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Honouring a hero grandfather left scarred by war
Bendigo Brigade Senior Station Officer, Tim Fitzgerald is passionate about Australian military history – a passion arising from researching his own grandfather’s involvement in World War I.
What he found was a hero who “never quite got over the trauma” of his experiences on the battlefields of France and Belgium.
Tim is now helping others through a Facebook page he jointly runs, WWI Lost Boys, on which people share photos from WWI, including those trying to trace the identity of soldiers in photos they have found.
Tim’s grandfather, Private George H Donohue was born in Pettavil, near Geelong. He enlisted in the 29th Infantry Battalion AIF in 1916 and was sent to England, where he enrolled in regimental school.
Later that same year, he was “transferred on strength” to the 39th Battalion in France. He played an instrumental role in a raid near Ypres in Belgium in November 1917, for which he was awarded a Military Medal for Bravery.
Less than a year later he was severely wounded by chlorine gas and repatriated to a military hospital in the UK, before returning to Australia and the Geelong region in 1919. He worked as a railway shunter, but was tragically killed in a car accident in August 1968 when Tim was just 12 years old.
“As a small kid myself, my siblings and cousins would often look at his photos and medals,” Tim said, adding that he believed his grandfather’s service had influenced his own as a CFA officer.
He recalls attending a Remembrance Day ceremony at Bendigo a few years ago, where he laid a wreath on behalf of the CFA.
“After the service, three Navy cadets saluted me. I asked them why as I am not a military person. One said they had seen my name tag and they had to salute officers. I returned this salute with pleasure.”
Although Tim’s grandfather was so traumatised by the war he only ever attended one Anzac Day march, Tim now attends commemorations in memory of his 'Gramps', proudly wearing his ribbon bar and unit badge.
This year, he’s also come up with a great idea to honour his grandfather, changing his personal Facebook profile photo to one of his grandfather. He is encouraging others to do the same.
“Why not change your profile photo to a member of your family who served their country in the military during any period, of any service of any country, not just WWI,” Tim said.
Tim is the current holder of the 39th Infantry Battalion banner, which is carried by descendants every Anzac Day march in Melbourne.
“I attend Anzac Day in Melbourne each year and Kokoda Day in August at The Shrine. Kokoda Day is the official memorial day for the 39th Battalion that served in WW2 in New Guinea.
“The WWI unit and descendants do not have an official day for a service, so we attend the Shrine with the WW2 men, of which there are about 30 left alive.”
The 39th Battalion was founded in Ballarat and is still in operation today through the 3/39th Battalion. Next year marks its 100th anniversary and Tim is looking forward to the special dedication ceremony that he is helping to organise.