War medal returned to Collie family

A Great War medal found in a Wittenoom Street garden has been identified and returned to the family of the recipient after detective work by the Collie- Cardiff RSL and the Collie Family History Society.

The medal carried a British Army number 142400, with the details S.A. Willoughby, Royal Engineers.

In trying to solve the mystery of ownership of the medal, some ’white lies’ about the age of the soldier concerned led to a lot of confusion.

Like many other potential recruits whose age fell outside the parameters for either war, Willoughby lied about his birth date, putting his age up for the Great War, and lowering it for the Second World War.

A check of the RSL ‘Collie Boys’ register showed no one of his name listed for the Great War, but did show a Second World War soldier with the same name.

His details were WX4321, Sidney Albert Willoughby, who served with the 2/16th Infantry Battalion from 1940 to 1944.

As the record showed he was born in 1905, it was assumed this was the son of the man named on the medal, as someone born that year would have been only nine years old at the start of the 1914 war.

The Second World War records listed Willoughby’s next of kin as his wife, Evelyn Willoughby, with the address given as Wittenoom Street, where the medal was found.

An appeal for information about any relatives in the Collie Mail proved unsuccessful.

The RSL turned to the Collie Family History Society for help in tracking down the family.

They eventually located a son who was able to reveal that the WW1 and WW2 soldier were the same person, Sidney Albert Willoughby. Willoughby was born in England in December,1899.

He enlisted for WW1 service in 1915, quoting his birth date as 1898 and age as 17, when he was actually 16 years old.

He survived the Great War and emigrated to Australia, although the date of this event is not known.

He married and had four children, three boys and one girl.

At some time in 1933 or 34, he came to Collie to work on the Wellington Weir project. The family lived at 52 Wittenoom St until 1952, when they then moved to Balingup.

The youngest son, Ernest, and his sister, Gloria, were born in Collie. When WW2 broke out, Sidney was quick to enlist, however the upper age limit for enlistment into the 2nd AIF was 35 years, (this was changed to 40 years in 1940).

Sidney Willoughby again misquoted his birth date to enlist, giving his birth date as 1905.

The records later show his correct birth date, 1899, revealed after the War.

Sydney served with distinction in both World Wars, in spite of being considered too young for the first, and too old for the second.

He served with the British Army, Royal Engineers (3 rd signalling company), in France during WW1, and with the 2 nd AIF, 2/16 th Infantry Battalion in the Middle East and New Guinea during WW2.

His two eldest sons also served in the Australian Army.

The eldest son, William, enlisted from Collie in 1950. He served in Korea in 1951-52 with the 3 rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. Sidney’s second son, Francis, also enlisted from Collie in 1950.

Francis later qualified as an ammunition technician. Warrant Officer Class 2, Francis Willoughby served in the Vietnam War in 1967- 68.

He retired from the Army in 1978 after 28 years of service.

The Collie-Cardiff RSL Sub Branch holds details on all three Willoughby soldiers in their ‘Collie Boys’ database displayed on the Touchscreen at the RSL.

Until this detective work, a positive link between the soldiers had not been ascertained.

Those records will now be amended to show the family link and to recognise Sidney Albert Willoughby’s service in both World Wars.

The Sub Branch has also made arrangements to forward the WW1 medal to Francis Willoughby.

The Collie-Cardiff RSL Sub Branch recognises the Collie Family History Society for their assistance in tracing a descendent of Sidney Albert Willoughby.