822513 ~ ISABELLE JENETTE ELLIS
The genesis of this story was an email I received from Brisbane Airport in early April. As a result, I circulated the following two posts on MRNZ’s Facebook page:
Medals Reunited NZ – Facebook
822513 ~ Corporal ISABELLE JENETTE ELLIS, NZ Army 1942-1946.
FOUND AT BRISBANE AIRPORT, 03 April 2019.
These WW2 medals and documents named to Cpl. I. J. Ellis were handed in at Brisbane Airport on 3 April. I t cannot be verified whether they were found on an aircraft or somewhere within or around the domestic terminal. The medals are: War Medal 1939-45 and the NZ War Service Medal. A Pay Book and Provisional Discharge slip as shown, accompanied the medals. To claim these items, please contact Ian at MRNZ.
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This post was followed by a subsequent one:
822513 ~ Corporal ISABELLE JENETTE ELLIS, NZ Army 1942-1946
GREAT NEWS !!!! …… Yesterday, 29 April our ‘missing persons’ sleuthing skills received a boost when we located the 96 year old owner of the medals, in Oamaru …. the full story of “Nettie’s” wayward medals and pay-book will be told once they arrive back in NZ and Nettie is once again wearing them … photo to follow
How the story unfolded
Fiona Solomon is a staff member at Qantas Baggage Services in the Domestic Terminal at Brisbane Airport. In an email from Fiona to me in April, she said “I work for Qantas Baggage Services in Brisbane, Australia & we have some replica NZ war medals & a Soldiers Pay Book from WW2 that were lost on one of our aircraft or in the Domestic Terminal around 3 April, they belonged to Isabelle Jenette Ellis, see photo below. I’m really hoping you can trace her family to give them our contact details. These items are far too precious to lose”.
The medals handed in to Fiona were the (British) War Medal 1939-45 and the New Zealand War Service Medal. This told me the soldier had been employed on Home Service during the war period, unless of course they had been separated from a group of other medals. As the medals had never been mounted and were in an “as issued” condition, this was entirely possible. The medal ribbons had been simply pinned together. Medals for WW2 service were issued to NZ and British soldiers (or their next of kin) un-named. This practice was exclusive to British and New Zealand Military Force personnel whose respective governments had decided not to have the medals individually named purely for financial reasons.
Additionally, the medals were accompanied by a brown Soldiers Pay Book cover inside which was a partially completed Pay Book, a provisional release certificate from Burnham Camp, two character reference letters, a Discharge Certificate, a Post Office Savings Bank book into which Cpl. Ellis’s War Gratuity payments had been paid, and a Posting Order.
Fortunately Cpl. Ellis’s Pay Book and associated papers provided her full name and her connection to Burnham Military Camp which all helped with the direction my search would take. After responding to Fiona with a few questions that would help with determining if Cpl. Ellis had been travelling through Brisbane Airport, or whether there might be a name on passenger manifests that suggested an association by a passenger’s name or initials, Fiona responded saying – “Unfortunately the only info I have is that they came to us as a lost property item – no further details of which aircraft or if in fact if it was left on an aircraft in or out of Brisbane. It may have be lost in the domestic terminal somewhere & subsequently handed to us. There are many articles that people leave on aircraft or in the terminal that ultimately end up with us in Baggage Services & they’re handed in to us by cabin cleaning, passengers or found by other staff. The service book & medals were in a small clear plastic bag …… I’ve placed this in our valuable lost property area which we hold for 3 months (expires 23 July) so we have a bit of time at this stage”.
I explained to Fiona the reasons why only medals held by MRNZ could be researched and she subsequently sought permission from her departmental manager to have the medals and pay book sent to us. It was approved.
“Nettie” from Five Forks
822513 Corporal Isabelle Jenette ELLIS, NZ Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (NZ WAAC) was the New Zealand soldier to whom the Soldiers Pay Book and documents were named. Rather than shelve the medals and Pay Book to wait for a possible claimant, Fiona Solomon took it upon herself to be pro-active and set the wheels in motion to try and have the items returned to their owner. Fiona searched the internet for a clue to Isabelle Ellis’s identity or location and in the process came across the MRNZ website. Fiona emailed me with the details of what had been found asking if we could possibly help to locate Cpl. Ellis’s family – yes we can, and in due course received the medals and pay book.
A major hurdle with this case was that while the owner had been identified by name, she was a female and therefore highly likely to have been married either before or after her service, and therefore would have undergone a name change. There was also the distinct possibility that Isabelle Ellis was probably no longer alive since her Discharge Certificate was dated 11 November 1946, some 73 years ago. At a rough guess, I figured that if Cpl. Ellis had been say 19 or 20 years of age when she enlisted in the NZ Army, she would now have to be at least 95-96 years of age and so the chances of her still being alive, I concluded were likely to be very slim.
A check of Cenotaph records proved unhelpful as Isabelle Ellis did not feature at in either the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) personnel profile Pages or in the Embarkation Rolls. Archives New Zealand did not contain any embargoed military files nor any other record by her name. That left the census and electoral roll records to check.
My focus was sharpened toward the South Canterbury area when I came across the name of Isabella Dewar Ellis – it was very similar to Isabelle Ellis? Isabelle Jenette Ellis was listed in only two Electoral Rolls – firstly in the 1946 Selwyn District of Canterbury where she was listed at the “Military Camp, Burnham – Spinster”, and secondly in 1949 which put Isabelle at home in Five Forks with her mother, Isabella Dewar Ellis and father Arthur William Edward Ellis, a Labourer (later farmer). No other Ellis families were apparent in the Five Forks area. Five Forks is in the rural Waitaki District located about 20 km due west of Oamaru.
Apart from these references to Isabelle Ellis there was little else – no references to her generally on-line, no employment record, no marriage, death or cemetery records, and no family trees on Ancestry.com which would have possibly shown any movements, marriages, births etc – there was nothing that could confirm Nettie’s history over the decades since her war service, or indeed her fate?
My last resort was a perusal of the Waitaki area phone directory for Ellis families in the Five Forks area. This also proved fruitless so I went further afield to include the nearest city Oamaru, in the hope I would strike a descendant that may have known Isabelle.
The phone book looked promising with nine “Ellis” listings so I started at the top. The very first number was a strike out (never heard of her) however they were aware of another Ellis family in the area not connected to theirs, and gave me the number. The person who answered my call was the wife of Ross, who turned out to be Isabelle Ellis’s nephew ! Great – I was getting somewhere. The first thing Ross told me was that Isabelle Jenette GLASS was still alive, hale and hearty and was living at “The Observatory Village” in Oamaru. Ross gave me a private phone number for Nettie, as she is known universally, that connected direct to her residence at The Observatory. I was soon chatting with a very lively an articulate lady who sounded to me way younger than her 96 years suggested, who was highly surprised at what I had to tell her.
WW2 – Military Service in NZ
Born in 1923 and named after her mother Isabella Dewar CLOTHIER, Nettie told me that she had been last born of the three Ellis siblings. An older brother Arthur William Edward Ellis (Jnr) was named after her father, and an older sister Margaret Jessie Ellis born in 1919, had died before her first birthday. Being the only girl at home in Five Forks when the Second World War broke out, Nettie volunteered for military service when the newly formed NZ Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (NZ-WAAC) was formed on 1st of July, 1942. She enlisted at Burnham Military Camp (30 km south of Christchurch) in late 1942 and was contracted for uniformed service for the duration of the war, plus 12 months. The NZ-WAACs started work for the first time at Burnham in May 1943.
Private Nettie Ellis was employed as a Telephone Operator in the camp Telephone Exchange, a manually intensive task. ‘Teleops’ as they were known, ran the camp telephone switchboard, a PBX (Private Branch Exchange) that was located in the Camp Headquarters. Teleops would receive incoming local, national and international calls, request of the caller the number they desired, and then made the connection via a circuit cord that had to be plugged into the appropriate connecting terminal, and unplugged when the call was concluded. The original PBX system modified several times since its inception, was eventually replaced in the 1960s with the PABX (Private Automatic Branch Exchange) which made telephone operators and supervisors redundant as incoming and out-going call connections were fully automated.
During her service Pte. Ellis was promoted first to Lance Corporal, and then to Corporal as the Camp Telephone Exchange supervisor, responsible for the 24/7 staffing of the Exchange with rotating shifts of female operators. One can imagine how very busy these operators were, and with a need to observe strict confidentiality when classified calls were made that concerned overseas operations of 2NZEF. Not only national military traffic would transit these telephones but international traffic as well as hard copy messages in the form of facsimiles and punched tape message machines could be co-located in military exchanges to convey secure information including soldier casualties – killed, wounded, captured or sick, as well as those returning or leaving New Zealand.
Burnham was a major hub for reinforcements training and concentration in the South Island and so was swelled by up to 10,000 troops at a time, either coming or going for a myriad of reasons. Burnham also hosted a large number of former NZ and British POWs who had returned and in dire need of being restored to full health with food, sun, exercise, relaxation as well as needing physical and psychological treatments to fully recover from their ordeals. In addition there were in excess of 100,000 American GIs stationed in New Zealand during 1943 and 1944 who placed considerable demands on the communications networks to stay in touch with family and loved ones in the US.
When the war was over …
Once the war ended on 2 Sep 1945 the task of repatriating 2NZEF troops and the attendant admin and management of demobilising the 160,00 NZ troops that had been overseas, took a considerable amount of time. Cpl. Nettie Ellis and all enlisted NZ-WAACs had been contracted to serve on for an additional 12 months from Sep 1945 which allowed for continuity whilst 2NZEF was being demobilised and the troops transported home. Nettie and the Teleops continued to serve until the end of 1946, being honourably discharged from the NZ-WAACs on Armistice Day, 11 November 1946.
In the years since the war, Nettie has married twice. After raising two sons by her first husband, John, a farmer of Five Forks, John sadly pre-deceased Nettie in 1976. In 1983 at the age of 70 Nettie was wooed into marrying once more. NZ405521 Leslie Ballantyne GLASS had joined the RNZAF in 1940 as aircrew. After training at the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Air Observer Schools in Manitoba and Albert, and the Air Gunnery School also in Manitoba, Les served with the RAF in Bomber Command and fortunately for him survived the war to return to NZ. Nettie and Les Glass remained happily married in Oamaru until Les passed away in 2007.
Nettie Glass has been widowed now for 17 years. She has outlived two husbands, both of her sons, and all the family and extended family of her generation. Nettie is regularly visited by her grandchildren and younger members of her family. She remains a very active lady and until recently, was a regular traveller around NZ to competitively play cards – Euchre being Nettie’s game of choice.
When told Nettie of her medals being found at Brisbane Airport, she was nonplused, having no idea how they might have got there. She had not seen the medals for many years, however, after she had thought about it for a few days, recalled to me that she had gifted them to a relative many years ago. I was able to contact that relative who confirmed the loss of a small plastic bag which contained two loose WW2 medals and WW2 Soldiers Pay Book whilst transiting Brisbane Airport in early April. The need to remove a clothing item from a travel bag had likely been the cause of the plastic bag containing the medals and pay book, unknowingly falling from the open bag.
After a most engaging phone chat with Nettie, I arranged to meet with her in Oamaru at The Observatory Village in July to personally hand over her medals, which my MRNZ colleague Brian Ramsay had suitably court mounted in the interim, for Nettie to wear. Regrettably, on the day I was to travel to Oamaru, The Observatory was in lock-down due to an influenza outbreak so the medals and pay book had to be couriered to Nettie for delivery once the all clear was given. I am glad to report Nettie survived the flu outbreak and a recent chat I had with her by phone indicated she had bounced back to almost her old self – age is an inhibitor to healing but battle on she does; all those years of farm work has made you one resilient lady Nettie.
Thanks to Fiona Solomon of Qantas, Nettie Glass (nee Isabelle Jenette Ellis) has now received her war medals and Pay Book. Nettie was also the subject of a recent Oamaru Mail article written by Gus Patterson which can be read here:
To Fiona: your initiative, efficiency and prompt action have reflected great credit upon yourself and Baggage Services Qantas at Brisbane Airport – my sincere thanks for contacting MRNZ. Thanks also to Gus Patterson for his forbearance of the very fluid and unexpected schedule of changes which unfortunately prevented our meeting together with Nettie – but a great article and pictures Gus!
The reunited medal tally is now 269.