Courier loses treasured war medals

By Steve Deane

'It's gutting' - woman distressed she wont get to wear dad's WWI mementoes in parade today.

Trooper Andrew Whitefield left Wellington in 1915 to fight in the Great War.
Trooper Andrew Whitefield left Wellington in 1915 to fight in the Great War.

The daughter of a World War I veteran is distraught after her father's medals were lost by a courier company.

Biddy McCarroll, 76, had planned to wear her father Andrew Whitefield's service medals at a dawn service today. Instead, she may never see them again after New Zealand Couriers botched a track-and-trace delivery from Christchurch.

"It's gutting," Mrs McCarroll said. "It's really disappointing."

Her nephew Andrew McKay had been entrusted with the three medals, which he was to pass on to the Gore Returned and Services Association.

However, Mrs McCarroll decided she would wear them at today's dawn service in Whangamata. So three weeks ago, Mr McKay - himself an army veteran of 34 years - sent the medals north from Christchurch via courier. They never arrived, sparking an intense but unsuccessful hunt.

New Zealand Couriers' track-and-trace system shows the medals left Christchurch, but they did not go through the Hamilton or Kopu depots as they should have on the way to Whangamata.

Theft within the company has not been ruled out. "Theft happens everywhere and on occasion it may well happen in our business as well," said Dean Bracewell, managing director of New Zealand Couriers' parent company, Freightways.

"We can't rule out theft, we can't rule out incorrect delivery, we can't rule out a number of things because we haven't been able to close off the investigation with any sort of success.

Biddy McCarroll
Biddy McCarroll

"Every depot in the country has been searched, every possible avenue. At this stage we have been unsuccessful. We are really sorry."

The longer the search went on, the less likely it was the medals would be found, Mr Bracewell said.

"We've tried to make good by offering replicas, because that is the best we can do in this situation. But we understand that is a long way away from the two originals.

"We are upset because we absolutely understand the sensitivity around something like this."

Mr Whitefield, a trooper in the army, was brought up in the Waikaka Valley, near Gore, and embarked by boat from Wellington for Egypt in 1915.

He also served in France and returned to New Zealand in 1919 to work as a farmer. He married Mrs McCarroll's mother, Roberta, six years later and died in 1964, aged 71.

Mrs McCarroll said she had heard of parcels turning up six weeks after being dispatched, so she still held out hope the medals - a Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal - would turn up.

"Perhaps there is still hope. I have got his [her father's] dog tags. I have at least got that, but those are not things you wear out. It's gutting really because Andrew never wore them; he has got his own medals. And our son was in the air force but he has got his own medals. So I thought I'd wear them for Dad this time. That's not going to happen."

The family are unable to get replacement medals from the Defence Force as it supplies them only if the recipient is still alive.

But its website points families whose loved ones have died to militaria dealers who make replicas.

One firm, New Zealand Medals, sells solid-metal medals for $40, and cheaper miniatures are available.

The company's website says they are popular with those wanting to wear medals but not risk losing them.

- NZ Herald

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