Tuesday 13 August 2013 by Tamsin Hong. 16 comments
Collection, Family history, Personal Stories, badges, family history, Ambon, Rabaul, Female Relative Badge, Mothers and Widows' Badge, Prisoners of war


It seemed like an ordinary day where I was busy researching areas of our collection, when two remarkable badges were offered for donation. They were a Female Relative Badge with seven stars and a Mothers and Widows’ Badge with four stars, both from the Second World War. Some of you will immediately recognise the value and rarity of these badges. However, as I learnt about the story behind these badges, I came to realise the significance of their meaning.

The two badges belonged to Mrs. Mary Hutchins. She had nine sons and two daughters with her husband Henry in Woorinen, rural Victoria. Seven of her sons enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force during the Second World War. They were aged between 17 and 30 and they worked mostly as labourers in the local rural community. Mrs. Hutchins must have been very proud of her boys because in order to be issued the Female Relative Badge she would have needed to prove she was their closest female relative and she would have also applied for each star individually: one star for each son.

Four of her sons, David, Alan, Fred and Eric, had served in the ill-fated Gull and Lark Forces in Ambon and Rabaul respectively. A few servicemen managed to escape the overwhelming Japanese invasions, but for the duration of the war, little was known of what happened to the remainder of Gull and Lark Forces. Later in the war, the Hutchins family heard anecdotally from one of the successful Rabaul escapees that Alan Hutchins might have been shot and killed whilst trying to escape the advancing Japanese.

By the end of 1945, three of the Hutchins’ sons had been discharged and were safely home, but still, there was no definite word of the fate of their four brothers. Then, in one week in February 1946, four telegrams arrived confirming the deaths of four of the Hutchins boys. One of the telegrams confirmed Alan had been killed in Rabaul during the hostilities in March 1942. In the following years, Australia would learn of the ruthlessness of those invasions and the horrific experiences faced by the prisoners of war. Conditions for the prisoners on Ambon were particularly harsh and they suffered the highest death rate of any Australian prisoners of war with three-quarters of prisoners dying during their captivity due to mistreatment, malnutrition and disease. Three of the Hutchins brothers died due to the brutality of their Japanese captors in Ambon. Eric was executed at Laha in February 1942; Fred and Eric died as Prisoners of War.


We cannot know to what extent these losses affected the Hutchins family. However, these badges reveal something of Mary. Her Mothers and Widows’ Badge would have involved a similar process to the Female Relative Badge and Mary would have applied for each star individually. According to the Hutchins family and their descendants, Mary never wore this badge nor did she ever speak about her loss of four sons. In light of this, it is curious she ever went to the trouble of applying to be issued the Mothers and Widows’ Badge. Yet she wore her Female Relative Badge with pride, every day for the remainder of her life. But the Mothers and Widows’ Badge was kept hidden away with her grief.



My family have this badge from WW1 five sons, three KIA, 2 RTA

Tamsin Hong says:

Hi Jason, What a remarkable story your family has. Did the 3 brothers who were killed in action serve in the same unit? These two badges are from the Second World War, however, there were two similar badges made during the First World War which served the same function. You can find out more about them here /encyclopedia/badges/female_relative/ and here /encyclopedia/badges/mothers_widows/


Hi Jason that is a remarkable story, Of the six eldest sons of William and Annie Henderson of Melbourne, five volunteered for service in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in 1915-16; three of these five lost their lives. Two of the brothers were KIA next to each other on the same day. I wonder if they would have recieved one of these

Tamsin Hong says:

Hi Nikki, Thank you for sharing the Henderson brothers’ story. Unfortunately, during the First World War, many brothers, cousins or fathers and sons served in the same unit where far too many died in the same action, which would have been devastating for their families. Some women found it too painful to have a badge reminding the community of the family members they lost. Others found the process of obtaining the Female Relative Badge or the Mothers and Widows’ Badge too cumbersome as the recipients had to prove they were the closest living female relative. Those who did fill out the paper work to be issued one of these badges are listed on the Registers of Issued Medals and Badges, which are based in Melbourne. You can access the record here http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/SeriesDetail.aspx?series_no=MT1384/2.

Helen Tatt

Another remarkable story of six brothers who served in WW1..my husbands cousins.......Fred. John, Joseph and George, Clifford and Arthur enlisted at Castlemaine, and were all sent to France, During the first battle of the Somme, Joseph,.a stretcher bearer, was shot and killed, his brother George was wounded and evacuated to England Tragedy followed, Arthur was taken prisoner by the germans, Clifford was shot...... After the war, the Maldon Fraternal Society presented to , Mrs ELiza Tatt, an illuminated iestimonial containing photos of her six sons, in appreciation of their service to King, Empire and the glory of Australia....this now hangs in the MALDON MUSEUM....... I may only be an "inlaw" of the Tatt clan, but am proud of the history and stories of these brave men........... In WW2, years later sons and daughters of these men served their country also.............Bless em all.......


charles Henry kerry 1280 has 8 children 5 boys all went to ww2, 3 daughters . 2 of the 3 went to ww2 1 did not come home - I have the story it is facinating

Prue Heazlewood

My grandmother saw her five sons enlist in WW2 , 4 returned, one was lost at sea with the sinking of the Montevideo Maru by the USS Sturgeon off Rabaul July 1942 ,Is there any chance my family can be entitled to either of these medals?

Tamsin Hong

Hi Prue, Your grandmother would have been entitled to these badges, if she was the closest living female relative (i.e. if her son who was killed in action was unmarried). However, these badges have not been issued since the Second World War so unfortunately your family is unable to receive them now. For further information, please refer to the links in the first paragraph to the Female Relative Badge and the Mothers and Widows’ Badge.

Murray Harris

Hi Prue, The sinking of the Montevideo Maru is a fascinating story. There is a film that was made about it, aired on the History Channel, by John Schindler in Brisbane. A fantastic production, with interviews from the survivors. Well worth looking for it, as its available on DVD!

Robyn Bond

I have a brooch which has been passed down through my husdands family which I believe is from ww1. It was passed on to me as I had two sons, little did I know at that time both my sons would grow to be soldiers. My youngest son served for seven years. My eldest son is still serving. They are our pride and joyand we are so proud of them. I can only imagine how proud Mrs Hutchins would of been of seven sons serving our country and at her sheer unimaginable grief at the loss of so many. A truely remarkeable woman. A true Australian hero in her own right.

katherine carney

hi i was just wondering what is your address because i was doing reasearch on you guys im doing a worksheet


@Tamsin In WWII the Mother's and Widow's badge could be issued to both the mother and widow of a deceased serviceman. Although a wife may be NOK, a mother may have had more than one progeny killed.

Barbara from Fremantle

Hi, I have been helping in a research project on WW1 soldiers from WA, and have come across a Wheeler family with six sons serving in WW1, five in the 16th Btn and one in the 10th Lt Horse. It appears that all six were on the Gallipoli Pensinsula on 8/8/15, when two of the brothers died. The four other brothers survived Gallipoli and went on to serve in France or the Middle East. Apparently there was a 7th brother that tried to enlist but was refused (thankfully) because he was only 16 at the time. An amazing story, and just one of the many I have come accross in my research.

Tamsin Hong

Hi Torokina. That's correct that a mother and a wife of the same serviceman could receive a Mothers and Widows' Badge retrospectively and the full details of the badge's issue can be found at /encyclopedia/badges/mothers_widows/


There is also Annie Whitelaw, from Briagolong in Victoria. Six of her sons served in WWI, three (including one who enlisted aged 16) were KIA and one died of wounds on return. Annie had died by the time her seventh son enlisted in WWII. The community erected a headstone to mark her loss. http://www.communityheritage.net.au/annie-whitelaw


My great grandad was Malcom (Mike) Hutchins. He one of these sons. It's great to know his (and his brothers') legacy will live on.