FEDERAL Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce will host a small but poignant ceremony in Canberra on Tuesday [13 October] where a medallion found on the World War One battlefields of France will begin its journey home.
Mr Joyce was first approached by the Inverell RSL Sub-Branch during a visit to the town earlier this year to try and reunite the medallion with any remaining family members of the original owner of the medal, a French soldier, Corporal Alexandre Georges Patte of the 8th Battalion (Light Infantry).
The medallion will be handed over to the French Embassy Deputy Head of Mission, Cedric Prieto, at a ceremony in Parliament House and in the company of 22 Inverell RSL Sub-Branch members who are making a special trip to Canberra for the event.
Mr Joyce said representatives of the RSL Sub-Branch will be presenting the medallion to the Acting Ambassador so it can be returned to Mrs Lourdel, the great granddaughter of Corporal Patte.
He said the realationship between France and Australia was already strong and this ceremony would add to the bond.
“The school in Villiers-Bretonnaux, the scene of a decisive action by Australian troops, including New England’s 33rd Battalion, which turned the tide of the war in favour of the Allies, has inscribed on a building in its grounds ‘Do Not Forget Australia’,” Mr Joyce said.
“The connection to the events of WWI is becoming more pronounced rather than less to people not only in the New England Electorate but across the nation,” he said.
“It has a deep commemorative and, in some instances, almost spiritual connection for so many people as a reflection of who they are. We shouldn’t forget these people, for once we forget them we forget who we are.”
Inverell RSL Sub-Branch Honorary Secretary, Graeme Clinch, said the medal found its way back to Inverell in the personal effects of Lance Corporal Ben Smith.
Benjamin and Mark Smith were the sons of Mrs. McMullin of Ashford. Benjamin enlisted in Sydney on 28 August 1914 when he was 25 and became a Private with the 3rd Battalion, H Company. He served at Gallipoli where he was wounded in May 1915. The following year he was sent to France and served with the 13th Battalion. He returned to Australia in 1917.
Mark Smith enlisted in September 1914, under the name of Mark Alexander Drice. He was 21 years-old and became a Private with the 4th Battalion, D Company. Both brothers sailed from Australia for Egypt on the transport ship A14 Euripides on 20 October 1914. Private Mark Alexander Drice was killed in action at Gallipoli during fighting from 6-9 August 1915. He has no known grave and his name is inscribed on The Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli.
After his brother's death, Benjamin took a pine cone from the trenches and sent it home to his Mother. From this Gallipoli pine cone she was able to grow two seedlings, one of which was planted in Inverell, the other given to the War Memorial in Canberra.
Mr Clinch said the former Sub-Branch Secretary Hans Mouthaan, began the detective work four-and-a-half years ago to find the owner of the medallion that Lance Corporal Smith bought back from France. However progress in finding the medallion’s owner moved at a snail’s pace for the first few years.
“It wasn’t until just after Anzac Day this year we began to get emails from France showing interest in the medal,” Mr Clinch said.
The 22 members of the Inverell RSL Sub-Branch will travel to the town of Cowra and its memorial to the ‘break-out’ by Japanese prisoners of war during WWII, then onto Canberra for the ceremony at Parliament House.
Mr Clinch said the group would also visit the Australian War Memorial while in Canberra.
Private [then later Lance Corporal] Ben Smith in Egypt before embarking for Gallipoli.
The medallion belonging to French soldier, soldier, Corporal Alexandre Georges Patte of the 8th Battalion (Light Infantry).