same address as Hilda. The 1980 electoral roll did not confirm my assumption that Thomas Phillip was Thomas and Hilda's son. However, to my surprise three entries below Hilda's name was a Thomas Phillip Bird at a different address but in the same suburb, this time with Agnes.
More searching led me to Thomas Phillip Bird's death notice from 2011. This confirmed that he was the son I was looking for. The death notice also confirmed that his wife's name was Agnes and the names of his children. I provided this information to the Property Officer but I was unable to give the latest contact details of Thomas Bird's grand children.
I sat on this overnight wondering how to make that final connection. This morning I had a closer look at Agnes and found her death notice from 2017. What this gave me was the funeral company who provided the conducted the service.
From there things moved very quickly. The Victoria Police Property Officer contacted the funeral director who in turn contacted Thomas' grandson and very soon after, he was on his way to the police station to receive the medals.
This all started with Frances speaking to Rob and ended with Lynda helping to put the final piece in place. Thanks to each of you.
The returned medal tally is now 2299.

Thomas Bird

18 December 2018

Medal to HMAS Sydney KIA

Growing up in Western Australia, I knew very well with story of the disappearance of HMAS Sydney during WWII (the full story are in the links below). The location of this ship remained unknown until 2008. To now return a medal awarded to one of the sailors lost on this ship is very moving. This is Bill's story of his research.

A question that Glyn and I are often asked by a family when we return a medal from a broken group is; “Do you think you will ever find the missing medals?”. My answer has been and probably will always be, ‘I don’t know’.
The search for the family of 23467 Seaman Morton James Morphett RAN, who was killed when the HMAS Sydney sank off the WA coast after a naval battle with the German Raider Kormoran, is one that ended with the same question.
This story begins in 2008 or thereabouts when Morton’s 1939-1945 War Medal was found in front of the Windsor (NSW) War memorial. The medal was found less its ribbon, which may explain how the medal came to be lost. Whoever was wearing it may have just pinned to a coat, relying on a safety pin to keep it securely in place. It didn’t. Over the last 10 years, this medal has passed through many hands. What they discovered along the way sadly was never recorded. There were times I felt more like an auditor than a researcher when I stumbled over the trail of someone who had gone before me. The major problem was where an auditor may have a complete set of records, mine were largely non-existent
Out of respect and at the request of Morton’s family, I have not include the details of the search.
This afternoon, after I have completed this story for our blog I will, as I have so often in the past, wander down to my local post office and mail off to Morton’s great nephew Craig, Morton’s medal. This will bring to close the beginning of the search for Morton’s medals. A search started by his brother Warren, who also served in the RAN during WW2, but who sadly died in 2011, and who had for many years searched for his brother’s medals, even wearing a set of replicas along with his own on ANZAC Day.

The returned medal tally is now 2293.


04 December 2018

James O'Donnell

I've mentioned before that any research relating to families from South Australia is difficult. This is because there are few public records available to access without paying a hefty fee. Other records like electoral rolls haven't been released to sites like Ancestry which, even though it is a pay for access site, helps to workout where people lived and who family members were. When I received this WWII group of 5 medals from Sharon G and saw they were awarded South Australian SX39977 James Richard O'Donnell I started to worry.
However, Ancestry did come through with a result and I found James included on a family tree. When I received a response from the tree owner the search got more interesting. Graham, the tree owner, had been researching James for a legal search rather than his own family history. Graham kindly made arrangements for the contact details of James' nephew, Terence, to be provided to me and we have now spoken. The medals will be returned to South Australia in the near future.
Sharon's name will come up in more upcoming stories as she sent me several medal groups. 
The returned medal tally is now 2292.

30 November 2018

Athole Rogers

Some searches oscillate between having easy periods then really difficult sections. The search for Athole Eric Rogers is typical of an easy - difficult story.
The search commenced with an email from LH who had two WWII medals and other family items belonging to RAAF member Athole Eric Rogers. I started the search about 12 months ago but it wasn't until I recently received all items from Linda did I appreciate the extent of the family history collection that Athole left. With the medals came Athole's birth certificate, his discharge documentation, numerous letters and family photos. All this was is a tin to keep them secure.
Athole was easy to find thanks to this entry from a PNG expat site:

Athole Eric ROGERS (24 December 1990, aged 68)
Athole went to PNG in 1948 to work for Wyatt's Store, then in the early 50s he joined Burns Philp and worked for them as Merchandise Manager until 1979 when he retired to Tasmania. He was one of BP's most popular managers and a great asset to the Company. He will be fondly remembered by many ex-residents of PNG. No further information available.

Then things got difficult. I knew that Athole retired in Tasmania, however, the state records aren't available publicly so the search ground to a halt. Persistence paid off and through an Ancestry tree I've been in touch with a niece of Athole's and will return this collection to her safekeeping.
The returned medal tally is now 2287.

29 November 2018

Contemporary RAAF medals

I'm going to keep this story short as there is not much to tell. This week I received the National Medal, Defence Force Service Medal and Australian Defence Medal from David B. These three medals were awarded to Allan, a retired Flight Sergeant who served in the RAAF.
I didn't have much difficulty locating Allan in the electoral rolls but after 1980 there was nothing. I resorted to seeking help from a RAAF Face Book group and the Defence Military History forum. I got a couple of clues which narrowed down the search area but nothing definitive. Then Paul O came through with an address, a land line number and a mobile number. It was the mobile number that has remained constant for Allan. I have just spoken to Allen and will be sending his medals back to him soon.
The returned medal tally is now 2285.

12 November 2018

Thomas Biddle

The Grafton Box is really throwing up so interesting medals.
This is the second medal sent from the Grafton RSL awarded for Boer War service. The first was a Queen's South Africa Medal awarded to Trooper Tom Barnes of the Australian Horse. This Queen's South Africa Medal, with five clasps, was awarded to 353 Trooper Thomas John Biddle, New South Wales Mounted Rifles.
The NSW BDM and the electoral rolls gave me all the basic information: Thomas was born in 1875, he was married to Ethol McIntosh and died on 3 Feb 1957. Then I discovered a gold mine of information when I found Thomas' obituary on Trove. What this told me was that Thomas was a police officer who was posted to numerous stations around NSW. More importantly it gave me the names of Thomas' children. One daughter was Myraa (Mrs A Snow) of Mullumbimby NSW. The electoral rolls, which aren't available online after 1980, provided just one entry which gave me a clue to the next generation and this was the name of Myraa's son. This was Peter Snow and once again it was only one entry on the internet that confirmed for me was that Peter also lived in Mullumbimby. Even though Myraa died in 2004 there is still an entry in the White Pages for her. I took a punt and called the number to find that Peter is at the same address. Peter recognised his grandfather's name as soon as I mentioned it so all my assumptions proved to be correct.
The returned medal tally is now 2282.

11 November 2018

Eric Fry MM

One of the surprises that I found in the Grafton Box was a Military Medal awarded to SJT Eric Rosewarne Fry. I thought that with that name the search would be on the easy side; how wrong was I?
Eric's WWI British medal card threw up all sort of complications. Firstly, Eric was a Sapper in the Divisional Engineers, 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. His number was originally 149 but later changed to 207416. At some point Eric was reallocated to the Royal Engineers and awarded the Military Medal. I couldn't find the award citation or the date of the action but the London Gazette date is 22 Feb18.
Later in 1918 Eric was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Reserve Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery. The medal card indicates that Eric was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Then the search got difficult.
Eric was 24 when the war ended and at some point he married May Dickerson Foster. Eric died on 12 May 1957.
May remarried, this time to a US citizen, Carroll Milan. After that there was a gap of about 40 years in the records until, very much to my surprise, I discovered that May died in Sydney on 15 Oct 98. At least that explained how Eric's MM turned up in Australia.
My search then focused on Eric's brother Donald Bernard Fry. Though a tree I found on Ancestry I've been able to have a messaged passed to one of Donald's daughters and I'll soon send Eric's MM back to the UK. Nigel D from Chatham, Kent has been very helpful in this search and will also be the go between to return the medal.
The returned medal tally is now 2281

Angus Eades

Tracking down W43885 Angus Eades proved to be a little difficult. I was confused at the start of this search as to why a man in his early 20s didn't enlist until 1942, had a 'W' rather than 'WX' number and was in the Labour Corps. With no other evidence, all I could think of was that Angus was in a protected occupation and his skills were required for the national effort at some point.  
Angus did marry but I had to trace down a relative through his wife's family. I was hopeful that Angus ASM 1939-45 arrived with them prior to Remembrance Day.
Thank you to Bruce R who found the meal and forwarded it to me.
The returned meal tally is now 2280.

29 October 2018

Jack Pyers

The medals left to return from the Grafton box a getting fewer and fewer.
This time the medal is the Korea Medal awarded to 213649 John 'Jack' Henry Pyers. Jack was a member of 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment and served in Korea from 28 September 1950 to 27 September 1951. He was probably part of the original battalion deployment and may have seen fighting at Chongju in October 1950.
After the Korean War, Jack lived with his mother in Grafton and died in 1979. Jack had two brothers, one being Patrick. I have tracked down one of Patrick's sons and will be sending Jack's medal to him shortly.
The returned medal tally is now 2279.

William Kearns

We receive requests for assistance from many directions. This particular search request came from the Yeppoon RSL. Kay, the Sub-Branch secretary, had received a set of medals which had been stolen then recovered with some other medals.
The solider in question was SX3447 William Archibald Kearns who was born in 1916 and died in 1952. His NOK was listed as Rachel Kellaway which threw me for a bit but after a lot of head scratching I worked out that William was the son of Richard Kearns and Rachel Anne Bell. After Richard died, Rachel remarried John Kellaway. What I also found was that 28087 Richard Hugh Bell Kearns also listed his NOK as Rachel Kellaway.
The electoral rolls gave me the name of Richard Hugh Bell Kearns' wife which led me to her death notice. From this I had the names of two daughters, a son and daughter in law. Then I had to start taking a few educated guesses. The son/daughter in law name combination had one entry in the electoral roll. To my surprise the address, from 1980, was here in Canberra. I had no confirmation that I was correct but I found the daughter in law's name on the list of volunteer guides at the Australian War Memorial. What I couldn't find was a current listing of this couple in the White Pages. However, the secretary of my former RSL Sub-Branch manages the volunteers at the AWM so I put in a call to him and he kindly connected me with who I was looking for.
I still had no proof that I was right but when I rang and laid out what I knew it turned out to be the correct family.
The last piece of this puzzle has been to connect William's nephew with Kay in Yeppoon so that the medals can be returned in the near future.    

The returned medal tally is now 2278.

25 October 2018

William Castle - Royal Navy

It is sometimes just a single piece of evidence that we find that links one generation to the next and that finally leads us to a successful conclusion. That is definitely the case in the search for the family of J3200 AB William Arthur Castle, Royal Navy.
Finding the records of British service men is quite difficult. What wasn't destroyed during the Blitz is usually only available on a pay per view basis. I rely on an Ancestry.com membership to provide any information that might be available. Given the size of the British Army and Navy at the turn of the 19th century there isn't that many records available so I was very surprised when my search for William turned up his one page entry in the UK Register of Seaman's Service 1848-1939. The information this scrap of paper provided included William's date of enlistment, 1910, and the ships he served on until discharge in 1919. Thankfully, it also gave his date of birth and the location which was Forrest Gate in London's East End. What I couldn't find was a family named Castle in Forest Gate in the UK census records.
From there I had nothing. I had started this search in 2013 and revisited it on several occasions. Each time a new piece of information had been published on line which gave me that next clue. I found that William emigrated to Australia in 1923 with his wife Emily. That at least explained how the medal came to be here. Then nothing.
These last few days I've dug back in to this research and now have a result.
I found William's death and funeral notices published in a Melbourne paper in 1927. A copy of this clipping is included below. The clue I found from this brief entry was the address of William's brother. A search of the electoral rolls gave me the name of the brother. Using the Victorian death records I was able to locate where William is buried in the Box Hill Cemetery.
Armed with that brother's name I went back to the UK records and found that the brother was also born in Forrest Gate. This led me to an Ancestry family tree which didn't include William but gave me the name of other siblings and an even more revealing clue. From the Victorian state BDM records, I knew that William's mother's name was Sarah. The family tree gave the mother's name as Sarah Castle but the father's was John Kowalski. John was an Austrian emigrant. Using this new information I could follow the Kowalski's to other parts of the UK and helped me understand that the family didn't remain in the East End in the late Victorian period like so many other families did.
Back to the Australian records and I could quickly sketch out the families of both of William's brothers who emigrated to Australia. The first was Ernest Lawrence Castle and the second John Edward Castle.
It is through John Edward's line that I contacted William's great niece. The way I found her was through using her first and second name combinations, which is slightly unusual, this lead to me being able to make an conclusion about her married name. I found only one recent entry on the internet with this name combination. Through a third party I managed to get a message to the great niece and spoke to her this afternoon.
This was one of the more difficult searches of recent time but successful in the log run.
Thanks go to Josephine T who sent me the medal in 2013.
The returned medal tally is now 2272.

24 October 2018

John Burrell

I'm slowly getting through the medals recently sent to me by the Grafton RSL. This latest return is of a British War Medal awarded to 15156 MT-DVR John Franklin Burrell. MT-DVR stands for Motor Transport Driver and is a rank equivalent to private. His unit was the 5th Motor Transport Company, Australian Army Service Corps.
Following John through the electoral rolls was easy and other public records provided me with the names of his children and grandchildren. These records are mostly 40+ years old so I had to turn to a more contemporary resource and found John's granddaughter using Face Book. We have exchanged messages and I'll be posting John's BWM off in the near future.
The returned medal tally is now 2271.

21 October 2018

Dodd family medals

This return has some really interesting aspects, not the least being the condition the medals are in. My research commenced with an message from Nancy L from Sydney. Nancy's son works at a tip and had found two sets of medals. When they arrived in the post I was really surprised at the condition. The meals had been well cared for, however, it was obvious that they had suffered recent damage, probably from machinery at the tip. Nancy's son really needs to be congratulated for recovering these two medal groups and wanting to see them returned to the family.
The first group was awarded to Henry Albert Dodd. The group consists of the China War Medal (1900) but it has been separated from it's suspender, 1914-15 Star and Victory Medal. The group also has the ribbon and suspender of the British War Medal but the disk is missing. The group was awarded to Henry Albert Dodd who served in the Royal Navy for 6 1/2 years before emigrating to Australia. He was awarded the China War Medal while serving aboard HMS Goliath. Albert purhased his discharge from the Royal Navy then enlisted, age 33, in the AIF as was initially allocated to 20th Battalion, then Field Engineers and finally the Australian Flying Corps.
At the end of WWI, Albert (also known as Henry) stayed in England and married Letitca. Their first son, Henry, was born in the UK in 1919 before Albert returned with his family to Australia. Albert and Letitca had four more children; Vivian, Kenneth, Winifred and Geoffrey. Four of the Dodd children served in WWII. Here are the links to their nominal roll entries; Henry, Vivian, Kenneth and Winifred. Vivian died on 19 October 1943.
While researching this family I found that Henry died in 2005 in Dubbo, a picture of his memorial plaque is below. Kenneth died only recently and his daughter lived in the same area that the tip where the medals were found is located.
I found Kenneth on an Ancestry family tree. The tree owner is a lady named Roslyn who responded to my message with details of her own research efforts and work with veterans. However, the tree was not for her family but she had prepared it for a young man she met and was inspired to help.  This young man, Tom, is Albert's great grandson (Kenneth's grandson). Roslyn has connected me with Tom and I'll send him the medals in the near future.
The returned medal tally is now 2270.
 Henry's medals with broken China War Medal and missing British War Medal
 The pin that affixes the medal disk to the suspender.
 The recent damage to the China War Medal disk can be seen at the 9 o'clock position

 This picture shows damage to the medal bars.

15 October 2018

Noel Gibson

The numbers of medals left in the Grafton box is getting less by the day. The next to be returned were awarded to QX48096 Lance Sergeant Noel David Gibson. I suspect that Noel was awarded 5 or 6 medals for his WWII service, however, only two came to me.
Noel was pretty easy to follow through the electoral rolls. I got lucky as one of the entries included his daughter. More luck came my way as her first and second names only appeared once again but this time with a different surname. I made the assumption this was her married name and that the other name at that address was her husband who had a very specific occupation. The name/occupation combination got me a successful hit and a business phone number. My hunch paid off and I had the correct family. More luck ran my was as I rang the same week as retirement after 53 years in this profession occurred and the business was closing.
Noel's two medals will be posted back to his daughter in the near future.
The returned medal tally is now 2263.

09 October 2018

John Hayes

Another pair of WWI medals that came to me from the Grafton RSL is the BWM and Victory Medal awarded to 4174 PTE John Desmond Hayes.
Hayes was a 24 year old blacksmith when he enlisted in September 1915. Following his training he transited through Egypt and allocated to 47th Battalion AIF. Less than 12 months after enlisting, he was wounded in action on 9 Aug 16. Hayes died of his wound two days later.
My search put me in touch with Kay who is Hayes' great niece. Kay had posted a tribute to Hayes on a notice board which I came across and sent her off a message. As part of her research, Kay has found some photos of Hayes and I have been given permission to publish them here.
I'm a bit intrigued with the condition of Hayes medals. The Victory Medal is in very good condition. By comparison the BWM has had a rough life with the suspender rather damaged and the rim suffering several bruises.
The returned medal tally is now 2261.