War plaque reunited with family

SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 14:33 12/06/2014
Plaque
KENT BLECHYNDEN/FAIRFAX NZ
FROM THE PAST: Presentation of WW1 plaque belonging to Private Andrew McColl. Left to right, his nephew Graham McCall and Senior Constable Karl Williams who found it.

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A long lost World War I plaque has been reunited with family at a ceremony in Wellington today.

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

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

There was nothing but a name to identify it, so he contacted the New Zealand Defence Force Archives, who 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 later with no explanation.

In 1923, the plaque, medals and scroll were issued to the town clerk at 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 nobody knows how it ended up in Woodville police station.

With this information, Williams started contacting Returned Service Associations in the hopes of finding a connection. In the meantime, he started ringing 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 on behalf of the family.

Graham McColl, who travelled from the Bay of Plenty to attend the ceremony, said they didn't even have any photos of their uncle, and 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. It brings our uncle back to us," he said.

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

PRIVATE ANDREW MCCOLL's SERVICE

- Born in Masterton in 1887

- Joined 2nd Battalion Canterbury Regiment about halfway through New Zealand Division involvement in the Battle of the Somme, September 26, 1916.

- Hospitalised 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.

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- Would have been a reserve during the Battle of Broodseinde on October 4, 1917, and likely 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)

- Fairfax Media

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