Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Military Medals and Records

Military Medals

Military Medals belonging to my great uncle Major AlexanderWallace Johnston

Military Medals are a significant event in history and undoubtedly will have affected or changed the lives of members of your family and it's history. Researching my family military medals has been something I have planned to do  for some time since since I am fortunate to have  in my possession, two complete collections of military medals belonging to two great uncles. This blog post will  discuss both, however, I will focus mostly on my research into the medals of Major Alexander Wallace Johnstone.  

On display on a small desk in my study, are displayed my maternal great uncle's World War II medals. They are mounted in a frame and accompanied by a name plaque which reads, Maj. A W Johnston. (pictured above) Although I see these medals almost every day, I have not yet investigated anything about them, or even what military services they were awarded for. 

I am also in possession of  a collection of war medals which belonged to my paternal great uncle, (Samuel) John Clarke White. A very old box which my great uncle gave to my father contains not only World War I medals, but it is a Pandora's box of war relics. There are sock garters, a feather from my great Uncle John's army hat, badges, a belt buckle and other paraphernalia from his service in World War One. This box holding my great uncle's military medals was passed on from my father  to myself. Although not framed and on display like the other medals, I very much treasure them. Until now,  I have never found time to research the medals themselves or my uncle's war 

 This blog post will investigate the records which assisted me to understand the medals of Major Alexander Wallace Johnston. 

The Military Medals awarded to Major Alexander Wallace Johnston. 

A photograph  of Alexander W Johnston

I consider it fortunate that,  when my great uncle, Major Alexander Wallace Johnston passed away, the Australian Army arranged to have his medals framed for his wife. Uncle Lex, as he was known to me, was afforded a military funeral at Casula, NSW, following his death on May 31, 1966. Alexander Johnston died from a brain tumour, aged only 51 years. My great aunt always stated that the tumour had been caused by radiation exposure Lex received whilst stationed in Japan, following the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945. Certainly his Army Service Records confirm that he was serving in Japan for 'various periods' from February 23, 1946 to April 11, 1954. At the time of his death, Alexander Johnston was to be promoted from Major to a higher ranking officer.
The following paragraph is the introduction to a detailed exposition of Australian troop involvement in Japan from 1946, which can be found on the Australian War Memorial website. 

On 13 February 1946, Australian troops, the vanguard of a 37,000-strong British 
Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), disembarked at the war-devastated Japanese port 
city of Kure, almost four years to the day (15 February 1942) after Singapore, the bastion of 
the British Empire in the Far East, surrendered to the Japanese Army. At its peak, there were 
some 12,000 Australians serving in BCOF. 
From 1946 to 1952 Australian forces were responsible for the military occupation of 
Hiroshima Prefecture, site of the first atomic bomb attack in history. During this time the role 
of the Australian forces changed from that of an “occupying power” to a new role of 
“protective power”; in 1950 Australian forces in Japan were deployed, under UN command, 
to operations in Korea. 

Prior to this blog post, I had not researched much about my great uncle ( by marriage) and it was from his military records that I discovered that Alexander Johnston was born on February 16, 1915 in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria. He was the son of Scottish born Alexander Wallace Senior (1886-1950) and Alice Jean Radley (1884- 1979). Army Service records can be searched online through the National Archives of Australia's website, although some are still not open for access. 

SERVICE RECORD for Alexander Wallace Johnston  ( Service Number 2126)

PERMANENT MILITARY FORCES:  7 June 1937- 29 June 1942
CITIZEN MILITARY FORCES:           30 June 1942 -  26 June 1942
AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE:    27 July 1942 - 30 June 1947
INTERIM ARMY:                                 1 July 1947 - 14 August 1952
AUSTRALIAN REGULAR ARMY:      15 August 1952 - 31 May 1966


Morotai - 3 November 1945 - 17 February 1946

Japan and Korea - Various periods between 23 February 1946 and 11 April 1954

Singapore - 6 December 1959 - 12 December 1961

From the Australian War Memorial's Nominal Roll  I discovered that my great uncle enlisted on June 7, 1937 at Paddington, NSW. His place of residence at that time, was given as Coogee, NSW, where I know from anecdotal evidence that his parents were living. Significantly, this particular record informed me that my great uncle had never been a prisoner of war. This is a detail which I find quite comforting, considering his record of active duty overseas in WWII and The Korean War. Sadly my great uncle's date of discharge from the Australian Army, just short of a promotion, was the date of Major Alexander W Johnston's death, on May 31, 1966.


I found a number of websites which offered excellent information about war medals as well as  the significance of the ribbon and depictions on the faces of the medals. The Australian War Memorial website provides a search facility for researching Australian military persons, relevant service records and information about military medals for all wars involving Australian defense force - Army, Navy and Air Force. I also discovered some fascinating sources of information about military medals on the following websites:



The War Medal. This medal was awarded for full time service between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. This cupro- nickel medal features King George VI on the front and the rear depicts a lion standing proudly on a fallen dragon. The ribbon's colours of red, white and blue represent the colours of the Union Jack.

Alexander Johnston would have received the above  medal for his participation in the Battle of Morotai,  which as part of the Pacific War, commenced  on September 15, 1944 and ended in August 1945. Many websites provide information about the Battle of Morotai and it is worth researching the places where your military ancestor served to gain a more appreciative understanding of the significance of not only their military medals but importantly their military experience. The following paragraph is from Wikipedia.   www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Morotai

 The fighting began when United States and Australian forces landed on the south-west corner of Morotai, a small island in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), which the Allies needed as a base to support the liberation of the Philippines later that year. The invading forces greatly outnumbered the island's Japanese defenders and secured their objectives in two weeks. Japanese reinforcements landed on the island between September and November, but lacked the supplies needed to effectively attack the Allied defensive perimeter. Intermittent fighting continued until the end of the war, with the Japanese troops suffering heavy loss of life from disease and starvation.

Allied landing at Morotai - Wikipedia

MEDAL 2.   

The Australia Service Medal. This medal was introduced in 1949 to recognise the service of the Australian Armed Forces and the Australian Mercantile Marine during the Second World War. The colours of the ribbon on the medal, second from the left,  are a khaki stripe in the centre representing the Australian Army, narrow red stripes either side of the khaki,  representing the Merchant Navy, a dark blue stripe on the left representing the Royal Australian Navy and the light blue stripe on the outer right which recognises the Royal Australian Air Force. To be eligible for this medal, personal had to have served a minimum of 18 months full time service or 3 years part time between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. The Service Medal is made from nickel and features the effigy of King George VI on the front and the Australian Coat of Arms on the rear of the medal.


The Korea Medal.  This medal  was awarded to troupes from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK, who served in Korea during the Korean War ( 25 June 1950 - 27 July 1953). This cupro-nickel medal was created when King George VI was monarch, however, he died in February 1952 and the medal exhibits an effigy of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II on the front. On the back of the Korea Medal is illustrated Hercules wrestling the Hydra (the symbol of Communism) and the word Korea below. The ribbon displays five vertical stripes of alternating yellow and blue ( blue to represent the united nations).

This medal would have been awarded to my great uncle for his active role in the Korean War. ( June 1950 - July 1953) from the Australian War Memorial website I discovered that Alexander Johnston is likely to have been a part of one or more of the following Regiments in Korea.

  • 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, September 1950 - November 1954
  • 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, March 1952 - March 1953, April 1954 - March 1956
  • 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, March 1953 - April 1954
The Liberal government of Australia, led by Prime Minister Robert Menzies, immediately responded to the UN resolution by offering military assistance. 17,000 Australians served in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, and they suffered 339 dead, and 1200 wounded.[3]
With the commitment of Australian forces to the Korean War, the Australian government called for 1000 men who had prior military experience in World War II [4] to enlist in the army for three years, with one year of overseas service in Korea. They were called Korean Force or K-Force.[5] Their previous military experience would facilitate rapid deployment to Korea. Wikipedia.
The Australian War Memorial Out in the Cold Exhibition featured the following description of the Korean War.

War on land: the Australian Army in Korea

“The Korean War was overwhelmingly a land war, in terms of numbers of participants, casualties and material costs. It was fought across rugged terrain through which ran only rough, narrow roads and tracks. Operations were further complicated by extreme conditions of heat and cold, rain and snow for long periods.”
Robert O'Neill, Official Historian of Australia in the Korean War

Korean War Image -Wikipedia


The United Nations Service Medal (UNKM). The United nations established this medal in December 1951 as its first ever International award to honour those who served in the military forces of an Allied army in the defense of Korea between 27 June 1950 and 27 July 1954.


The General Service Medal (1918-1962)This silver medal was awarded for service in minor army and Air Force operations for which there was no existing award. The 1962 medal pictured above bears an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on the front and  the back of the medal features the winged figure of Victory wearing a Corinthian helmet and bearing a trident.


The Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal. This commemorative silver  medal, on the far right, was awarded to selected persons chosen by the heads of states and countries of the Commonwealth. Of the 138,214 medals produced, 11,561 were awarded to Australians.

Major A W Johnston wearing his medals.

My great aunt's marriage to Alexander Johnston was her second marriage and a second marriage for him also. I am privileged to have possession of the gold wedding dress Dorothy May Cameron (nee Weston) wore when she married Major Johnston in the 1950's. As a child I listened to my great aunt reminisce about life in Malaya as the wife of an Australian Army Officer. I have a photo album of black and white photographs which follow their years in Singapore. I am now planning to research more about my great uncle's army career and will follow up this blog post with an update on the Singapore years.

A photo from the Sydney Morning Herald showing Major and the new Mrs Johnston cutting their wedding cake.

The Military Funeral in 1966 of Major A W Johnston

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Courting Ancestors - Valentine's Day

Courting Ancestors - Valentine's Day

My paternal grandparents (right) courting on the bank of the Brisbane River 1929, 17 Mile Rocks

"To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day, 
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber door,
Let in the maid, that out a maid,
Never departed more."
                            - William Shakespeare - Hamlet Act IV Scene 5

Saint Valentine's Day, more commonly known as Valentine's Day, is celebrated around the world on February 14. It is a day when lovers of all ages give gifts of flowers, chocolates and such, to demonstrate their love for each other. 

Family in Historical Context..

Placing Family within Historical Context- History and your Family History

Photo NSW C Class Tram built by John Morrison in the mid 1890's ©

The key to understanding what life was like for our ancestors, is to place their lives into real historical context. By understanding the economic, social and political events relevant to the period in which our ancestors lived, we can open a window of  insight into the circumstances which impacted upon their personal lives.

WW1 photo taken by a family member ©

Studying history provides us with a backdrop for our ancestors' lives. Investigating historical events assists us in constructing a more complete and accurate story about our forebears within the context of the time in which they lived. History is not, as is commonly interpreted,  'the past'. History is how historians  interpret  events of the past. Our family histories are a wealth of  individual and personal narratives of the past, which cannot be separated from the historical events which shaped them. Our family stories allow us to interpret our personal past, and collectively, our individual family histories become a significant part of the bigger picture of history. 

Image - Wikipedia

It is exciting to discover where ancestors lived, when they married and what their occupations were. It is significant to record the dates of voyages and the names of the ships upon which ancestors travelled when they emigrated. These facts, however, are the just the introduction to an ancestor's story. By looking at the events which occurred in a forebear's lifetime we may discover circumstances and events which affected our families' lives and rationalise the decisions they made. Placing your family into historical context can help you to understand much more about your family's personal lives, values, economic circumstances, work ethics and even hardships endured.

To understand the lives of ancestors, we should not just search for WHAT happened, but importantly, we should discover WHY.


The following story demonstrates the way in which, through my research into Australian history, I came to fully appreciate events which significantly affected the lives of my Morrison great great grandparents. By understanding the events which saw Australia ride a wave of economic boom in the 1870's and  1880's, and the severe economic downturn in the 1890's which plunged the country into crisis, I turned a framework of facts about the life of my great great grandfather, John Morrison into a detailed  and elaborate biography which sits comfortably within the authentic Australian historical narrative.

The Bare Facts 
John Morrison, house carpenter by trade, arrived in Melbourne, Australia on December, 31,1878, on board the ship Kent, from Northumberland, England, with his wife Hannah (Gair) and four children. After living in Melbourne for one year  John moved the family to the leafy suburb of Strathfield in Sydney, where by 1882 he had established himself as a builder of considerable repute. From newspaper articles accessed on Trove (National Library of Australia website), I followed John Morrison's career with great interest. With significant buildings such as Chapter House, adjoining St Andrew's Cathedral, the Strathfield Council Chambers,  and numerous large Gothic Style churches to his credit, John Morrison, builder, turned his attention to the construction of tram and rail carriages in around 1880. John commenced a new chapter in his life as he operated a large carriage works at Strathfield, in Sydney where the name J Morrison  earned a reputation for fine craftsmanship in the construction of trams and rail carriages in New South Wales. John and Hannah had, by this time, added seven more children to their family. Suddenly in 1894, John Morrison lost everything. Advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald for the auction of his home and contents as well as his business interests, proffered evidence of the considerable wealth he had acquired. Amongst items listed for auction were, a large number of paintings by famous artists, expensive jewellery, made to order quality furniture and furnishings, and two grand pianos, reportedly for sale, due to circumstances caused by 'the cancellation of a government contract for 180 rail carriages'. I can only imagine how heartbreaking this situation was for the Morrison In 1900, John moved his family to Queensland where he took up the role of Foreman at the Ipswich Rail Works. After leaving the Rail Works, John invested and worked in the Stuart River Saw Mill with his son John William Morrison. John Morrison died in 1927, in Cooroy, Queensland.

The question which needed answering, was, WHY did John lose a government contract for a large number of rail carriages. The period of Australian history in the 1890's was not one with which I was familiar. I looked for answers in articles published in the Sydney Morning Herald between 1890 and 1891, where John Morrison's railway carriages were described as being of excellent quality and nicely finished (April 19, 1890).  Bad workmanship was most certainly not the reason for John Morrison's sudden descent into financial trouble. The next step was to research Australian history in the 1890's to look for any historical circumstances which might throw light upon John Morrison's financial disaster.

J Morrison's C Class tram at Sydney Tramway Museum, Loftus ©

John Morrison's story remained unfinished as I undertook a history course through the University of new England, which gave me little time for my family history. Then came one of those delightful genealogical, serendipitous moments......
Whilst studying Australian Colonial History, and in particular the events of the last three decades of the 19th century, I  inadvertently discovered the cause of John Morrison's business failure. The first clue was the introduction to Topic 9 in my Australian Colonial History course:
The 1890's are a crucial decade in Australia's history, a time when major social, economic and political change occurred in a relatively short period.
 The reality of John Morrison's situation hit me when reading a paper by B K Garis, I read :
In the third major area of boom-time investment, railway construction.... massive expenditure of overseas capital on such facilities as roads, bridges, harbours, telegraphs, and above all, railways, had been an integral and valuable feature of the thirty years between 1860 and 1890... but in the end the colonial governments had carried their railway building to excess...
Despite concerns in the 1880's about government expenditure on railway lines and rolling stock, the expansion of railways continued until in about 1891, British funding ceased. No Australian railway system had expanded more rapidly than in New South
Suddenly, I was able to fill significant gaps in John's story and to place John Morrison's life within a real historical framework, amidst real historical events.

A Rail Carriage constructed in John Morrison's Carriage Works at Strathfield
now located at the NSW State Rail Museum ©

On the 1871 UK Census, John Morrison is listed as living in Byker, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland and his occupation, a house carpenter. John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazette, 1870-1872, describes Byker as,

a Township... Population 7663, Houses, 1046. The inhabitants are employed variously in potteries, glassworks, quarries, collieries and other manufactories and works.

From Wilson's description, I know that at the time that my great great grandfather worked in Byker, the area was very much a working class environment. John Morrison, as a house carpenter would have been an integral part of that working class environment, however, since the family arrived in Australia as unassisted immigrants, it can be assumed that John Morrison had the means to pay for his and his family's passage. 

Byker, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland, England

After living in Melbourne for one year John moved his growing family to the leafy suburb of Strathfield in Sydney. By 1882, he had built for himself, a reputation as a builder of some renown in Sydney. With buildings of significance to his credit, including St Andrew's Cathedral's Chapter House, the Strathfield Council Chambers, and a number of large Gothic style churches, it seems that John Morrison was astute enough to realise that there were important opportunities for him as a builder, amidst the railway boom which began around 1878, especially in New South Wales.  From the late 1880's to the mid 1890's, he owned and operated a large carriage works at Strathfield, which fulfilled government contracts for trams and rail carriages. J Morrison was one of the big rail carriage contractors in New South Wales and a self made man of considerable wealth. From advertisements in the Sydney Morning Herald, found on the National Library of Australia's website Trove, I discovered that John Morrison's good fortune came to an abrupt end in 1893, when according to newspaper advertisements he was forced to sell his home and contents, as well as his business due to the cancellation of a Government contract for 180 rail carriages.

An interview given by John Morrison in May, 1890, which appeared in the Launceston Examiner ( the nature which was his opinion of Tasmanian Blackwood and Huon Pine timbers in the construction of rail carriages), I discovered that Morrison's carriage Works employed almost 200 people.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It's all In the Numbers


I am quite late in responding to Alona from the LoneTester HQ Blog  with her  'It's all in the Numbers'.  geneameme. As the old saying goes.. better late than never so I am putting pen to paper... well fingers to keyboard in fact, although that doesn't sound quite as enchanting! The challenge offered by Alona was to chose ten or more numbers which have some meaning personally, because of the way in which they relate to our own family history research. Thankyou Alona for your creative meme which has made me think somewhat outside the family box!

1. Fifteen is the largest number of generations I have on a branch of my family tree, beginning with myself.  Fifteen generations takes me back to my maternal 12th great grandfather and grandmother  in Switzerland. Xander Ryser was born in 1546 in Affoltern, Emmenthal, Bern, Switzerland and died there in 1614. Xander Ryser's wife Trini Gruetter was my 12th great grandmother. Another line of Swiss ancestors goes back 14 generations to Christian Häberling who was born in Ottenbach, Zurich in 1527, and although born earlier, he is an 11th great grandfather, making 14 generations of family including myself.

2. Leading on from the number above, is Twelve, the most number of greats I have before a grandfather and grandmother. 

3. Three is the most number of name changes one ancestor has made deliberately, which means, not through spelling mistakes or change due to immigration and language difficulties or illiteracy. 

I have a number of ancestors whose names changed after migrating to new countries. The German  surname NERGER became NARGER, Häberling became phonetically spelled Heberling. In Scotland Farrins became Farren, Fearns, and Ferns, most likely because of mistakes made by clerks filling out records. My great uncle Rex Morley Hoyes, however, led a 'colourful' life and changed his name legally three times to hide from MI5, the British Press, the Law and possibly four or more wives! Rex was born Rex Morley (his middle name being his mother's maiden surname) HOYES, in 1902 in Auckland, New Zealand. He left new Zealand in 1933 with his first wife Muriel Bates, bound for the more prosperous shores of England. By 1935 Rex had divorced Muriel and married Lady Margaret Patricia Waleran (Blackadder). He purchased a large estate called Marwell Hall, in Hampshire, once owned by King Henry VIII. As the CEO of an aircraft company, Cunliffe-Owen Pty Ltd in Eastleigh, at the commencement of World War 11, Rex acquired  government contracts to convert Seafire aircraft to Spitfires and to repair aircraft damaged in battle. With a secret airfield constructed on his Marwell Estate, and a team of women pilots, this contributed considerably to the war effort. MI5 then developed a serious interest in him and he was charged with bribery and corruption, although later acquitted. After the war, my great uncle changed his name to Rex Morley-Hoyes. There was speculation that Rex was also a spy with extensive air travel during the war years and exotic addresses such as Majorca, Formentor, Balearic Isles and others. Around the time he married his third wife Irene Arbib, and following a spot of illegal gun running to Hyderabad in conjunction with Australian pilot Sidney Cotton in 1948, Rex once more changed his surname, this time to Rex Morley-Morley. I found him in Kelly's Blue Handbook of Landed and Titled persons under this name. After a fourth marriage and another arrest this time at the King George V Hotel in Paris for failing to pay his bill, ( and indications that he had not been paid for his gun running activities by the world's richest man, the Nizam of Hyderabad) I finally found his death recorded under the most colourful name of all....Viscompt Fessenden Charles Rex Morley-Morley de Borenden! If nothing else , he had a vivid imagination! 

4.  Five is the most generations I have had living at one time (that I know of). When I was aged 10 months old, a photograph was taken at my great great grandmother's 88th birthday party held in Maryborough, Queensland. The photograph celebrated five generations of mothers and daughters. Pictured were myself, my mother Alwynne Jean MacDade (Reece-Hoyes), her mother ( my grandmother) Hilda Lillian Green ( Reece-Hoyes nee Weston), her mother ( my great grandmother) Lillie Herminnie Weston (Nargar) and her mother ( my great great grandmother) Barbara Lena Nargar (Häberling). 

Five is also the fewest number of generations I have on any branch of my family tree beginning with myself. On my father's mother's Irish side of the family I have been unable to trace family back further than my great great grandfather William White of Brookend, County Tyrone. 
Five seems to be a significant number for me also, as I have five convict ancestors.

5 & 6. I have Twenty Two people on my family tree with the name John. If I add Seventeen ancestors named the Swiss equivilent of John, which is Johan or Johannes and another Thirteen who used the abbreviated form of the name John, being Hans...  in two languages and spread over England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland I have a total of Fifty Two ancestors named John in one variation or another.

7. Eleven appears to be the most number of children born into any of my ancestors' families. My MORRISON great great grandparents from Aberdeen Scotland and Nottinghamshire and who immigrated to Australia in 1868 had 11 children, comprising 8 daughters and 3 sons.

8. Eight is the number which crops up the most number of times on my family tree as the number of children ancestors had. The following forebears are some of my ancestors who had eight children.

CUPPLES, Alexander and Agnes. Five times great grandparents. (Ireland). Between 1775 and 1793 they had six sons and two daughters.
MCDADE, John and Elizabeth (Scotland to Australia). Between 1896 and 1911 my grandparents had five sons and three daughters.
HÄBERLING, Jacob and Anna (Switzerland to Australia). My great great great grandparents had two sons and six daughters between 1850 and 1868.

9. 1303 is the number of people currently on my family tree. 

10.  1484 is the number of  records I have collected to date to support my family history research... possibly more....