Bring Him Home
November 20, 2021.
It's a Saturday morning, overcast and threatening to rain. So far only a few sprinkles have appeared though and it's very much like the day that precipitated this event taking place today. I'm sitting in the McDonalds of an outer Adelaidan suburb, waiting for someone I've never met. The choice of venue largely determined but the 15 year old in my charge, he's been promised breakfast out and he wants hot cakes. We're a bit early so we're passing time, him - Minecraft, me - Words With Friends.
Out the corner of my eye I see someone approach the table and she announces her name. It's her. The person I've been searching for for seven months, finally we meet and I can return something that's been lost for over 50 years...
Seven months earlier...
I was metal detecting in an old and frequently used park, it had sections that were very rubbishy (lots of ring pulls and bottle tops etc) and whilst I managed to cherry pick some modern coins, it was too "noisy" for my liking and quickly headed for quieter ground. I headed off to the other side of the park where a row of trees stood. There were hardly any targets (quite possibly cleaned up by other detectorists) and I was beginning to think I'd never find anything good. I dug one target that was random non-ferrous rubbish (likely copper or brass) but it seemed old so my interest in the spot was renewed.
Old rubbish is a good sign and I like finding it. A few inches away was another signal, it had a high tone to it but the XY screen on my XP Deus was jumping about like a crazy thing, this is usually an indicator the target is ferrous. Had this signal been in the first (noisy) area I would have dismissed the target as a beer bottle top, however since I had just dug the non-ferrous item and the ground was fairly quiet, I decided to dig it on the hope there was a nail next to a good target.
What I unearthed was probably one of the best things I've ever found in my life. At first I didn't know what it was, it had two holes in it like some SA dog rego tags but it wasn't as thick and rang up the wrong target ID. I surmised it was just a suitcase label or something and continued on for the day. It wasn't until I had some lunch and took a closer look at the item that I realised there was writing on it, the first letters I could make out were RAAF. Instantly I knew I was on to something good, I'd found a WWII RAAF ID tag.
The tag had a bit of corrosion on it and it was hard to make out the details, but eventually I was able to make out the name, initials, service number, religion code and of course, RAAF all stamped into the tag. Later on I discovered on the reverse was also the details for the serviceman's blood group.
Immediely when I got home the hunt was on for information about the serviceman (who I will call B). Fairly quickly I found out his service history and where he was buried, but nothing about his family.
At the first available opportunity I went to the cemetery where he was interred and paid my respects, I thanked him for his service and promised I'd bring him home. I'd find his family and return his tag. He had been buried on the same site as his mother however the headstone did not reflect he was buried there, so unfortunately there was no information about any children he might have on the tombstone (e.g. In the form of loving father to...).
After more internet searches (primarily Ancestry, National Archives and Trove) I contacted the SA RSL who told me I'd already found out more about him than they could. I the AWM website states they are unable to assist in such matters, Facebook groups for returned RAAF servicemen & women were only able to wish me luck (and let them know if I found anyone - I hope they see this!).
At this point my research was severely limited to online searches due to long work hours at the time. I had a lead that needed some genealogy research so I enlisted the assistance of one of my favourite Facebook group - the Buy Nothing Project. Someone in the group took up the challenge and we got a name. Not of a living descendant, but of an aunty with an 'uncommon' and hyphenated surname. A promising lead.
I managed to locate someone on Facebook (who I will call N) with the same hyphenated surname as the lead in my research, N lived in Canada but went to school in South Australia - too coincidental not to be linked. I reached out to N but unfortunately did not receive a reply.
The trail went cold so I turned back to Trove, National Archives, Ancestry, even put out a call in the Adelaide Lost and Found group on Facebook. That gave me a couple of other avenues to try (Legacy and the national RSL) but they were all dead ends. By this time it's seven months since I had found the tag but I had not given up hope. I decided the hyphenated name was the best lead I had so I followed that up again. I went back to N's profile and clicked on his friends list.
I found a candidate, C, so I wrote to him with my spiel. a few hours later...
Not only did C write back, but he said N was his dad and he'd pass my message on.
A few minutes later...
*ding* incoming Facebook message with
"B was my uncle and my mother's brother. I will message again in the next few days"
I can't describe how ecstatic reading these few words made me feel. I was getting close to fulfilling my promise. After a few more exchanges and photos of the tag I finally had a name for a daughter and two sons, both sons are now deceased but the daughter, A, is still alive and my details would be passed to her.
About a week or so later (whilst I'm in the middle of an audit at work no less), I get a "hello random stranger" text message. It was A. I had to wait until the end of the day to message her back but basically I said "call me any time".
And she did call, later that day and I'm pretty sure we were both quite emotional by the end of the call and we had arranged to meet up the next weekend... at McDonalds for breakfast...
Back to today
We had a great chat over tea and pancakes. The 15 year old conned us into a second breakfast. I learned a lot about B, his life, what he was like and A was able to fill me in on some things that came up in my research that puzzled me, I was also able to clarify some points for her too. We chuckled over the coincidences in this story. A's favourite number is 42, which happens to be my name (though I spell it Xlii), the day I found the tag happened to be A's birthday.
We promised to catch up again so I could see B's replacement ID tags and his war medals, they were unavailable at the time but I did get to see some photos. But for now, my promise is fulfilled and my quest complete. He is home.