Spring clean leads to WWI plaque

By Christine McKay

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Graham McColl receives the World War 1 service plaque of his uncle Private Andrew McColl from Senior Constable Karl Williams of the Woodville police in Wellington yesterday.
Graham McColl receives the World War 1 service plaque of his uncle Private Andrew McColl from Senior Constable Karl Williams of the Woodville police in Wellington yesterday.

When Woodville's Senior Constable Karl Williams discovered a World War I plaque hidden away in the back of a cupboard in his police station, he was quick to realise its historic significance.

But just how Private Andrew McColl's plaque came to be at the Woodville police station, almost 100 years after he served in World War I, no one knows.

"I was keen to find out more about the plaque and made some inquiries with the New Zealand Defence Force archives," Mr Williams said.

He discovered Private Andrew McColl, born in Masterton in 1887, had died on active service overseas in December 1918. The plaque was sent to the family in 1921 but returned to the Defence Force without explanation. In 1923 it was sent to the town clerk of the Masterton Borough Council where it was displayed on Anzac Day along with his medals and a scroll.

The scroll and plaque were returned to the New Zealand Army before being re-issued to a family member in 1933. After that time, the whereabouts of the plaque was unknown, until Mr Williams set out on a spring clean at the station.

"Because of my own family history from World War I and my previous military service (he was in the New Zealand Airforce before joining the police) I recognised the plaque's importance and was motivated to see it returned to the family."

Yesterday the plaque made its final journey and was presented to five of Private McColl's nephews and other family members in a ceremony at National Police Headquarters in Wellington.

Private McColl's nephew, Graham McColl, said the family had no idea it existed.

"Last week when Karl rang us up, I couldn't believe it."

The family had no photos of their uncle and he had no family before travelling overseas to fight in the war, Mr McColl said.

"It's a very emotional time for the family."

Andrew McColl said the plaque had brought his uncle "back to life" for the family. Private McColl died of a cerebral haemorrhage on December 18, 1918 in Belgium and is buried in the Mons Communal Cemetery.

- additional reporting APNZ

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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