Cooloootai Station medal find sparks hunt for owner’s family

May 7, 2020

A WWI Service Medal found in a Coolatai shearer’s hut has a sparked a search for the family of the medal’s owner.  Angela Stewart, of Coolootai Station, said a friend of hers who was staying on the station found the medal in the dust of the hut they were staying in.

Photos: Angela Stewart

“He thought it was just an old coin, until one day he took it out and saw it was a medal,” Angela said.  The medal is a British War Medal 1914-1920, which was given to all Commonwealth servicemen and women who were in active service during the war.

Angela says that her family members recall that he may have worked in the area as a fencer or in the wool trade and was likely around the area in the 1950s.

John Nelson was employed on Coolootai Station in 1951.  Angela believes he might have been an itinerant worker or someone whose work required him to move a lot, as there is record of Nelson working elsewhere around NSW.

“It might’ve fallen out as he was packing up,” Angela said.

Part of the wave of fresh recruits that helped form the 54th Battalion AIF mid-war, Nelson may have served at some of the most famous battles of the war: the Somme, Fromelles, Villers-Bretonneux, and Polygon Wood, before he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion that took part in the final Amiens offensive in 1918 that ended the war.

Donna Smith has researched Nelson’s history as far she could, but is still asking for help. Donna pieced together this summary:

  • 1888 Born at Elmore, Victoria
  • Employed as a 28 year old labourer at Narrandera at the time of his enlistment.
  • His next of kin was his sister, Mrs Ann Smith of Renmark, South Australia.
  • 15 June 1916 enlisted in the AIF at Dubbo
  • Member of the 54th Battalion, 6th Reinforcements.
  • 7 October 1916 embarked from Sydney on board HMAT A40 Ceramic
  • 21 November 1916 disembarked at Plymouth, England
  • 21 December 1916 proceeded overseas to France
  • 8 February 1917 joined the 54th Battalion in the front line at Trones Wood near Guillemont
  • Mid-April 1917, the Battalion was employed on railway construction work at Ligny-Thilloy
  • 20 April 1917 John accidentally injured his right knee while unloading ammunition and was admitted to hospital. He rejoined his unit at Becourt a week later.
  • Fought in France and Belgium
  • In January 1918, John became sick and was sent to hospital in England.
  • Transferred to the 3rd Battalion in October 1918 and proceeded back overseas to France; joining the 3rd Battalion at Epagne.
  • 9 March 1919, John reported to Administration Headquarters in London where he was attached for duty with the Australian Army Pay Corps.
  • Private John Nelson began his return to Australia on 20 April 1919.
  • Discharged in Sydney on 19 July 1919.
  • Issued with the British War Medal and Victory Medal
  • British was later found at Coolootai Station
  • John moved around the state working on different properties and stations
  • 1932 he was at Gilgandra
  • 1934 at Coonamble
  • 1935 in Narrabri
  • 1939 at Brewarrina
  • 1949 Electoral Roll listed as a station hand at Gunyerwarildi
  • January 1951 John was employed in rabbit destruction on Coolootai Station
  • 1953 Electoral Roll listed as a labourer at Coolootai Station
  • By 1955, John was living in Stephen Street, Warialda
  • Died at Warialda District Hospital on the 28th of June 1955
  • Buried in the Presbyterian section at Warialda Cemetery.

John never married so has no direct descendants.  Does anyone remember John, or know anything about his sister, Ann?