Sharon Barrett decided to find the original owner of the war coat.
Sharon Barrett decided to find the original owner of the war coat. Rebecca Danslow

Second World War army coat returns to family of owner

FOR 42 years, a green woollen army great coat hung on the laundry door of Charles Nurse's dairy farm in Bundanoon, NSW.

It was given to Charles by his son, Corporal Maxwell Martin Murchie after he returned back to NSW from serving in Darwin throughout the Second World War. For 42 years, Charles wore the coat when milking cows in the winter.

At the age of 92, Charles passed the coat on to his granddaughter Merrian Ross.

"When I moved to Gladstone, I brought the coat with me," Merrian said. "I had the coat treated and cleaned and then it was folded up in the wardrobe, where it stayed for the next 15 years."

In 2002, the coat changed hands again, this time to Merrian's sister Sharon Barrett. She would be its caretaker for the next 10 years.

"One day I thought, this coat needs to be returned to the original owner," Sharon said.

"There was a name and number written on the inside pocket: Comino, Stephen John, but it didn't mean anything to our family."

After looking up the soldier's record, Sharon decided to write to RSL clubs in the district the soldier had come from.

The notice was published in the Veteran's Affairs Magazine.

Merrian Ross and Sharon Barrett with their book, The War Coat.
Merrian Ross and Sharon Barrett with their book, The War Coat. Rebecca Danslow

The same day it was distributed, Sharon received an unlikely phone call.

"I got a call from the soldier's sister-in-law; she had seen the notice," Sharon said.

"She told me Stephen had passed away in 2001 but she gave me his son Peter's contact number."

Sharon was nervous about making the call.

"I led in by talking about my grandfather. I could tell his son was nice and interested," she said.

"At the end of the conversation, I said we had this old war coat and that it had his father's name on it."

Peter was floored.

"He couldn't believe our family had looked after the coat for 67 years," Sharon said.

"Or that we were willing to give it back."

After exchanging emails and phone calls, the families decided to meet.

Merrian and Sharon flew to NSW to have morning tea with Stephen's two sons and daughter.

"They each wanted to put on the coat and they each cried when they had it on," Sharon said.

"It's something you don't experience often - it was like we brought their father back."

"Not only had Stephen written his name and number on the inside pocket of the coat, he had drawn a picture on the other pocket. I couldn't work out what it was, but on the day of the handover of the coat the daughter of Stephen recognized the drawing to be a Search Light! We were all speechless and came to the conclusion that maybe our Father's knew each other and Stephen had given the coat to our Dad knowing he was returning to the cold."

The war coat handover (L-R): Sharon Barrett, Laraine Vellozzi, Merrian Ross, Katina Comino, Peter Comino and John Comino.
The war coat handover (L-R): Sharon Barrett, Laraine Vellozzi, Merrian Ross, Katina Comino, Peter Comino and John Comino. Contributed GLA221112WAR*

Timeline

1945- Corporal Maxwell Martin Murchie was discharged from serving in WW2. He returned to the NSW Highlands.  Upon returning, he gave his father a Great War Coat.

1946- The coat was worn by dairy farmer Charles Nurse for 42 years when milking cows in the winter.

1987- Charles gave coat to his granddaughter Merrian Ross.

2002- Merrian passed the coat on to her sister Sharon.

2012- Sharon decided to find the coats original owner. She later made contact with the Comino family.

Fact Box: The Army Great Coat

The First and Second War Australian Soldier was supplied with a good long woollen great coat.

This was a single-breasted khaki wool coat, with a single row of five large buttons to the front.

The coat was not normally used in trench warfare, but dam comfortable around the campfire on a cold night.

The coat was a thick (approx 2.4kgs) blanket type material. 

Original Australian Great Coats are very hard to find. The WW11 model is almost identical to the WW1 pattern.


We all have a story to tell. Email Rebecca.danslow@gladstoneobserver.com.au to share yours.
 



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