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."

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