Archive for January, 2012

Girlfriends: the plot thickens

Late last year I had, on behalf of my grandfather, embarked on a search to see if I could find out anything more about Joy Gisby, the woman who was probably Jack Purcell’s girlfriend while he was in England.

Somewhat at a loss for how best to carry out that search, I roped Kerry Tarleton in to assist. Kerry is a distant relation of mine (second cousin twice removed, I believe) who has been working on the family tree. While the name Joy Gisby was unfamiliar to her, she had some immediate results via a contact in the UK. It appears that a woman named Joyce E Gisby was born in West Ham in 1923, and while she has since died her husband is still alive. We do not know if this is even the person we are after, but it’s the closest we have to a lead at the moment and Kerry tells me moves are afoot to see if we can identify her based on the photograph from Jack’s collection. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, I’ve made an interesting find about Nurse MC Sands, of Summer Hill Hospital. As usual, it was a chance discovery. I was transcribing the last few letters from Phil Smith’s collection when I came across one written by Mollie Jansen, Jack’s sister, to Edith Smith (Phil’s mother). In it she writes (my bolding):

“Have you had any word from W/C Brill I have not up to date, am hoping for some, his girl friend had a very nice letter, from him last week, which she sent on to me I thought it strange that I haven’t had a letter too.” (A01-358-002)

Hmmm.

Though the letter is undated, it contains a few clues that I can use to pin it down to late June or early July 1944. Mollie wrote that she had only just found out Mrs Smith’s address. As we know, it was Don Smith (Phil’s father) who first sought out the addresses of the Australian next of kin and who initiated correspondence with them. I have what I suspect is Edward Purcell’s reply to the first letter he received from Don (A01-344-001); it is dated 01JUL44. It is therefore reasonable to guess that Mollie received the Smiths’ address around this time and so her reply, if indeed she had ‘just found out’ the address, was most likely written sometime around then as well. So if this letter was written around the beginning of July 1944, it follows that the letter from Bill Brill to Jack’s girlfriend that Mollie writes about was received by the girlfriend a week or so beforehand.

So why is it so important to know when this letter was written? Jack’s Casualty or Repatriation File at the National Archives of Australia (A04-071, NAA: A705, 166/33/163) includes copies of two almost identical letters from Bill Brill. One is for Edward Purcell, but we already know about him. The other is addressed to one Nurse MC Sands. There is a covering letter from the RAAF that went along with the Brill note. It states that the arrival of this letter from England was the first time that the Air Force had heard of Miss Sands, and offers to forward copies of any further communications concerning Jack to her. Critically, it is dated 17JUN44 – or just before when I suspect Mollie Jansen wrote her letter to Don Smith. Any other letters from Brill would also have been in Jack’s A705 file. As the only two there are addressed to Edward Purcell and Nurse Sands, there is I believe a good chance that Nurse Sands is the ‘girlfriend’ that Mollie was referring to.

So now we probably have two girlfriends – one in England and one in Australia. Kerry is chasing up a Mona Collinette Sands who served in the RAAF briefly in 1942. It appears she then abruptly left the Air Force and what happened subsequently is as yet unclear. Could she have ended up as a nurse at Summer Hill Hospital? We’ll keep searching.

Thanks to Kerry Tarleton for assistance with this research.

© 2012 Adam Purcell