04 December 2017

Two KIA from the same family

This isn't the longest search I've done but there are some family complications that made it difficult.
When I read the service record of 2896 William Russell I didn't expect the story that unfolded. Firstly, his NOK was listed as his half sister, Janet Weir Rankin. Janet was also the beneficiary of his will after he was killed in action on 16 Jul 17. These decisions by the soldier didn't make it easy for Janet or her father Alexander Rankin to finalise William's estate. In 1921 the Army wrote to Janet  (page 35) to see if there were any other relative more closely related to receive his medals. Janet's response laid it out quite clearly. William was illegitimate and his father's whereabouts were unknown. To complicate this a little I found a memorial notice in a news paper which calls William Russell a friend of the family. What I couldn't confirm was if William's mother and Janet's mother were the same person. That confirmation was to come later.
What I could confirm was that Janet Weir Rankin was the daughter of Alexander Rankin and Alexander was married to Margaret at a time I couldn't work out. Margaret was the sister of Alexander White Weir. Alexander was also killed in action. His date of death was 23 Jul 17, only a week after William. Alexander was also in the same memorial notice which also states: 'our friend, William Russell'.
To add to the confusion a bit, Janet Weir Rankin married Alexander Smith and had a son also Alexander but he died as an infant in 1927.
It was at this point I found Alexander White Weir on the family tree of Ken C who has kindly allowed me to use his research in this post. Ken was able to confirm what I assumed as well as add a considerable amount of additional information.

1893 - William Russell was born on 27 July 1893 at 17 Church Street, Kilsyth [Scotland] to William Russell and Alison Currie. They were not married and the Birth Registration shows “Illegitimate.”
1901 - Alison Currie is listed on the Census with William and Alison’s mother Janet Currie.
1904 - Alison Currie married Alexander Rankin on 29 January 1904 at South Barnwood, Kilsyth. 1904 - Janet Weir Rankin was born to them on 16 July 1904. Both William Russell and Janet Weir Rankin have their mother listed as Alison Currie.
1906 - Alison Rankin (nee Currie) died on 3 July 1906 at Glasgow Maternity Hospital. Her full name is listed as Alison Brash Abercrombie Rankin.
1908 - Alexander Rankin married Margaret Weir on 10 July 1908 at Kilsyth. My mother was their eldest child. Janet Weir Rankin did marry Alexander Smith in 1927 and they had a child Alexander who was born and died in 1927.

 This confirms the biological link between William and Janet and answers a whole lot of other questions. William's Victory will soon be returned to Ken. Thanks to Trevor R who sent me the medal.
The returned medal tally is now 2182.

01 December 2017

WOFF Murphy - Shot down over Europe

This is a really great story from Bill. 

Shot down over Poland in 1943, Warrant Officer Frank Murphy spent the next two years as a POW. Then with the collapse of the German Forces in 1945, he was one of the many POW's that the Germans forced to follow its retreating army, in the front of the Russian onslaught, a forced march of 800 miles and lasted from January and April 1945. This was through a one of the most bitterly cold winters seen for many years. It was a forced march often with little or no rations.
But if there was one distinction that held pride of place with Frank held it was his membership of the ‘Caterpillar Club’ whose distinctive badge he earned after he bailed out in 1943.
The success of this search owes much to the team at Australian Genealogical Surname who really stepped up and whose efforts saw his medals returned to his family.
At the request of the family the research involved has been deleted.

The returned medal tally is now 2181.

Albert Griffiths

This search started when I received an email from Denny, a Vietnam War veteran and medal enthusiast. Denny recently receive a BWM from one of his mates who had found the medal in a box of trinkets. The medal was awarded to 1546 PTE Albert Griffiths.
Albert was originally from Manchester, UK and emigrated to Australia sometime prior to WWI and settled in Melbourne. With no middle name it was impossible to filter out which Albert Griffiths he was, among several dozen others, in the Victorian records or on the electoral rolls. There were several letters from Albert to the Department of Defence written in the 1930s requesting a copy of his discharge certificate. The reason for the loss was that his riverside camp was flooded and all his possessions swept away. I've seen this before and it usually means that the veteran was an itinerant worker hit hard by the Depression.
Having hit a brick wall I noticed that Albert at least had his administration squared away during the war. He listed his sister, still living in Manchester, as his next of kin. She must have married during the War and Albert updated his NOK details on his service record. I just wish every solider did the same today, my DCO colleagues will know what I mean. After those letters from the '30s, Albert disappeared completely.
Albert's sister's surname was Cashin and I soon found her on an Ancestry tree. My original thought was that I would have to start looking in UK for a relative until I looked at other siblings. One brother was named Ernest and he also moved to Australia. His daughter's name was Hazel, but went by Zelda. This led to a second surprise, Hazel only died in 2016. I found a newspaper story about Hazel which happened to give the name of her great grand daughter. The rest was easy and yesterday I spoke with Albert's great great niece. Denny will be posting the medal to her in the near future.
The returned medal tally is now 2176.

29 November 2017

Neville Podmore

It never ceases to amaze me how often my research is somehow linked to someone I know or in close proximity to where I live. This is another such example.
I was recently contacted by Mick D who found a pair of WWII medals at a bus stop along Bungandore Rd in Bywong, NSW. Bywong is a rural area about 20 km north of Canberra and is where I've been living since August.
The medals were awarded to NX177391 Neville Frederick Podmore who was born in Tarcutta, NSW.
Neville died in 1975 but I couldn't find a death notice. From the electoral rolls I worked out his wife was Linda and she died in Canberra in 2007. There was now a geographic link to why the medals were in this particular area. Then I hit a brick wall until I found Neville listed on the Ancestry tree of Colin P.
Colin fired off a message to Neville's niece and shortly after that I was in contact with Neville's daughter Lynelle, also a Canberra resident. Having found the family, I connected Mick and Lynelle and they are arranging to meet. As it turns out Neville's son also lives in Bywong and the medals were accidentally dropped at the bus stop. Mick did a wonderful thing by starting the journey to see these medals returned home.
Many thanks go to Colin and Wendy for helping me join all the dots.
The returned medal tally is now 2175.

24 November 2017

WWI British War Medal to the Labour Corps

Another international return thanks to Bill.

It is nearly 8 years since Peter Harrison, a retired Australian Army officer and his wife Eileen brought home to Australia the 1914-1915 Star awarded to 16938 Sgt McQuade,Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
As a return gesture, in August this year he took back to England the British War Medal awarded to 557332 Private Philip Klawansky, 1001st Labour Company, to return to his family.
The history of the Labour Corps reflects, in many ways, the social history of Europe during the First World War and the changes it brought to Europe.
With conscription, it was expected that a citizen of an allied country would be enlisted into the British service or return home to serve in their own countries forces. For many Russians in the UK, which included a large Jewish population, fighting for the Tsar was not a favoured option, given that many had fled Russian persecution. This reluctance was not exactly greeted with enthusiasm in Britain so one of the solutions was the formation in the British Army of the Russian Labour Companies who served in France and the Middle East. Despite their name they were under British Command.
Out of respect for the family, I have censored my research. However, if anyone reading this Blog should wish to go a bit further down the path of history, may I recommend: John Starling & Ivor Lee's excellent work No Labour, No Battle - Military Labour During The First World War.

The returned medal tally is now 2173. 

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.