The mystery of Mt Morgan’s Digger’s missing medals
Imagine a treasure trove of Australian history hidden away from the public eye for decades, just waiting to be uncovered for future generations.
Such is the stuff of Untraceables: The Mystery of the Forgotten Diggers which took John Gillam and Yvonne Fletcher 10 years to research and two years to write.
The treasure in question comprises military medals awarded to Australian soldiers, often posthumously, during WWI and WWII , Korea and Vietnam.
Minted in the UK and sent out to the Australian Veterans' Affairs office, the medals were intended for distribution to the Diggers or, in the case of fallen soldiers, their families.
Their subsequent disappearance is a compelling story of family rifts, legislative bungling and bureaucratic incompetence.
Take, for example, Scottish-born Alexander Angus, whose face appears on the front cover of the 270-page treatise.
In 1915, he enlisted in WWI out of Rockhampton, leaving behind a wife and at least one child in Mt Morgan.
Having apparently lied about his age on the application forms - he said he was 42 when he was in his 50s - the experienced miner was posted to the 1st Australian Tunneling Company.
He landed in France on May 5, 1916 where, after only three months, he was killed by a gunshot wound to his left arm and shoulder which penetrated his chest.
His widow Ann Angus, of North Street Mount Morgan, received from the Army his personal effects, photos of his grave and his Memorial Scroll and Plaque.
However, before she received his medals, she severed contact with the Army over how she wanted his grave to be inscribed.
She proposed it read, "And now you are sleeping your last long sleep/ And your grave I may never see/ But some gentle hand in a distant land/ May lay down a flower for us" which she apparently penned herself.
But the Army insisted the inscription didn't exceed 66 characters (including spaces).
Marion Hall of the CQ Family History Association has traced Ann after she left Mt Morgan, to Townsville where she lived close to her son Alexander John and his wife, and where she was buried in 1962 (see below).
However, the authors believe she and her husband also had James Angus (1893), Jane McRorie Angus (1894), Hugh Wilson Angus (1897) and Adelaide Angus (1900) who would have been 14 when her younger brother was born.
The authors of Untraceables: The Mystery of the Forgotten Diggers say Alexander Angus' story represents the loss and grief of thousands of Australian families.
In theory, if his descendants contacted the Defence Force, they should be able to claim his medals which sit in a warehouse somewhere, marked "untraceable".
His great, great (great great?) grandchildren could proudly wear these original medals on Anzac and Remembrance days.
Or, if his descendants couldn't be located then, in theory, the medals could be claimed by the school Angus or his descendants attended, to be worn by school captains during their annual ceremonies.
Gillam and Fletcher know about Angus' medals because they are listed on Defence files marked "untraceable", which bear an effigy of the medals as proof of provenance.
He is among 1150 names they have encountered in their quest to get Australian service medals out of storage and into communities where they will stand as "living memorials" to our forebears.
"We want to motivate today's youth to get engaged with researching their local soldiers and, in a way, to bring them back to life," they said.
The authors are in "early talks" with a school in Charters Towers about how to claim medals which bear the names of seven of its past students killed in action.
"Wearing their medals at an Anzac or Remembrance Day ceremony at school is, in effect, a symbolic 'Welcome Home' ceremony."
Where the theory comes unstuck, however, is in finding the medals.
For all the expense and effort of getting them to Australia - minting, engraving, freight, recording the paperwork - the medals themselves seem to have disappeared.
Return to this website in coming days for part two of the Mystery of Mt Morgan Digger's Medals story: How did the medals go missing and what have Defence authorities done to locate them?
Ann's Timeline (with thanks to Marion Hall of the CQ Family History Association):
• 1914: Birth of son Alexander John Angus in Mt Morgan on the 25th April
• 1916: Death of husband Alexander Angus
• 1935: Marriage of Alexander John Angus to Lelia Maud Launder 31st August
• 1937-38: Electoral rolls show Alexander John and Leila Maud Angus living at 30 Willis St, Townsville with his mother Ann Angus
• 1941: Son enlisted in the Army at Hermit Park, Townsville on the 24th April
• 1943: Electoral rolls show Alexander John Angus (Printer) living in Carmody St, Townsville?
• Electoral rolls show Leila Maud Angus living at 54 China, St Townsville
• Electoral rolls show Ann Angus living at 50 Walker St, Townsville
• 1944: Son Alexander John Angus - Discharged in Townsville Fix Def on the 14th March
• 1958: Electoral rolls show Alexander John and Leila Maud Angus living at Lucinda St, Taringa, Brisbane
• 1962: Death of Ann Angus, wife of Alexander Angus, age 91 years 3rd July. Buried in Belgian Gardens, Townsville
• 1972: Electoral rolls show Alexander John and Leila Maud Angus living at Lucinda St, Taringa, Brisbane
• Death of Alexander John Angus, 28th October, 1972, Brisbane
• 2001: Death of wife Leila Maud Angus, age 87, 27th Nov, 2001. Buried at Centenary Memorial Gardens Brisbane
The authors are eager to hear from anyone who knows where Alexander Angus' family went to after Mt Morgan.