Weather News

Service medals washed up in Qld floods returned to family just in time for Anzac Day

Sofie Wainwright, Wednesday April 24, 2019 - 08:01 EST
Audience submitted image
Colin James McDonald, otherwise known as Blue, was 23 when he served. - Audience submitted

A late Vietnam veteran's service medals discovered during a clean-up operation after the Queensland floods have been returned to his family.

Thousands of Townsville homes and businesses were hit by floods in February including Legacy, a charity that supports the families of deceased or incapacitated veterans.

Legatee Rob Donkin was helping sort through the flood-affected possessions when he noticed a Vietnam Medal and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

"I thought, 'Well yeah, we're not throwing those out'," Mr Donkin said.

"I took them home to clean them up and then see what the story was behind them."

It is unknown how long the medals were in the safe, but Legacy staff and volunteers believe it had been at least a decade.

Tracking the family

Mr Donkin crosschecked the service number engraved on the medals on the Nominal Roll of Vietnam Veterans and found they belonged to Private Colin James McDonald.

He was better known as 'Blue' because of his red hair.

Blue was born in Mackay in 1947, served in the 2nd Battalion between 1970 and 1971, and died in a car crash in Western Australia in 2005.

The search for Blue's family mobilised a sort of bush telegraph of ex-servicemen, with Mr Donkin contacting one veteran, who contacted another, John 'Jock' Cassidy.

Mr Cassidy in turn spoke to two others, and among them they managed to get hold of Blue's son, Steven McDonald, who lives in Townsville.

"Everyone else dug up the dots and I just connected them," Mr Cassidy said.

"I think it was lucky, a lot of luck involved, and the old boy's network — one who knew the other, one who knew the other, one who knew the other.

"The ADF is a big family and whether you're in the machine or outside of the machine you're still part of the same family."

Window to the past

Mr McDonald said he did not know a lot about his father before the medals showed up.

"I was very small when he left but also I think it's the same with a lot of Vietnam vets — they didn't talk a lot about their service," Mr McDonald said.

"I've since heard that when dad returned home, there was no real celebration, or even an understanding."

He said it was "pretty special" to learn more about his dad, who had been described as a "lad" who was proud of his service.

"I've spoken to a few of his friends since finding the medals who say he was a very, very loyal person," Mr McDonald said.

"They say he was a great person to have standing behind your back, but didn't mind a cold drink on a hot day."

'A bit of an enigma'

Mr McDonald intends to meet his father's friend, Richard Hawkins, who played a part in linking him to the medals.

Mr Hawkins said he was the best man at Blue's wedding, and was in and out of touch with him throughout his life.

"We were mates before we went into the army," Mr Hawkins said.

"Blue then vanished off the scene … [But] we then got posted to the same battalion," Mr Hawkins said.

"He was probably a bit of an enigma, he was definitely a really likeable rogue … he was just a scallywag."

Carrying the legacy

Mr McDonald said the medals have also brought him closer to his 11-year-old daughter Ella in teaching her about the family history.

He said replica medals were ordered for Ella to wear in the Anzac Day march this year until the real ones turned up.

"The coincidence for me was that Ella and I had never discussed walking in Anzac Day until this year," Mr McDonald said.

Ella said she felt proud of her grandfather, wanted to learn more about him, and looked forward to wear the real medals in the march.

"Have a go and respect the soldiers that have gone to war and sacrificed their lives for our wellbeing," Ella said.

"What happened to get [the medals] back to us is pretty cool.

"I think it's pretty good that at least one good thing came out of [the floods]."

There are plans to get replicas of other medals Blue earned for Ella to wear next Anzac Day.


© ABC 2019

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Polar air reaches Australia

20:42 EST

Satellite images capturing Thursday's last light showed a huge mass of polar air starting to spread over southern Australia.

BOM forecasts cold snap, with temperatures set to plummet in south-east Australia

17:20 EST

It may have felt like spring had sprung, but winter still has a sting in its tail for Australia's south-east.