John Thomas Malone

Left wondering ... Growing up Cousins Maree Callaghan and Robin Chandler never knew what happened to their grandfather. Picture: NewsCorpSource: News Limited

Like thousands of other men John Thomas Malone returned from the Western Front in 1919 a broken man.

He abandoned his family in Sydney and drifted north to Darwin where he lived a hermit’s life and died a pauper’s death.

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On a mission ... Cousins Maree Callaghan from Cessnock and Robin Chandler from Sydney tracked down deceased grandfather WWI digger John Malone. Picture: NewsCorp.Source: News Limited

His granddaughters Maree Callaghan and Robin Chandler were determined to find out what had happened to their mysterious relative.

“My father’s childhood was a no-go area and all he told us was that he was orphaned around World War 1,” Ms Callaghan said.

In 2012 the cousins decided to check if Private John Malone had served at Gallipoli.

He had not but he had fought in France with ‘B’ Company with the 20th Battalion of the 5th Brigade.

Finding John Malone ... A letter from Grace Chandler, the daughter of John Malone, appealing for help to find her father. Picture: SuppliedSource: Supplied

John Malone married Grace Parnell in Sydney in 1909 and they had four children, Grace, Terence (Maree’s father), David and Hazel.

Mr Malone enlisted in August 1915 after the death of his brother David and he was shipped to France in November that year.

Mrs Malone died in April 1919 during the global Spanish influenza pandemic and Maree believes he returned from the war a few weeks later unaware that his wife was gone.

“The trail ended there, with no records of his remarriage or death, nor anything else,” Ms Callaghan said.

The reply ... A letter from Grace Chandler, the daughter of John Malone, after she appealed for help to find her father. Picture: SuppliedSource: Supplied

He was reported missing on December 29, 1920 and after an exhaustive search the cousins found a John Malone had been buried in an unmarked plot at Gardens Road cemetery in Darwin.

They discovered that a homeless Mr Malone had been the victim of a brutal assault in November 1935 and had died in April 1941 penniless and destitute after numerous arrests for drunkenness during the 1920s and 1930s.

The mortuary report from Northern Territory Archives Service outlined his tragic and horrific last days.

Cause of death ... John Malone's Mortuary Return certificate. Picture: SuppliedSource: Supplied

“We later found that he had been on an invalid pension since the assault six years previously, was ‘emaciated’, and his meagre possessions were listed as ‘one hat, shirt and trousers, pair of old tan shoes and a singlet’, and their destruction by incineration,” Ms Callaghan said.

He had become one of the countless men who came home from the war psychologically destroyed and unable to be treated or to cope with normal life.

“I have worked with Vietnam vets with PTSD and I link John’s life to PTSD. I understand why he disappeared and lived the life he did,” she said.

Resting place ... The original unmarked grave of John Malone. Picture: SuppliedSource: Supplied

“We visited his unmarked grave in Darwin in May, 2013 … as we separately searched Gardens Road Cemetery, a yellow butterfly appeared near my cousin, 100 metres away, then flew to where I was standing next to his grave, circling me and the grave several times, before disappearing. An indication perhaps of a lost soul being released.”

The family plans to visit Darwin this year to pay their respects to this WW1 veteran at his new war veteran’s grave.

There are no known photographs of John Thomas Malone and Ms Callaghan would dearly love to obtain one. Her email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.