John Barnes, of Alstonville Rotary with the letter from King George V to Paddy Bugden's mother that he stumbled upon at the Queensland Museum.
John Barnes, of Alstonville Rotary with the letter from King George V to Paddy Bugden's mother that he stumbled upon at the Queensland Museum. The Northern Star

King's letter found

IN 1917 Alstonville man Paddy Bugden wrote a letter to his mum saying he feared nothing.

His actions on the battlefields of Belgium during World War I proved he was a man of his word.

His bravery led to King George V awarding him the Victoria Cross.

Sadly, the medal was awarded posthumously.

Private Bugden, 20, a good-looking country lad, saved five wounded soldiers, led assault parties on machinegun nests, and single-handedly killed three German soldiers to rescue a captured Australian corporal.

All within two days of fighting during an attack on Polygon Wood, near Ypres, in September 1917.

It was during that battle, on September 29, 1917, Pte Bugden, serving in the 31st Bn AIF, was killed in a bomb attack.

Buried where he fell, his mates loved him so much they fenced his grave and erected a Celtic cross decorated with flowers.

They then sketched it for his family.

King George V wrote to Pte Bugden's mum, Mrs Annie Kelly, to describe her son's bravery and to award him the Victoria Cross.

The letter was eventually lost.

But imagine the delight Alstonville Rotarian John Barnes felt when, during a visit to the Queensland Museum four weeks ago to view an exhibition of Australian Victoria Cross medals, he chanced upon the letter from King George V to Mrs Kelly.

Mr Barnes said that, while he was not related to Pte Bugden, he felt a connection to him because his mother went to the same school as Pte Bugden and often talked about the special ceremony that took place at the school after he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Mr Barnes said that during a conversation with the exhibition organisers he mentioned Pte Bugden's connection to Alstonville, the monument built there in his honour, and the lost letter which was on display in the exhibition.

"Then, a few weeks later, the letter turned up in the mail," Mr Barnes said.

"It's the original letter we believe because there are crease marks and its edges are slightly torn.

"It's so exciting to bring it home."

For 30 years Mrs Kelly carried her son's Victoria Cross in her handbag wherever she went.

Then, in 1949, Mrs Kelly, her husband, James, and her eldest grandson were killed in a car accident in Brisbane.

The medal was lost on the roadside.

Some days later it was found and handed to Pte Bugden's sister, Rose.

She kept it until 1980 when she decided to donate it to the Queensland Museum.

In a special ceremony on Saturday the letter was officially handed to the Alstonville RSL Sub-branch for display.


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