LRH helps unravel mystery around digger’s remains
A deceased serviceman whose cremated remains were found in a Gippsland garage can now be laid to rest, thanks to some collaborative detective work between Latrobe Regional Health (LRH) and the Trafalgar-Thorpdale RSL.
The RSL sub-branch is on the hunt for any connections to former Private William Halliday, who was an Australian army digger in Malay, born in 1927 and died in LRH in 2008.
It comes as a cremation box and a folder of photos was anonymously handed-in to the sub-branch when discovered in a residential garage in Yarragon.
Trafalgar-Thorpdale RSL treasurer Paul Altamore said there were no contact details left with the ashes, but it was obvious that the remains belonged to a deceased serviceman.
“Our priority was to establish the correct identity of this man and then to find his next-of-kin to return the ashes to,” Mr Altamore said.
“The fact was, that someone had given us these ashes in good faith. If he was indeed a serviceman, then we wanted to make sure he is interned with the respect he deserves.”
The box came with a second, smaller box bearing a plaque inscribed with “Lady” – believed to be a pet dog – along with photos of a man in uniform, with one titled “Bill in Malay 1955-1956”.
Another photo depicted the same, older man in what looked like a hospital, with a caption “Melbourne Cup Day 1.11.2006, chicken and champagne afternoon tea at Erica Ward”.
Mr Altamore said Malayan campaign service medal records confirmed the photos were of a Private William Halliday, service number 3/10499 from the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.
Private Halliday was awarded a British General Service Medal for his service in the Malayan Emergency, and was discharged from the army on April 30, 1957.
The next part of the puzzle was to try and find any surviving connections to return his remains.
Mr Altamore said no-one in Yarragon had heard of the former digger, nor was he connected to any local Hallidays. There were also no records in the local shire retirement villages or cemeteries.
However, RSL appeals officer and local history buff Tracey Chambers tracked down a funeral notice in the Latrobe Valley Express, posted by the Moe RSL confirming his dates of birth and death.
This was when the RSL contacted LRH Freedom of Information officer Deb Mackeown who donned her detective hat to find more missing pieces in the hospital’s archives.
Ms Mackeown referred to the photo of Private Halliday in the Erica Ward, which was the hospital’s former rehabilitation ward that has since closed.
“I had to be mindful to respect his privacy, especially if he has any living connections. I needed to carefully collate all information to make doubly-sure I had the right person,” Ms McKeown said.
“I could see he was a patient here. When I saw the pictures of him, I got really emotional as I could now put a face to the ashes.”
Ms McKeown put together more information that added some colour to Private Halliday’s story.
After being discharged from the army, he worked as a tram conductor and a postie. He barracked for Essendon, liked a punt on the ponies and a drop of rose, and he also loved dogs.
Private Halliday had a life-long mate William De La Perrelle who used to visit him in hospital with his German Sheppard called Macca.
Ms Mackeown said it was highly likely the second, smaller cremation box contained the ashes of another pet pooch Lady, but this is yet to be confirmed.
“This became a personal project for me and I got so excited as I found more information. It was not just bits of paper in a folder, but a man’s life,” she said.
“I desperately wanted to get some closure for this gentleman so we can put him to rest. This man put his life on the line for us as a soldier, so I wanted to look after him in death.”
Meanwhile, the Trafalgar-Thorpdale RSL is still on the hunt for any next-of-kin or surviving connections to either Private Halliday or his mate Mr De La Perrelle, who died in 2012.
Mr Altamore said the sub-branch was hoping to intern his remains in the Yarragon cemetery with a small ceremony.
“We welcome any information on him, if any family comes forward, he may even have some nieces or nephews,” he said.