Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

WWI plaque finally makes it to solder's family

McColl brothers from left: Graham, Andrew and Ross hold the plaque found by Snr Constable Karl Williams from Woodville during a presentation to the family. Photo / Marty Melville
McColl brothers from left: Graham, Andrew and Ross hold the plaque found by Snr Constable Karl Williams from Woodville during a presentation to the family. Photo / Marty Melville

After 93 years, a plaque awarded posthumously to a World War I soldier has finally made it to the man's family, after a chance find at a rural police station.

Senior Sergeant Karl Williams discovered the "weathered" gold plaque at the bottom of a drawer in the Woodville police station about three weeks ago while he was cleaning out clutter.

A call to the New Zealand Defence Archives unit revealed it belonged to Private Andrew McColl, who had fought in major battles including Somme and Passchendaele, before dying in 1918 before the war ended.

Mr Williams set out to find the soldier's family for reasons of "honour" and after just a couple of calls, found them.

It was finally delivered to Private McColl's nephew and namesake Andrew McColl at a presentation at Police National Headquarters in Wellington today (THURSDAY).

"This wasn't about just putting it in an envelope and sending it back. This was about making sure it got recognition and the family got recognition, and that this was reunited and given back," Mr Williams said.

"It needed to find its way back home."

The plaque - in the shape of a medallion - war medals and a scroll were issued in 1921 to Private McColl's father, who lived in Wellington, but they were returned without an explanation.

They were re-issued in 1923 and ended up at the Borough Council and being displayed during Anzac commemorations, before being sent to NZDF Archives.

The medals and the scroll disappeared, and are still missing, and it was a mystery as to how the plaque ended up at the Woodville police station, Mr Williams said.

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.

"We had no idea how this medallion came to Woodville police station, but we're very pleased that Senior Constable Williams found it and pursued inquiries to return it to our family," he 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.

There were 16 brothers and sisters in the family and it would be shared by all of them, he said.

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Private Andrew McColl's war career:

* 1916: joins 2nd Battalion Canterbury Regiment;

* Sept - Oct 1916: fights in the Battle of the Somme;

* Oct 1916: hospitalised with shell-shock (now known as post traumatic stress disorder);

* Nov 1916: rejoins unit;

* June 1917: takes part in the battle for Messines;

* Oct 1917: fights in the Battle of Passchedaele;

* Dec 1917: deployed to a company that did salvage work on battlefields; and

* Dec 18, 1918: died from a cerebral haemorrhage and was buried in Mons Communal Cemetery in Belgium.

- APNZ

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