ID tags returned home after 76 years

The identification tags of one of Australia’s Second World War servicemen were reunited with family members, 76 years after the bomber pilot was killed near Héricourt in eastern France.

21 April 2020

A group of people standing outside the Australian War Memorial. One of the women present holds up a picture of Flight Lieutenant Kevin Fell.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester (at rear right) with Repatriation Commissioner Don Spinks AM (at rear left) and members of Flight Lieutenant Fell’s family, including his half-brother Kevin Fell (centre), his nephew Kevin Fell (second from left) and his half-sister Gai Winter (third from right).

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester presented the family of Flight Lieutenant Kevin Fell with his identification tags at the Australian War Memorial on 3 February 2020.

‘Flight Lieutenant Fell was praised as a brilliant pilot with zeal and determination to get on with the job and I was honoured to present his relatives with his identification tags,’ Mr Chester said.

On 15 March 1944, Flight Lieutenant Fell joined a large-scale attack on the German industrial centre of Stuttgart. Sadly, his Halifax failed to return to base in Yorkshire, and later that year in June the British Embassy in Switzerland confirmed his death. He was 31. The rest of his crew were also killed.

The news of Flight Lieutenant Fell’s tragic death confirmed his wife and family’s fears, and rocked his community of Forbes, New South Wales.

The identification tags were recovered from a building, which had been a local Red Cross facility, when it was sold last year. The French Remembrance Committee in Héricourt then handed them to the Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux.

In Canberra, the Office of Australian War Graves began the complex task of tracking down Flight Lieutenant Fell’s descendants.

The identification tags were presented to the pilot’s half-brother and nephew, both also named Kevin Fell, and his half-sister Gai Winter.

‘Although we never knew him, my sister Gai and I both witnessed as growing children the grief experienced by our father, Lindsay James Fell, and his pride and love for his eldest son,’ said Flight Lieutenant Fell’s half-brother, Kevin.

‘We remember also today his young widow Elsie Fell, who never remarried after the loss of her beloved husband; and how we heard from people in Forbes of a smart, energetic young man who laughed a lot.’

Kevin Fell, the nephew, said: ‘The fact that two family members were named after him shows how highly regarded he was by all sides of our family. I still recall as a small child seeing him in uniform at a family event, perhaps a farewell before he left for the war.’

Both men acknowledged that their family’s experience of loss was one shared by tens of thousands of Australian families in the Second World War. The recovery of the identification tags brought a renewed sense of loss, but they also felt pride in the bravery and sacrifice of their family member.

The family has since donated the tags to the Forbes & District Historical Museum where they will be housed with other memorabilia relating to Kevin Fell, one of several local men who signed up with the RAAF during the Second World War.

‘I thank Flight Lieutenant Fell for his service and sacrifice and his family who shared the effects of loss and sacrifice,’ said Mr Chester.

‘Later this year, on 15 August, we will mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. I encourage all Australians to commemorate the service and sacrifice of the service men and women in their community, just like the town of Forbes will remember Flight Lieutenant Fell.’

Flight Lieutenant Fell’s grave is in the Choloy War Cemetery in France where it is maintained in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

A monument to the seven airmen was erected in Héricourt in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of the crash.

A collage of four photos. Top photo is of a group of people standing outside the Australian War Memorial. Bottom left photo is of a group presenting something to DVA Minister Darren Chester. Bottom middle photo is of two dog tags in a small display case. Bottom right is a woman holding up a picture of Flight Lieutenant Kevin Fell.