Heading back home

• Herald publisher Andrew Smith and daughter Polly Smith are off to Brisbane to return a “Dead Man’s Penny”. Photo by Steve Grant.

WITH the centenary of World War One drawing to a close a commemorative plaque inscribed with the name of digger Daniel Thomas Tudor, is about to head home to Brisbane.

The large brass plaques, sarcastically nicknamed Dead Man’s Penny in the trenches of Europe and Gallipoli, were dished out by King George V to families of servicemen from across the British empire who’d been slaughtered in the Great War.

It was official recognition for their ultimate sacrifice. 

Daniel Tudor enlisted in South Brisbane in 1914 and was taken prisoner at Reincourt on April 11, 1917 during the Anzacs’ ill-fated attack on Germany’s formidable Hindenburg Line. Let down by the British high command which didn’t provide artillery support, 10,000 soldiers died during the attack, though the Anzac’s forged their reputation as a formidable fighting force by pushing through the German lines against all odds.

“The finest shock troops in the world,” was the verdict of supreme Allied commander and famed French general Ferdinand Foch.

That counted little for the short, dumpy Tudor, who succumbed to malaria in a German prisoner of war camp on June 14.

For over 50 years his niece Lexie Mitchell looked after the plaque, but she died childless as the last of the line of the South Brisbane Tudors in 1974. It then passed to a family friend for 30 years and ultimately to Herald publisher Andrew Smith who brought it to East Fremantle for the next 14 years.

“My mother was decluttering in Brisbane in 2004, felt the plaque was important but didn’t quite know what to do with it,” Mr Smith said, planning to ask the Fremantle Army Museum to help but never quite getting around to it.

It wasn’t until early 2017 with Mr Smith’s daughter Polly, working at the WA Museum on the WWI centenary project Remembering Them – a joint venture with regional museums, the WA Historical Society, Museum Galleries Australia and Lotterywest – that the quest to uncover the story of Daniel Tudor was triggered.

After hours, Ms Smith trawled the ‘net looking at the national archives, the Australian War Memorial and the Qld registry of births, marriage and deaths and soon struck gold with a huge amount of information from Daniel’s detailed service record, enlistment details at age 34, citations, hospital records, evidence of high jinx, his capture, his death, his initial and subsequent burial places – first in Düsseldorf, then Cologne –  but above all his qualities as an ordinary Australian bloke simply doing his bit.

Apart from his death, saddest of all was the fervent and at times desperate battle of his mother, to get information about where Pte Tudor was buried and then to get his few belongings back. After she died in 1923, Pte Tudor’s sister took up the search. This story is heartrending.

Once it was clear in the registry search the Tudor line had died out in South Brisbane the search began for the family of Pte Tudor’s mother, Margaret Pilkington. Unlike the Tudors, the Pilkingtons had gone forth and multiplied and it did not take long to unearth Daniel’s first cousin twice removed (or great, great niece) Anne Godfrey of Buderim. A chance search of ancestry.com quickly threw up a mud map by Anne’s husband Mark showing the grave sites of the eight Godfrey relatives who died in the Great War. Mr Godfrey claims mapping the family war history “kept him out of the pub”.

Mr Smith and his daughter are soon off to Brisbane to return Pte Tudor’s plaque to his family. 

With the help of the Queensland State Library’s Find Your Soldier Project and the Godfrey’s the plaque is likely to take it’s rightful place in a local RSL museum close to the Godfrey’s or near where Pte Tudor was born.

by STEVE GRANT

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