War medals returned after 50 years

An eagle-eyed Sergeant from Lilydale has assisted in the return of WW2 war medals, more than five decades after they were stolen.

By pure chance, Sergeant Vaughan Atherton, who himself served as an Army Reservist for nine years, was chatting to the stations’ property officer when the topic of the war medals came up.

Police had not been able to identify the owner of medals which had been recovered when a search warrant was executed at a property in Lilydale in 2017.

The medals were about to be sent to the Returned Services League (RSL) before Sergeant Atherton took a closer look.

There was a name on the rim of the medals and from there, a search to identify the owner began.

Sergeant Atherton contacted the National Archives of Australia (NAA) but was not able to get any information about the recipient.

His daughter, who works for the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA), suggested that he search the DVA nominal rolls.

The DVA nominal rolls provides a snapshot of a person’s service history.

That document named Downs’ next of kin as Egbert Downs, so Sergeant Atherton went back to the NAA and conducted a records search for Egbert Downs.

The search identified Egbert Downs was the next of kin for Robert Griffith Preston Downs, also a WW2 serviceman and Douglas’ brother.

After a few more searches, Sergeant Atherton managed to identify the granddaughter of Egbert Downs, Maureen.

Maureen also happens to be a current Victoria Police employee who was able to provide her aunt’s details to police.

Sergeant Atherton then had the pleasure of calling Pte Down’s sister Rosemary, now aged 81, to let her know her brother’s medals had been located.

Rosemary told Sergeant Atherton that the medals had been stolen during a burglary at Douglas’ western suburbs home in 1969.

“I was just a baby when Douglas went to war and I didn’t meet my brother until he returned home several years later.

“I was sent a photograph of him on Salisbury Plain in the UK during his troop training and he was later shipped to the Middle East.

“After the Germans invaded Crete, Douglas managed to escape and fight with the partisans before finally coming home, said Rosemary.

“Douglas married and had two sons and one daughter, all who have since passed so I am Douglas’ only living relative.

“He was most upset when the medals were stolen but I am beyond excited to have them returned after more than 50 years and Douglas would be absolutely thrilled.”

Sergeant Vaughan said he is just so glad to have been able to track Rosemary down and see the medals returned to the family after such a long time.

“Having family who have served in the forces, I know how important these medals are to the people who they are awarded to and it was important to me to see that they were returned to Douglas’ family.

“Unfortunately, we are yet to identify the offenders who stole the medals back in 1969 but let’s just say, it’s never too late.”

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