A NSW Police senior constable has gone above and beyond her job description, assisting a grieving family whose war veteran father’s war medals were lost – by organising for replicas to be made in time for his funeral.
In late 2019, Hawkesbury Senior Constable Leanne Gearside answered a call from a local nursing home, after a 97-year-old man had reported his war medals missing.
William Melling was a merchant sailor, who served with the Royal British Navy during World War II.
Mr Melling was awarded a clasp for his bravery during a rescue mission on June 7, 1944 – the day after D-Day – where he saved the lives of dozens of his fellow merchant sailors after their ship had been hit by a torpedo.
“He was on a supply ship the day after D day. They were sending cargo through for all of the soldiers and a torpedo hit the ship,” Mr Melling’s daughter, Brenda, explains.
“He was just coming off his shift and going to sleep when the torpedo hit.
“He was in a lifeboat for 13 days off the north of Africa before being rescued.”
He relocated to Australia in the 1950s and spent the latter years of his life at a nursing home in North Richmond.
“The medals were discovered missing late last year,” says Brenda.
We were hoping that they would turn up but it got to the point where nobody had seen them for awhile and the manager of Lifecare (nursing home) said we must phone the police.”
Senior Constable Gearside had started making inquiries about the type and whereabouts of the medals when sadly Mr Willing passed away.
“I came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to be able to find them before his funeral,” says S/Cst Gearside.
“I made the decision to see if we could get replicas for the family to have at his funeral.”
She arranged for the four replica medals to be made, so the family could present them on Mr Melling’s funeral casket.
“That made us feel so appreciative of Leanne’s efforts,” says Brenda.
“She did not have to go through all of that, do all of that for us, but she went the extra yard to help our family represent dad in the best way at his funeral.
“She understood what our family had been going through, she understood the emotions that were involved.”
S/Cst Gearside said she felt honoured to be able to help the family in their time of crisis.
“From what I’ve learnt in my years of service, you never get used to losing a loved one you can only just get through it, so I thought if I can help this family in their time of grief, I was going to try my best to be able to do that.”
“My understanding is they were put on his coffin that day with a photo of him wearing his original medals.
“I didn’t know this family to start with, but I would do it again and I would do it to anybody if they were needing help,” S/Cst Gearside said.
“It was a very, very special and unique thing that Leanne did for our family and my family,” says Brenda.
“We didn’t expect that to happen. We very much appreciate it. It was basically above and beyond what she needed to do. She went the extra mile to help us out.”