31 August 2020

Keith Raymond Bird - National Serviceman

This search turned out to be far more difficult than I thought it would be at the start. The Australian Defence Medal awarded to 2747146 Keith Raymond Bird was sent to me by Ted Ayres having been recovered from a pawn brokers. Keith was pretty easy to find in the Nominal Roll of Nashos then track through the electoral until 1980. The Nasho roll showed me that Keith had died but beyond 1980 I had no clues.

From a quite lengthy story from a newspaper social page I found all the details of Keith's marriage to Patricia Waites. The story also gave me the name of Keith's brothers. One was Harold (Mick) Gregory Bird who was soldier in the Royal Australian Engineers. Mick spent many years posted to Puckapunyal and after he discharged remained in Seymour. Mick also serve in the Vietnam War. However, after 1994 I lost the thread of Mick's family.

For six weeks I kept coming to a brick wall so on Sunday I went back to Keith and Patricia's marriage story. This also provided the names of Patricia's parents; John and Mary. In the hope of something new I went back to the electoral rolls of the 1950s and found that John's first wife was actually Catherine who died in 1956. Mary was his second wife. I then found Catherine's death notice which gave me the name of their another child; Brian.

From there it was pretty easy. I found Brian in the electoral rolls and then in the White Pages. I called Brian this afternoon and found that Patricia had also passed away but, more importantly, the name and phone number of Keith and Patricia's daughter; Cathy. 

Cathy tells me that she is named for her grandmother Catherine which I think is a nice link as it was the details of Catherine which unlocked this search.

The returned medal tally is now 2520.

30 August 2020

James Egan

This is a set of circumstances that I haven't come across before. It is an act of mate ship that spanned decades.

The medals awarded to NX113237 James Christopher Egan came to me via the Directorate of Honours and Awards having been sent in by the son of one of James' mates. The letter that accompanied the medals says that James' was the friend of John Hinton and they fought together in New Guinea. James had no known close relatives and James left his medals with John. Knowing the importance of medals to a family, John's son forwarded them to Honours and Awards and then on to me.

James' did not marry but he had several siblings. His brother was NX24165 William Edward Egan, one sister was Margaret Josephine (Joey) Ball and the other was Grace Catherine Macintyre. Like James, William didn't marry. It is through Joey's family that the medal will be returned.

The returned medal tally is now 2519.


21 August 2020

Lancelot Matthews - WWI

Following a property search, the Victorian Police recovered three WWI medals, a set of dog tags and numerous badges. Senior Constable Mikael H contacted the Directorate of Honours and Awards and Wes M referred him to me. 

The medals were awarded to 360 Lancelot Matthews who served in the 8th Battalion, AIF. This search was a bit confusing to start with as Lancelot's full name was Lancelot Vivien Matthews. The records sometimes gave the name as Vivien Lancelot or spelt Vivian. However, Lancelot never used his middle name. Lancelot was born in 1890 and was a farmer in Gippsland. He was 23 years old when he enlisted. This was the first piece of information I could find about Lancelot after WWI.

Following WWI he returned to farming and in 1928 married Edith Frances Harris. Lancelot and Edith had two daughters, Edith Ann and Judith Vera. I've added screen shots below from the Victorian BDM website which helped me unravel all the conections. Lancelot died in 1936. 'Smith's Weekly' paper published Lancelot's death in their 'Gone West' column. 

This is the probate notice published after Lancelot's death.

Edith died in 1957.

I found that Edith Ann married Kenneth Ophel. This led me to an Ophel family tree on Ancestry. The tree owner is Kerry and she was able to put me in touch with Edith and Kenneth's son, James. I've now connected James and Senior Constable Mikael. Pictures of Lancelot's medals, dog tags and all the other badges are below.

Thanks to Kerry and Wes for their part in this return. The returned medal tally is now 2515.


16 August 2020

G C O'Toole

This search was reasonably straight forward, the direct opposite to the tragic family story behind the medal. 

My part in this started story on Friday when I received an email from Matt I who had the ASM 1939-45 awarded to NX37254 Glen Connell O'Toole. I only found three public records relating to Glen. The first was his birth record on the NSW BDM site, the WWII nominal roll entry and one electoral roll entry from 1954. A comparison of the BDM and WWII records show that Glenn put his age up by two years in order to enlist. More importantly, the BDM entry gave me his parents names. Using that information I worked out that Glen had four brothers and a sister. Glen didn't marry and the only descendants of any of his siblings are the sons of his sister Hazel.   

This afternoon I spoke to  Glen's nephew Robert, who tells me that Glen and his brothers suffered as a result of their war service but this is only part of a tragic family story. During my research I found that Glen's father, John Martin O'Toole, died in an accident in 1922 when he fell 120 ft down a coal mine shaft. Glen was 3 years old when this happened and two siblings were younger still.

As well as the story of the accident, there were many stories about his wife's efforts to get compensation. She eventually received 500 pounds but it must have been very difficult to raise six children on her own.

Thanks to Matt who contacted me about Glen's medals and to Robert who gave me more background on the O'Toole family. The returned medal tally is now 2512.


08 August 2020

215 AB Edward O'Connell - NSW Naval Contingient 1900

This search has been one of the longest and most difficult searches I've done. I received the China 1900 Medal awarded to AB E O'Connell in 2002. This has been a difficult search as, in the early phases, so little information was available. Over the years I have revisited this search often and each time I've got a scrap more of information that has made up the complete story. Not knowing what the E of the first name stood for didn't help and it is only recently that I've confirmed that his first name was Edward.

This is the only China 1900 Medal I've come across and it is worth spending a bit of time exploring why the medal was awarded. 

In 1900 several International Legations in Peking were placed under siege by Chinese Boxer rebels who were protesting foreign intervention and the spread of Christianity in China. The film 55 Days in Peking tells the story of this rebellion. To defend the Legations an Eight Nations Alliance was formed. This all occurred just prior to the Federation of Australia and military forces were based on colonial arrangements. Similar to the contingents sent by the colonies to the Boar War, the colonies offered their naval forces in support of Britain. By the time the colonial navies arrived the main actions were over. When the colonial contingents returned to their colonies, Federation had occurred and Australia had been formed. For their service, the contingents were awarded the China 1900 Medal. The numbers of medals awarded to each colony were: NSW 257, Victoria 198, South Australia 98 and Queensland 1. 

Early in the research I found that E O'Connell was 215 Able Seaman E O'Connell and even found his picture as part of the company he was in.

Even though I could confirm that E O'Connell served in this conflict and was awarded the China 1900 Medal the medal itself concerned me. The naming on medal consists of Initial, Surname, Rank, UNit (NSW Naval Contgt). The rank and unit are exactly as expected but the name is crudely engraved. By running my fingers over the rim it is easy to feel that the rim at the site of the name is thinner than the rest which suggests that the edge has been skimmed to remove the original name and E O'Connell added. It is hard to see the thickness of the rim in these pictures but I've circled the area.

Additional information that I've found over the years was the published list of men in the NSW Naval Contingent as they departed and then when they were awarded the medal.

 It wasn't until recently that I found that O'Connell was also awarded the Reserve Naval Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1914. Below is the entry in the Commonwealth Gazette from 1914 for Royal Australian Navy awards. I couldn't find any evidence that O'Connell served during WWI.

As I researched this name there were several candidates who E O'Connell could have been. By a process of elimination I discarded those who didn't quite fit the bill. For example an Edmund O'Connell I found in the records turned out to be 14 years old in 1900. Through a family tree on Ancestry I recently put the final piece in place and with the help of Anita S I'll soon be able to forward this medal to Edward O'Connell's descendants.

I usually don't like to value a medal as I'm no expert. In this case it is probably worth noting that a China 1900 medal awarded to another sailor from this contingent recently sold for about $5000. However, the renaming of the medal would reduce the value considerably despite O'Connell being confirmed as having been a member of the force that went to China. I can only imagine that he lost the medal awarded to him at some point and then purchased another original medal and had it renamed. 

The returned medal tally is now 2511.

02 August 2020

Edward Trott

The service record for 2436 Edward Trott has shown a set of circumstances that I've not come across before.
On enlistment in 1915 he gave his age as 40 years and six months. It was not uncommon during WWI for soldiers to be less than truthful with their age by either putting their age up or down to enlist. What is unusual in Edward's case is that he successfully petitioned to be discharged early. The service record says his discharge was for family reasons but a letter dated in 1917 expands on this. A typed version of this letter is on page 14 of the service record.
Edward admits that in 1917 he was actually 46 years old and this, combined with multiple medical issues, makes him unlikely to ever be fit for further military service. He also writes that he is the father of nine children and that his wife is struggling to support their family. This appeal, and medical condition, got Edward an early discharge which occurred on 28 June 1918.
Edward was from South Australia, which I've complained about many times, does not have many public records available. This made the search for Edward's family difficult but it was eventually through Ancestry that a family member has been located.
Thanks to Sarah G who sent me Edward's Victory Medal.
The returned medal tally is now 2510.