Castlemaine’s Remembrance Day service held special significance for one local family with the presentation of a set of replacement war medals.
The medals were presented to Pat Fischer by Leading Senior Constable Grant Kendall of Castlemaine Police in recognition of her late father-in-law Frank Fischer’s service in World War II.
The original medals were stolen from a Walmer property about five years ago.
LSC Kendall was among the officers to speak to Ms Fischer after the incident and said as an ex-serviceman it really struck a real chord with him.
He encouraged her to make a formal report and in the years since has made enquiries at secondhand dealers across the country in a bid to track down the medals, but sadly they have never been recovered. The investigation remains ongoing.
In July last year, LSC Kendall decided to surprise Ms Fischer by having the medals replaced and began what he estimated would be a three-month effort to research and replace them.
Nineteen months later the dedicated police officer has scoured the country and beyond for replacements and learnt a great deal about the incredible life story of Frank Fischer into the bargain.
He was proud to finally be able to present the medals to Ms Fischer at Thursday’s Remembrance Day service.
LSC Kendall said it was fitting the presentation should happen on Remembrance Day given Frank’s service in the Royal Australian Air Force.
Frank trained under World War I pilot Charlie Pitt before the outbreak of World War II. He joined the RAAF in 1939 and spent seven years in service of his country.
Frank served in Syria where he flew Tomahawk fighter aircraft out of Hama and survived being shot down twice.
In June 1941, he was shot down behind enemy lines and was missing for 12 days. He was presumed dead but had been befriended by a group of nomadic Arabs who dressed him as an Arab and escorted him back to safety.
He lived on to fight another day and in November that same year was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after preventing an attack on Allied Forces forward landing grounds.
Despite a mechanical defect that saw his windscreen covered in oil, Frank spotted nine German Messerschmitt 109s about to machine-gun aircraft on the landing grounds. He engaged and destroyed one of the hostile aircraft and attacked three more before having to abandon his own. As a result of his actions the attack on the allied planes was thwarted.
He later flew domestic aircraft for TAA. Frank flew the first delivery of jetliners out from the US to Australia. He was revered in the aviation industry and in 1960 was awarded the Order of British Empire Medal for his work as the chief training officer for the TAA. He flew airliners for 33 years before retiring in 1980.
LSC Kendall thanked all those who made the presentation possible including; the Defence Department Honours and Awards Unit, deputy secretary Angela Turnbull at the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood at St James Palace in London, the Castlemaine RSL who assisted with the purchase of the British Empire Medal, David Dalgliesh of Bendigo Medals who kindly mounted the medals, and Sgt Mick Peckham who supported the project.
He also thanked Ms Fischer for her patience as he attempted the challenging task of chasing down each of the 10 medals across Australia and the world.
“It is a bittersweet moment. I am pretty disgusted to think that someone would steal someone’s war medals,” he said.
“Medals are something that you earn and that he received for fighting for and defending the freedom of our country.
“But on a positive side it has brought a lot of good people out of the woodwork who have assisted me through the journey and I just hope it goes a long way in helping Pat recover from the theft of Frank’s medals,” he said.
Ms Fischer was moved to tears by the presentation, thanking LSC Grant Kendall for his tireless efforts, David Dalgliesh for his generous contribution, and the RSL for their kind support.