Longest journey home to Stratford
‘‘They were hoping against hope that their man was alive. ’’
For the next decade, he remained in the hospital without any identity.
That changed in 1928 when the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia launched a public appeal to raise money to buy tobacco for exsoldiers in Callan Park, who did not have a pension or any money.
The resulting story in the Sydney Sun newspaper made passing reference to an unknown Anzac in the hospital who did not know who he was or where he was from.
‘‘It was only a paragraph in the paper,’’ Hastings said. But the words hit a raw nerve.
Hastings said there was an outpouring of interest from both sides of the Tasman from families whose loved ones had gone to war and never came home.
‘‘They were hoping against hope that their man was alive,’’ Hastings said.
Within a fortnight of the publicity campaign, the unknown Anzac was identified as George Thomas McQuay from Stratford in Taranaki who had served with the Auckland Infantry Battalion at Gallipoli and on the Western Front before going missing in July 1916.
After the well-publicised reunion with his mother in Sydney, Hastings said McQuay ‘‘disappeared from the headlines’’ and there was little information available at the time about what happened to him next.
Upon his return to New Zealand, Hastings found out that McQuay lived in the Porirua psychiatric hospital for a time and was deemed to have little hope of recovering.
However, his mother wanted him back home in Stratford and he was granted leave to go home for periods of time, as long as she paid for a minder to be with him around the clock.
‘‘She did this at her own expense. She wanted him home and this was the price she was prepared to pay,’’ Hastings said.
In 1931 he was officially discharged as ‘‘unrecovered’’ and lived in Stratford for the rest of his life, until his death 20 years later.
Hastings said if McQuay had not been identified he would have spent the rest of his life at Callan Park and when he died, he would have been buried in an anonymous grave.
He called McQuay’s mother the heroine of the story, a woman who never gave up on her son - ‘‘a straggler from the war trying to find his way home.’’
David Hastings came across George McQuay’s story when he was researching the subject of shell shock, or what is commonly known today as post traumatic stress disorder. David Hastings
A copy of the flyer distributed in March 1928 to help identify the unknown patient, who later turned out to be Stratford man George McQuay,