SERVICE medals that were not issued to two Hunter-born World War I soldiers have been sent more than 100 years after their deaths to their descendants, in the lead up to Remembrance Day.
The Newcastle Herald reported on April 24 this year that Hunter historians Yvonne Fletcher and John Gillam - authors of Untraceables: The Mystery of the Forgotten Diggers - were looking for relatives of Lance Corporal Keith Eric Griffin of the 1st Battalion and Corporal Andrew Kennedy of the 4th Machine Gun Company, who came from large families well known in the Hinton, Morpeth and Millers Forest areas. They hoped to help the soldiers' descendants apply to Defence Honours and Awards to request the unissued medals.
Bolwarra Heights' resident Brian Banister has since received the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914-1915 Star for Corporal Andrew Kennedy, who was his grandfather's uncle. He has also received the Anzac Commemorative Medallion issued in 1967.
"They will be treated like gold and mounted," Mr Banister said. He has already taken them to Corporal Kennedy's headstone at Morpeth Cemetery.
"I feel happy and proud for Andrew - I'm a whole pile of emotions," he said. "These were his medals, he earned them. He never saw them, he went to his grave not seeing, touching, feeling, receiving recognition in the form of medals. It was right and fitting and proper to lay the medals and for him to know, 'Well done'."
Riverview resident Roger McFetridge has received the Victory Medal and the British War Medal for Lance Corporal Keith Eric Griffin, who was his grandfather's brother.
"You go into numerous places around Australia and you see the war memorials or a spire in the middle of a park in town with all the names of people who gave their lives in the first or second World War," he said. "[This] helps to give a bit more relevance, awareness, texture and connection to that - and that is valuable."
Ms Fletcher and Mr Gillam said in April more than 1000 WWI soldiers weren't issued medals for various reasons, including that their families were 'untraceable', or did not reply to correspondence; they or their families chose not to claim the medals; they were court marshalled, discharged and forfeited their medals; had died in institutions; or were underage when they enlisted.
Mr Gillam said medal issuing had been a "convoluted process" and the criteria for recipients started at widow, before moving to eldest son, eldest daughter, father, mother, eldest brother, eldest sister and so on.
Mr Banister said a relative called him after the Herald story to let him know about the search for Corporal Kennedy's descendants.
Mr Banister said he is his family's historian and had already collected Corporal Kennedy's war records, unit diaries and mapped every day of his military career. He said he had known Corporal Kennedy was born the seventh of eight children, had enlisted aged 28 and was sent to Egypt, to Gallipoli, back to Egypt and then to France.
"All through this period he was battling colds, flus, pleurisy and bronchitis," he said. "It ended up being tuberculosis and he was invalided out of the army."
He was discharged on May 17, 1918 and sent home, where he died on August 29, 1919, never having married or had children. His father died before him and his mother died a few months after him.
Mr Banister said Corporal Kennedy made a civil will leaving his belongings to his younger sister Catherine Kennedy, who had helped raise Mr Banister's grandfather, Patrick Kennedy.
Mr Banister said Patrick Kennedy became the executor of Corporal Kennedy's will and he had seen Patrick Kennedy's correspondence about the medals.
"I had never really thought about [the medals] before now," Mr Banister said. "His family farmed down on Swan Reach and in the 1920s and 1930s floods went through that part of the world - I had thought to a certain extent the medals had gone when the floods went through and that's where I left it."
Mr Banister said he saw his tracing of the family history as a "mark of respect".
The sacrifice always deserves to be remembered and reflected upon in connection to the manner and ways in which these people were prepared to risk it all
"The sacrifice always deserves to be remembered and reflected upon in connection to the manner and ways in which these people were prepared to risk it all," he said. "One thing that drives me is that you should honour the memory and effort and sacrifice of people who fought in these campaigns."
Mr McFetridge said Maitland and Beyond Family History's Christine Barrett had traced Lance Corporal Keith Eric Griffin's family tree and sent Facebook messages to his wife Hilary and daughter Stacey, asking if they were related to him.
He called Ms Barrett as well as Mr Gillam, who lodged the application for the medals on his behalf.
Mr McFetridge said the experience had encouraged him to explore the 40 kilogram suitcase his late mother Joy - who was his family's historian - passed down to him, filled with so much material and artefacts "it was almost overwhelming".
"I thought 'For crying out loud, this is amazing', how small the world is and how phenomenal with the benefits of technology, in the current day 100 years later, John and his team have tracked myself down via my daughter," he said.
The suitcase contained two of Lance Corporal Griffin's diaries, which he said brought into focus the futility and sadness of war, both then and now.
"I thought 'Hey, wow, this really brings it to life and makes it all quite real'."
The first diary spans the first six months of 1916, the second starts in July 1916.
The last entry on July 24, before his July 29 death, reads: 'Very heavy bombardment of parts of our positions, troops have been fighting for five days, we arrive tired and suffer for want of sleep'.
"It's pretty hard going trying to read the diaries, they're pencil written and they're now a little bit blurred and his writing wasn't always perfect, but it certainly brings it to life," he said. "Given the human sacrifices there were in that war and the circumstances under which it occurred - it was really marching people off as cannon fodder out of trenches and so forth - that's the great lesson in it for me, or the power of it: the numbers that sadly lost their lives and the circumstances... it's pretty stark stuff."
Mr McFetridge's grandfather, Guy, was Lance Corporal Griffin's younger brother.
He said he had previously known "next to nothing" about his grandfather's family, other than that they grew up around Maitland.
He said Lance Corporal Griffin, who never married or had children, was the fourth-born of eight and as a child saw his father and two infant siblings die. A third sibling died aged 17.
Mr McFetridge was in the ballot to be conscripted into the Vietnam War and has travelled to Gallipoli and Northern France, but didn't know at the time the details around Lance Corporal Griffin's service, or that he was buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery.
Mr McFetridge said he hoped to see the medals help raise community awareness about the horror of war and the sacrifices made.
"I'm looking at ways of providing these medals for reference and benefit in the Maitland, Morpeth and Hinton communities. The wonderful bit is being able to give some light or more texture to the events and lives of those who gave their lives to defend the cause in years gone by."