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War badge returned to family

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Gabrielle Duykers, Naracoorte Community News

War badge presentation
Coonawarra and Penola RSL president Peter DeGaris (right) presenting the service badge to Bill Leitch (left), great nephew of Milton Leitch. Photo: Naracoorte Community News

A Naracoorte family has been reunited with a 70-year-old WWII medal, after months of effort from RSL volunteers.

In December 2020, prospector Ken Winnell came across what he believed was a war medal in Park Lake Creswick, Victoria.

He passed the medal onto the Creswick-Smeaton RSL memorabilia officer, Phil Greenbank, who began trying to trace its owner — Milton Vivian Leitch.

“We have absolutely no idea how this item came to be in Victoria,” Mr Greenbank said.

When first handed the artefact he found that though it was missing a name, it had a service number written on the back.

After extensive research across VIC and SA war registers, he discovered the medal was in fact a Returned from Active Service badge, originally issued in WWI and again in WWII.

Mr Greenbank said he was able to match the service number to Milton Leitch, born January 18, 1904 in Naracoorte.

“I then went on and did a name search for him under war records,” Mr Greenbank said.

“I was able to find basic information like his date of birth, the town he was born in, and that he was living in Penola when he signed up for service.”

Milton Leitch had served in the Australian Imperial Force for the duration of WWII, holding the rank of Sergeant before being discharged on January 8, 1946.

After determining the rightful owner, Mr Green-bank wrote an article to local newspapers in the Limestone Coast, asking for members of the Leitch family to contact him so the badge could be returned.

One week later he received an email from Bill Leitch, the great-nephew of Milton Leitch, who had read the article in The Border Watch.

The Creswick-Smeaton RSL then organised for the badge to be sent over to Penola and Coonawarra RSL, where president Peter Degaris formally presented it to Bill Leitch on August 13.

Mr Greenbank said he was glad to see the item returned to the extended family.

“It’s a great pleasure to be able to hand something over that they never knew existed and fill in that little piece of history,” he said.

“Nowadays everyone is doing their family trees with regards to the servicemen and women, and are always looking for new connections.”

Bill Leitch said receiving the badge was like having another “piece to the puzzle” of his ancestry.

“Family history is very important,” Mr Leitch said. “And if you don’t keep letting the younger generation know about it, it’s lost forever.”

Mr Leitch said he did his best to preserve family details and records.

“We’ve taken notes and got paper cuttings of family history which we have in books, and we’ll hand them onto our kids so they stay in the family for as long as they can,” he said.

Mr Leitch said he was “pleased and touched” at the effort from both RSL clubs to return the badge.

Prior to his service, Milton Leitch worked as a wool buyer in Naracoorte. He died in 1980 at the age of 76.

Naracoorte Community News 25 August 2021

This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 25 August 2021.


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