21st Century Family Historians are lucky. We are working in a time when there is access to a vast number of digitized records. This made William McKinney’s war service easy to locate. The Australian War Memorial has a large online collection of soldiers Red Cross Records, Embarkation information and honour rolls. You can look at the eyewitness accounts of his death collected by the Red Cross and you can find out which ship he was on. In the Unit Diaries, you can read about the day-to-day movements of various battalions; William’s unit was the 29th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
The National Australian Archives is another treasure trove of information. Every soldier has a file. Thousands have been put online for researchers to access. In William’s file we can see when he joined up, how old he was, his medical test, his movements and where he was stationed. We can see the correspondence that the war office sent to Alice Best regarding William’s death, where he is buried and a list of his effects.
His effects! Alice signed for them on 13th October 1917 (see images below). In the package she received were his wallet, identification tag, photos and letters. I was captured by this information. Did any of these effects still exist? How was I going to find them?
The thing about this family history caper is that you get greedy for things that may no longer exist but you try hunting them down anyway. I reasoned that if anyone would have these things it might be the McKinney side of the family. Luckily, I had a contact. It turns out one of my oldest friends, Jeff Milne, has a sister who is married to a McKinney from Warrnambool. Are you following?
At a BBQ at Jeff’s place perhaps 15 or 20 years ago, Frank Begley (my father) got talking Jeff’s brother in law, Darren Perry. They discovered they were both from Warrnambool. They then worked out that they were related. That in fact they were cousins – long lost cousins meeting for the first time at a Brunswick BBQ. Thanks Dad!
Over the years, Darren – our long lost cousin - and I have run into each other at birthdays and get togethers. He told me that his parents have done some family history research. A couple of months ago I got in touch with Darren to get his parents contact details and gave them a call. Darren’s mother, Glenda Perry (nee McKinney) is Leo McKinney’s grand-daughter. Leo McKinney is William Mckinney’s older brother. Alice Best is Glenda McKinney’s Great Grandmother! Hello Cousin!
I found out that John Perry, Glenda’s husband, was a family historian and he had done a lot of research on the McKinney family. He was so generous in sharing his findings. When I asked whether he know much about William, he said he had a file he could send me. In that file were photos of William and his wartime friends, and a photo of his brother, Leo. There were pictures of a wooden cross, the original French grave marker and the permanent granite replacement. Most importantly, there were copies of two postcards sent to Alice from England in 1916 just before William embarked on his ship to France where he was killed 4 months later.
Kept in the family as treasured possessions, this felt like a wonderful gift. I don’t know whether the postcards are the letters that Alice received on the 13th October 1917. But they do give a voice to William. We hear in his own words how he feels about his situation, his mother and his family. They bring him alive. It was an exciting moment to read them for the first time. But, they held a new mystery to solve. Exactly who was George? And Clem? And Ray?
Stay tuned for the next installment of Alice and the war where we read the postcards.
Many, many thanks to Jeff Milne, and Darren, Glenda and John Perry, our long lost cousins.
Copy of Receipt for Consignment, National Archives B2455, McKinney W T page 33.
Copy of Inventory of Effects, National Archives Australia B2455, W T MCkinney, P39