News

Man mounts desperate hunt for war record

WHERE'S our honour board?

It's the 57-year-old mystery that inspired John Rathjen to trawl desperately through national service records to compile a list of one small town's war heroes.

The honour board, which commemorates a group of Gladstone region soldiers, disappeared in 1957.

The board, listing more than 22 names of First and Second World War servicemen, disappeared from the Biloela School of Arts building in 1957.

Mr Rathjen, 79, has made it his goal to track down the name of every world war serviceman from the district so he can feature them on a new honour roll.

After two weeks of searching, the Biloela grandfather-of-four has found 22 names.

But as he trawls through hundreds of thousands of names on websites like the National Archives, he holds hope the old honour board itself will be found.

The missing historical artefact is the only memorial to the district's servicemen - from any war.

It disappeared - probably taken by a well-meaning resident for safekeeping - during a building refurbishment in Biloela.

Ironically, Mr Rathjen, a national serviceman and retired Army Reserve major, helped work on the building all those years ago.

"I was in Biloela in 1957 - in fact I rewired the bloody thing when they refurbished it," he said.

"It's only come to a head this year with the advent of the centenary of the First World War.

"We want to reinstate it so we have a record of servicemen from Biloela."

Mr Rathjen said the majority of names would stem from the Second World War.

"There wouldn't be too many from Biloela in the First World War, because Biloela wasn't established as a town until 1924, but there were people from the district who were graziers and worked on stations prior to that who went to the First World War," he said.

Mr Rathjen said he recently started the hunt for local servicemen.

"I have started doing a search on a website - it's a tedious job I might add," he said.

"You've got to go through until you get a name that looks familiar to you and then go looking to see where he was when he enlisted.

"I've found 22 so far - that's with nearly a week or two of searching.

"Sometimes the army records are a bit difficult to latch on to.

"It's okay if people have got relatives who served in the war and we have their regiment number.

"That can make it very simple. When you've got a regimental number, that follows you from the cradle to the grave.

"We had one recently - the council asked me to go looking for a private. Nobody knew where he lived.

"I went searching and found his number on a roll after looking through 230,000 people, which was a bit of a trying exercise to take on."

Mr Rathjen was a child during the Second World War, so his memory is a bit hazy.

However, he's enlisted his older sister to help with the hunt.

"I wasn't old enough to understand really what went on," he said of his younger years.

"I've brought in one of my sisters who was about 16 when the Second World War started - she's compiling a list of names for me.

"With her memory, I reckon we'll have everybody in Biloela who served in the Second World War."

Mr Rathjen said he would be ecstatic if the original honour board turned up.

"Without it we have no memorial at all," he said.

"It's an average honour board - pretty much looks like any that you'd find in a local bowls club.

"We don't hold out a lot of hope of finding it. We'd be very, very thrilled if it turned up.

"These blokes who went to the Second World War - their names should never be lost."

If you know where the board is, contact Mr Rathjen on 4992 1170.

Topics:  biloela, honour roll, war, war veterans



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