When a cremation box and a folder of photographs were found inside a residential garage in Yarragon and submitted to the Trafalgar-Thorpdale RSL Sub-Branch, a search began for the relatives of a mysterious digger so he could be laid to rest with dignity.
The cremated remains of Private William Halliday arrived at the Sub-Branch one day along with a second, smaller box with a plaque inscribed with “Lady”, believed to be a pet dog, and photos of a man in uniform. One was titled “Bill in Malay 1955-1956".
Another photo depicted the same, older man in what looked like a hospital. It was captioned Melbourne Cup Day 1.11.2006, chicken and champagne afternoon tea at Erica Ward.
Trafalgar-Thorpdale RSL treasurer, Paul Altamore said there were no contact details left with the ashes, but it was obvious that the remains belonged to a deceased serviceman.
Mr Altamore said Malayan campaign service medal records confirmed the photos were of a Private William Halliday, service number 3/10499 from the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.
Private Halliday was awarded a British General Service Medal for his service in The Malayan Emergency. He was discharged from the army on April 30, 1957.
“Our priority was to establish the correct identity of this man and then to find his next-of-kin to return the ashes to,” Mr Altamore said.
“The fact was that someone had given us these ashes in good faith. If he was indeed a serviceman, then we wanted to make sure he is interned with the respect he deserves.”
The next parts of the puzzle were to find any surviving connections to Private Halliday and to lay him to rest.
RSL Appeals Officer and history buff Tracey Chambers was able to source a funeral notice in the Latrobe Valley Express. It had been posted by the Moe RSL Sub-Branch confirming Private Halliday's date of birth, and the date he died.
The Sub-Branch contacted Latrobe Regional Health (LRH) Freedom of Information Officer, Deb Mackeown, who used the photo of Private Halliday in the Erica Ward, to find even more missing pieces.
Deb discovered that Private Halliday had a life-long mate, William De La Perrelle, who would visit him in hospital along with his German Sheppard, called Macca.
“This became a personal project for me, and I got so excited as I found more information,” she said.
"It was not just bits of paper in a folder, but a man’s life."
“I desperately wanted to get some closure for this gentleman so we can put him to rest. This man put his life on the line for us as a soldier, so I wanted to look after him in death.”
The Trafalgar-Thorpdale RSL has continued to search for next-of-kin or surviving connections to either Private Halliday or his mate Mr De La Perrelle, who died in 2012.
Mr Altamore said the Sub-Branch was hoping to intern his remains in the Yarragon cemetery with a small ceremony.
They welcome any information on Private Halliday or his family.