Albert Robertson Fowlie, New Zealand Territorial Service and Army Service Corps, 1934 to 1944.
Bert Fowlie was born in Scotland during 1909 and at an early age, travelled with his parents to New Zealand where the family settled in the North Island town of Dargaville. In 1934, he joined the 1st North Auckland Battalion for Territorial Service where he rose to Warrant Officer Class 2, then at the beginning of 1943 he saw war time service in a unit attached to the New Zealand Army Service Corps. The unit formed part of the New Zealand 3rd Division and in April 1943, his unit was shipped off to New Caledonia.
… and this is where the story of “Medals Gone Missing” begins. The story is not long and may not have an ending, but here it is for the record.
My father married a local Dargaville lass and they had two sons. As he died relatively young in 1960 and did not speak much about his war service to us. We do not have too many memories of his time in New Caledonia, but there is the one story that has survived.
One hot tropical day, Bert and a group of his army mates went swimming on a beach near their camp. When they came back, they found that their belongings had been “gone through” and his dog tags were missing. Not sure if others suffered the same fate. He said the GI’s (American troops – G.I. being slang for Government Issue) on the island were like “magpies” and would pick up anything bright and shiny. I have to say for my many U.S. friends that maybe the assumption that it was GI’s could be wrong; magpies can come in many forms, but this is as I recall of the story. While dog tags are not medals, for military people they are an important part of their identity.
Most soldiers, rightly or wrongly brought back souvenirs of their wartime experiences. Our father was no different. His token of service was /is an inert and safe 37MM-M16 casing dating from 1942 and this still survives in the family.
My father’s name was Albert Robertson Fowlie and his service number 582471. My brother and I have a copy of his service record and do have his medals from the New Zealand Ministry Of Defence, so that is something to remember him by. He served in New Caledonia as a sergeant from 30 April 1943 to 20 April 1944, was most likely stationed in the northern part of the island and then in the Noumea area before returning to New Zealand and discharge to essential industry – the New Zealand Railways, where he served until his death in 1960 at the age of 51. Our mother survived through to marry again after his death and outlived her second husband; finally departing from us in 2012 at the tender age of 97 years.
Is there a remote possibility that there may be someone out there who knows about Bert’s missing dog tags? With that in mind, can I ask for any assistance that may provide a lead to tracing them? I can imagine that they are long gone, but who knows – worth a try. If by any chance you have any Second World War memorabilia that has been closited away and may not be from a family returned serviceman or veteran, take another look at them in detail. This website is a really good place where you may start to find out more about them.
For anyone wanting to know more about the New Zealand 3rd Division and ASC (Army Service Corps) activities in New Caledonia during World War II, take a look at the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection hosted by Victoria University, Wellington.