Wartime Property Returned to Family

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Detective Senior Constable Stephen Ryan with Sister Jessie Gibson's family

A precious locket presented to a nursing sister in 1920, and stolen in 1993 is now back in the hands of family members.

After jewellery items suspected to have been stolen were seized, detectives from Proceeds of Crime Squad – Proactive Team made arrangements for photos of some of the more distinctive pieces to be published on social media in the hope they could be returned to the rightful owner.

Detective Senior Constable Stephen Ryan said some of the items were likely to be very precious to someone. “One of these posts caught the attention of Museum of Perth Historian Shannon Lovelady who was able to trace a family descendent living in Perth,” he said.

The original owner of the recovered locket was Sister Jessie Gibson who was born in Victoria in December 1888, later commencing her nursing career at Fremantle Hospital. In 1916 she was sent to India and later to Gallipoli. She then completed her military duty at a hospital in Baluchistan during the Afghan War (6 May – 8 August 1919) before returning to Australia in 1920. She was presented with the locket by her hometown community of Tarrangower in recognition of the service she provided during World War I. Sadly, Sister Gibson passed away shortly afterwards and was buried at Fremantle Cemetery.

Det. SC Ryan said it was great to be able to return the locket to Gordon Blackburn last week. “Gordon is the grand-nephew of Sister Gibson and it was from his parent’s home that the locket was stolen,” he said. “He was able to bring a photo of Sister Gibson and provide some insights into her remarkable life.”

Gordon recounted an interesting anecdote about Sister Gibson lying about her age in order to serve. “During WWI due to the dangers and confronting scenes nurses were expected to encounter, only those over 30- 40 years of age were able to be deployed to frontline postings,” he said. “At only 28 years of age in 1916, Sister Gibson had to ‘inflate her maturity’ to become eligible to serve overseas.”

Det. SC Ryan explained that the locket had a distinctive inscription and this was a great example of how important it is to record descriptors such as engravings when recording stolen property as these may later enable a match. “A number of the items we recovered were found at second hand dealers and so it’s also timely to remind officers about the under-utilised Dealer Search Facility (DSF) on IMS which can also prove very useful where stolen property is concerned.”

This good news story may yet have one final chapter. Gordon revealed his grand-aunt was set to meet King George V and be awarded the Royal Red Cross for exceptional services in military nursing at the time of her death. This piqued Shannon’s interest who is now determined to work with Gordon to ensure this honour can be bestowed on Sister Gibson posthumously.