A chance discovery in an old Canberra house under renovation has uncovered an intriguing mystery.
Builders were taking the mantel piece off the top of a brick fireplace in Elimatta Street in Reid when a small round piece of metal clattered to the floor.
It would have been easy to miss the rusted roundel no bigger than an old penny but the builder spotted it, picked it up, brushed off the the dust and saw the words: McNeill NX52255.
The owner of the house recognised it immediately as a World War 2 dog-tag because his own father had once worn one round his neck as a soldier serving with Australian forces.
Who, then, was the McNeill NX52255 as inscribed on the newly found dog tag?
The house's owner, Peter Conway, turned himself into something of a sleuth. He decided that the history of this ordinary soldier should be known and that the dog-tag should be presented to the family of the soldier.
He has delved deep into every known archive and discovered the bare detail of a life which must have been like that of thousands of Australians who volunteered to fight Nazism and the threat posed by Japanese imperial expansion. His own father fought the same fight and ended up as a prisoner of the Japanese..
He discovered that McNeill NX52255 was Andrew McNeill, a Canberra meter reader who enlisted on July 2, 1940 and was discharged on January 31, 1946.
I'd be very interested in returning this to the rightful owners, the family of warrant officer McNeil as part of their family history.Peter Conway
According to his discharge certificate, he was five feet nine inches tall with eyes of blue. He had been in the army for 2,040 days of which 1,733 days were on active war duty.
When the British surrendered Singapore, Sergeant McNeill was captured. He spent the rest of the war in captivity much of it building the Burma railway under the lash of the Japanese.
We know that Sergeant McNeill had at least one child because the mystery man's grandson, Terrence William McNeill, got in touch with his grandfather's old regiment writing, "I am endeavouring to put together some details of his war-time experience".
But that's the last trace. No more clues remain.
We know the outlines of the life of Sergeant Andrew McNeill but not the colour and detail. It's like a jigsaw where only the edges are complete.
Mr Conway's eyes mist over when he talks about this stranger because it reminds him of his own father who also suffered in Japanese captivity.
He said, "I would hope that somebody reading The Canberra Times would come forward and say, 'I know the family'. I'd be very interested in returning this to the rightful owners, the family of warrant officer McNeil as part of their family history."
- Please email email@example.com if you can help trace Sergeant Andrew McNeill's family.