Lost digger laid to rest after search for relatives

The ashes of a mysterious digger have been laid to rest after a nationwide search failed to uncover any living relatives.

Former Australian Army serviceman Private William Halliday was given a small military service in Yarragon in southeast Victoria on Tuesday.

The ceremony comes after the discovery in 2023 of an unmarked cremation box and a folder of dusty photos in a garage sparked a search for the former soldier's family.

The items, along with a smaller box inscribed "Lady", believed to contain the remains of his dog, were handed into the Trafalgar-Thorpdale Returned and Services League (RSL).

The service in Yarragon
A military service to lay Private Halliday to rest was held in Yarragon in southeast Victoria.

With the scant details they had, the RSL sub-branch and Latrobe Regional Health (LRH) discovered Pte Halliday was born in Fife, Scotland in 1927 and died at the Latrobe hospital in 2008.

Trafalgar-Thorpdale RSL secretary Paul Altamore said the search to return the ashes to Pte Halliday's family uncovered no surviving relatives despite the story piquing national interest.

“We are glad to be able to respectfully inter him as we couldn’t reach out to any of his family and friends, but this way, we feel we are doing the right thing for him,” Mr Altamore said.

"A lot of people have come together to acknowledge a former serviceman, we are commemorating a fellow soldier.”

The ceremony at Yarragon
Pte Halliday was buried alongside the remains of 'Lady' at the Yarragon Cemetery.

After spending hours poring through LRH's archives, the hospital's freedom of information officer Deb Mackeown uncovered Pte Halliday had been a tram conductor, a postie and loved the Essendon football club and the odd punt on the horses.

“As I was learning more about him, I felt I was getting to know him," Ms MacKeown said.

"It was giving me some hope we could find someone alive who knew him, but this wasn’t the case."

After seeing the story in local media, more than 2000km north in Townsville, the 2 RAR Historical Collection reached out with a copy of Pte Halliday's service records.

Private William Halliday
Pte Halliday served in the British Army before enlisting in the Australian Army, arriving in 1951.

He served with the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR), and received the British General Service Medal for his time in Malay. He was discharged in 1957.

"The Malayan emergency lasted 12 years, from 1948 to 1960, and it’s one of Australia’s forgotten campaigns, but we like to think there are no forgotten soldiers," Mr Altamore said.

Pte Halliday had originally served in the British Army and had enlisted in the Australian Army while in England before coming to Australia in 1951.

“Service records were scant back then, but it wasn’t uncommon in those days to do lateral transfers," Mr Altamore said.

"This would have explained why he came to Australia unaccompanied.”

Documents uncovered Pte Halliday had two siblings in Scotland and an older cousin living in Melbourne, but all had passed away.

Pte Halliday was buried alongside the remains of "Lady" at a plot donated by the Yarragon Lawn Cemetery Trust.

Ms Mackeown said she felt emotional and very privileged to have played a part in having Pte Halliday respectfully laid to rest.

"It’s a closure," she said.

"This is what he deserved, no one would like to have their loved ones forgotten."

License this article

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store