In 1928 the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia produced 10,000 copies of a poster asking for help identifying a patient, believed to be a returned soldier, now in Sydney’s Callan Park Mental Hospital. The response of members of the public hoping that this might be their lost father, brother or son, was overwhelming. Miraculously, the family of this unknown Anzac was to be located, in Taranaki, New Zealand. The resulting, happy blaze of newspaper and radio attention conveyed, paradoxically, the continuing existence of widespread unresolved grief. The final fate and resting place of a third of Australia and New Zealand’s war dead were unknown. And this man, now being taken home by his mother and sister, was no longer the healthy youngster who had sailed to Gallipoli over a decade before.
The story of what happened to George McQuay, of what he suffered and how he survived, speaks of the sorrowful effects of war with unique power.
David Hastings is an Australian/New Zealand journalist and historian. He began working as a copy boy on the Melbourne Sun in 1970 and ended in 2013 as editor of the Weekend Herald. His published histories include Over the Mountains of the Sea: Life on the Migrant Ships 1870–1885, Extra! Extra! How the People Made the News, and The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie: Murder, Politics and Revenge in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand.