Soldier's plaque finally finds its way back to grateful family

Last updated 05:00 13/06/2014

SPECIAL MOMENT: ‘Very special’: Private Andrew McColl’s nephew, Graham McColl, receives his uncle’s World War I plaque from Senior Constable Karl Williams. ‘‘It brings our uncle back to us,’’ Graham McColl says.

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A long-lost World War I plaque has finally been presented to a dead soldier's family at a ceremony in Wellington.

Descendants of Private Andrew McColl gathered at police national headquarters yesterday to be presented with the plaque commemorating his death during active service in December 1918.

The plaque was discovered at the back of a police station cupboard by Woodville Senior Constable Karl Williams when he was having a cleanup after taking up his new role a month ago.

There was only name to identify it, so he contacted the New Zealand Defence Force Archives, which recognised it was a World War I plaque and managed to trace its history.

It had been issued in 1921 along with medals and a scroll, and posted to McColl's father in Wellington. It was returned shortly afterwards with no explanation.

In 1923, the plaque, medals and scroll were issued to the town clerk at the Masterton Borough Council, and the medals were displayed on Anzac Day. The plaque and scroll were taken to what is now the Defence Force Archives but the medals disappeared.

In 1933, the plaque was issued to another relative in Wellington but no-one knows how it ended up in Woodville police station.

With this information, Williams started contacting Returned Services Associations in the hope of finding a connection.

In the meantime, he started ringing all the McColls in the Wellington phonebook.

On the second try, he came across a family member.

"I couldn't believe my luck," he said. "I didn't want to just put it in a courier bag and send it back to the family, I was very keen to present it to the family in person."

Five of McColl's nephews received the plaque yesterday on behalf of the family.

Graham McColl, who travelled from the Bay of Plenty to attend the ceremony, said they did not even have any photos of their uncle.

Their father, who also served in World War I, had never spoken about him.

"This plaque is something very, very special and important to us," he said. "It brings our uncle back to us.

"We'll remember this for the rest of our lives."


Private Andrew McColl's service Joined 2nd Battalion Canterbury Regiment about halfway through New Zealand Division's involvement in the Battle of the Somme, September 26, 1916.

Admitted to hospital with shell shock at the end of that battle. Rejoined his unit in November 1916. In June 1917, would have taken part in the Battle of Messines.

Would have been a reserve during the Battle of Broodseinde on October 4, 1917, and was probably involved in New Zealand's "blackest day" at the Battle of Passchendaele, October 12, 1917.

Posted to No 2 New Zealand Area Employment Company in December 1917, undertaking salvage work on battlefields. Died from a cerebral haemorrhage on December 18, 1918, aged 31.

Source: NZDF archives

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