War medals returned after 50 years

Private Douglas Downs.

A Sergeant from Lilydale has helped return WWII medals to the family of Private Douglas Downs, more than five decades after they were stolen.

Sgt Vaughan Atherton, who served as an Army Reservist for nine years, managed to track down Pte Downs’ sister to return her brother’s medals.

Police had not been able to identify the owner of the medals, which had been recovered when a search warrant was executed at a property in Lilydale three years ago.

But after some luck and an extensive investigation, the medals have finally gone back to their rightful owner.

“Having family who have served in the forces, I know how important these medals are to the people who they are awarded to and it was important to me to see that they were returned to Douglas’ family,” Sgt Atherton said.

“Unfortunately, we are yet to identify the offenders who stole the medals back in 1969 but let’s just say, it’s never too late.”

The investigation started when Sgt Atherton was discussing war medals with the Lilydale Police Station’s property officer.

Upon being shown Pte Downs’ medals, which were about to be sent to the Returned Services League (RSL), Sgt Atherton noticed a name on their rim – from there the search began.

Sgt Atherton was unsuccessful in finding information when contacting the National Archives of Australia (NAA), but recorded a small victory when researching the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (DVA) nominal rolls.

He found out that Pte Downs’ next of kin was Egbert Downs, whose granddaughter is Maureen – a current Victoria Police employee.

From there Sgt Atherton was able to contact Pte Down’s sister Rosemary, now aged 81, to let her know her brother’s medals had been located.

Rosemary told Sergeant Atherton that the medals had been stolen during a burglary at Douglas’ western suburbs home in 1969.

“I was just a baby when Douglas went to war and I didn’t meet my brother until he returned home several years later,” she said.

“I was sent a photograph of him on Salisbury Plain in the UK during his troop training and he was later shipped to the Middle East.

“After the Germans invaded Crete, Douglas managed to escape and fight with the partisans before finally coming home, said Rosemary.

“Douglas married and had two sons and one daughter, all who have since passed so I am Douglas’ only living relative.

“He was most upset when the medals were stolen but I am beyond excited to have them returned after more than 50 years and Douglas would be absolutely thrilled.”


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