A small bottle of soil is among the items found in a suitcase belonging to WWI soldier Mick Ward. (ABC News: Connie Agius)
When a team from Museums Victoria bought an old suitcase at auction in 2016, they opened it to reveal a collection of treasures belonging to an unknown World War I soldier.
A team of volunteers then put their sleuthing hats on and were soon able to identify the man as Michael Ward, or Mick as he was known.
They discovered he had enlisted at Lakes Entrance, Victoria and returned home after the war.
He married and moved to Bentleigh in Melbourne’s south-east at some stage during the 1920s, but that’s where the trail runs cold.
Museum staff want to know more about Mick Ward’s wartime experience. (ABC News: Connie Agius)
Senior curator of home and community Deborah Tout-Smith said the museum desperately wanted to get in touch with members of the Ward family who might be able to shed light on the meaning behind the items in Mick’s little cordite case.
“He lived until 1964 and I don’t think he and his wife had children,” Ms Tout-Smith said.
“It is so important for us to connect to the families and work out what the back story was.
“We want to know what his war experience was like and what we understand about him from the little bits and pieces which he saved in the suitcase.”
Ms Tout-Smith said the items were “a poignant little cluster of information” that provided a glimpse into a story buried within a family.
“He put a few bits and pieces into the suitcase, the sort of things you would have taken overseas like a diary, some letters, photos, a little shaving brush … and some things he collected from war time.
A prayer book, a pipe and a tattered devotion pouch were just some of the items in the suitcase. (ABC News: Connie Agius)
“He popped them in the suitcase with some things relating to his post-war life, shut the case, and it doesn’t look like he ever opened it for the rest of his life.”
“Among some of the things in there, tantalisingly, there’s about nine photographs of people we don’t know, people during war time, soldiers who perhaps are no longer with us, but there’s a few snippets about soldiers who were killed and even a wallet of a soldier who died in war.
“We’d love to reconnect with families, let them know we have the material and that we’re treasuring the material.”
Ms Tout-Smith said it was important to uncover these kinds of personal stories because it educated us about the full impact of war.
“It helps us both understand more deeply the long-term impacts of being part of war, but also I think perhaps makes us, in some way, hesitate about becoming involved in war if we understand what wars do to people and what their effects really are.
“I think there has been in the past a lot of focus on heroism and bravery, and I think returning that focus to what wars do to people and families and communities in the long term is really critical.”
A War Heritage Roadshow will be held in Melbourne this weekend to help families identify their own war memorabilia, find out how significant it is and learn how to care for it.
The free event, which is “like an Antiques Roadshow”, will be held at Melbourne Museum on April 21 and 22 from 10:00am to 4:00pm. You’ll need to register if you plan to bring items to be identified.