World War II 75th anniversary: Jenny Merrell fights her father's dishonourable discharge

MEMORIES: Jack Byrne with Jenny Merrell. Photo: Supplied
MEMORIES: Jack Byrne with Jenny Merrell. Photo: Supplied

When Jenny Merrell sent an application in 2018 to get copies of her father's war medals, she didn't expect to spend the next two years fighting to get his dishonourable discharge revoked.

On August 6, 2020 Ms Merrell became the first person in Australia to overturn a dishonourable discharge for someone who was deceased. Her father's record now has an explainer attached stating that he received a medical discharge.

Her father, Jack Byrne, fought in the army in New Guinea during World War II after signing up at 18-years-old.

While Ms Merrell knew her father had fought in the army, he wasn't very open about his experience.

Ms Merrell said ANZAC Day was a big event growing up because her grandfather was a "big war hero".

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She said every year the family would sit around the TV to watch the ANZAC Day parade.

"Dad would always be sitting quiet and wouldn't mention anything," Ms Merrell said. "I never thought to ask where his medals were or what had happened."

Mr Byrne was born on Citizen Street, Goulburn, in 1924 and passed away in 1999.

On March 12, 2018 Ms Merrell sent off an application to get her father's medals. She received two medals quickly in the post but was confused about a missing third medal: the Australian Service Medal 1939-45.

Soon afterwards she received a call from a member of the Defence Force who explained that Mr Byrne had been deemed incorrigible and was dishonourably discharged in 1945.

"I couldn't understand it because dad wasn't that sort of person," she said. "He'd always just gone off to work and supported the family. It just wasn't in his personality."

After this discovery the dedicated daughter sent the Defence Force an application to review the decision.

Ms Merrell said that was the start of endless letters, emails and phone calls for the next two years.

Mr Byrne appeared before two Court Marshals during his time in New Guinea.

The history buff said that according to her dad's own testimony, "he couldn't soldier because of nervous problems".

Mr Byrne pleaded not guilty to all charges but his daughter said he "didn't have anyone to represent him or any friends to stand up for him".

In addition to mental health problems Mr Byrne suffered from Dengue fever, Malaria and casting burns on both his ankles - the result of fractured ankles caused by heavy packs.

Ms Merrell said her father appeared before Court Marshals because he kept running away.

"He was a nervous wreck," she said. "They rounded him up whenever he took off, they'd find him and put him in jail. As soon as he got out he'd take off again.

She said her father didn't speak about his involvement in World War II but had made a few comments to her brothers.

"He told one brother that when he was trekking in the jungle one of his mates was blown up in front of him," Ms Merrell said.

"He told stories about the Japanese hiding in a tree and shooting at them.

"My cousin told me her father was in the army with dad in New Guinea. Dad would wake up in the night with nightmares and my uncle would have to calm him down."

She said her father had died from "smoking-related diseases, caused from the cigarettes that were supplied to him by the army to calm his nerves".

SACRIFICE HONOURED: Two of Jack Byrne's medals from World War II. Photo: Supplied

SACRIFICE HONOURED: Two of Jack Byrne's medals from World War II. Photo: Supplied

The end of the war didn't end Mr Byrnes' problems. Ms Merrell said he was nervous his whole life.

"He wouldn't even get a license and drive a car because of his nerves. He didn't trust himself," she said.

She said one of the most vivid memories of her father occurred when he was dying in Westmead Hospital.

"I came in one day and they had him in a straight jacket," she said.

"There was a picture on the wall that was disturbing him. He saw something to do with the war in the picture."

Ms Merrell said her father had called her over, distressed, and asked her to ring the police. He said people were "holding me here against my wishes".

She said her dad was convinced he was back in the army.

"I went out into the hallway, stood around the corner and just cried for about 10 minutes."

This story Daughter fights her father's dishonourable discharge from WWII first appeared on Goulburn Post.