A VISIT to the Canberra War Memorial 10 years ago and a chance conversation with a tour guide revealed a local woman’s connection to Gallipoli and helped her reunite with a long-lost uncle.
Anne-Louise O’Connor, of Shoalhaven Heads, grew up in England.
Her mother left their family when she was five.
With her father in the British Forces, Anne-Louise and her sister Jenny were sent to boarding school not long after.
“It wasn’t until I was 17 years of age that I discovered my parents had divorced,” Anne-Louise said.
After coming to Australia in 1968, Anne-Louise decided to apply for dual citizenship.
“Shortly after putting in my application I received a letter from my sister saying that Pat, my mother, had been in touch with her and it would be nice if I wrote her a letter,” Anne-Louise said.
“How do you start to write a letter to someone who is your mother, but has had no contact with you for 20 years? Not an easy task I can assure you.
“Finally I put pen to paper and in the letter I mentioned that I had been to Melbourne.
“You can imagine my surprise when I got a letter back saying, ‘Delighted to hear that you have been to Melbourne. I wonder what it is like, funny to think I was born there 46 years ago’.”
Anne-Louise returned to England in 1996 and met her mother for the first time since the age of five.
The past was still not discussed, and so Anne-Louise was never able to find out how Pat, her mother had come to be born in Melbourne.
She knew nothing about her maternal grandfather.
Anne-Louise began research when she returned to Australia.
She discovered her grandfather Charles Traill was born in Northern Scotland and left to fight in the Boer War at the age of 18.
During that time he was awarded the Queen’s and King’s South African Medals.
He then moved to Australia and lived in Stawell, Victoria.
After getting a hold of his war records, Anne-Louise discovered he had fought for the Australians in World War I with the 8th Battalion AIF.
He also remarried and had two sons.
In May 2004, Anne-Louise and her husband John were at the War Memorial in Canberra and began chatting with a tour guide.
Anne-Louise mentioned her grandfather and that he had fought with the 8th Battalion.
The tour guide suggested she purchase a book, Cobbers in Khaki – a history of the 8th Battalion.
“This opened a whole new world for me as, looking through the book, I not only found many mentions of my grandfather, John Charles Merriman Traill, but also a photo of him,” Anne-Louise said.
“Suddenly this mythical person was real.”
After contacting the author, Ron Austin, Anne-Louise was able to get a hold of the phone number of her grandfather’s son Charles, learning that he lived in Forster, NSW.
“I decided on May 25, 2004 to phone with the thought that he could only hang up if he didn’t want to speak to me,” Anne-Louise said.
Charles was in his 50s when he discovered his father had been previously married.
He was sorting through his mother’s papers and found a picture of two young girls.
His mother told him they were daughters from his father’s previous marriage.
Charles had been searching for nearly 20 years for his two half-sisters.
“My phone call was, he said, the best birthday present he had received, it was his birthday the following day,” Anne-Louise said.
In July that year Anne-Louise and John went to meet Charles and his wife Joan.
“It was a very emotional meeting,” she said.
“I had not only found a wonderful uncle but discovered what an amazing man my grandfather was, one I am very proud of, especially as he was one of the original Anzacs being in the first wave of boats to land at Gallipoli and in the last boat to leave the shores of Gallipoli.
“Charles had a lot of memorabilia belonging to grandfather including a mug he had pulled out of the mud while fighting at Somme while on the Western Fron. Holding that mug, still with the dirt on it was one of the most amazing experiences.”