War casualty Patrick Edward Thomas Tiernan (Photo courtesy Jill Tiernan)

November 23, 2012

Meet Patrick Edward Thomas Tiernan … the Murgon hero buried in the Netherlands.

As we reported yesterday, Patrick was killed when his Halifax bomber was shot down over a small Dutch town in 1944.

His grave – and that of fellow Aussie Alfred Burns – is located in Dodewaard Cemetery and forms a part of annual Dutch remembrance activities in the town.

The mayor of the local municipality, Burgemeester Kees Veerhoek, recently wrote to the South Burnett Regional Council trying to find out more about Patrick so the Dutch town can build a memorial to the two men.

So who was Patrick Tiernan?

Former Murgon mayor Bill Roberts told southburnett.com.au that the name Tiernan was synonymous with Murgon and The Australian Hotel.

Patrick was one of six children of James and Mary Tiernan – three boys and three girls.

Bill can remember when Patrick left to go to war.

“He was a bit older than me,” Bill said. “There was a ball in town and it turned into a send-off party. All the Tiernans were there. That was the last time I saw him.”

Jill Tiernan, widow of former Australian Hotel owner Dermot, said Patrick was the youngest of the six children (Patrick was Dermot’s uncle).

Patrick was born on June 23, 1914, attended Murgon State School and then boarded at Nudgee College before studying law. He had almost finished his training as an articled clerk when he enlisted.

At first he joined the Army but then enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to England.

There’s a bit of a mystery about exactly when he died.

The official version states he was killed when his aircraft was shot down on June 17, 1944 but the family story has always been that he actually managed to bail out of the burning plane, suffering bad burns.  A Dutch family tried to shelter him for a couple of days from the Germans but was unable to provide the medical care that he required.

Official documents in the National Archives take over the story. 

After the plane failed to return to England, the Tiernan family back home in Murgon received a telegram from the Air Ministry on June 24 informing them that he was missing.

 

A copy of the telegram that Patrick's brother John received at The Australian Hotel stating that he was missing

Then soon afterwards, a letter from the Wing Commander of Tiernan’s 77 Squadron arrived which gave them some hope that he may still be alive:

“It is with regret that I have to confirm Air Ministry cablegram informing you that your brother, Flight Sergeant Patrick E.T. Tiernan, is missing from operations. Your brother was the Air Gunner of an aircraft that took off on an operational flight over enemy territory on the night of 16th/17th June, 1944. The aircraft did not return. It may be several weeks before any definite news is received but, without wishing to raise false hopes, I can tell you that a large number of aircrew members reported missing under similar circumstances ultimately prove to have made successful parachute jumps and to be prisoners of war. I sincerely hope that this may be the case now … Ft/Sgt Tiernan has been with squadron only a short time but has already proved himself a keen and efficient air gunner. He will be very much missed here, particularly amongst his fellow NCOs.”

So the Murgon family’s agony was prolonged with the uncertainty whether Patrick was dead or alive.

When the Red Cross made contact with the one survivor from the flight, Warrant Officer A J Owen – who was being held as prisoner-of-war in Stalag Luft 7 – their hopes sank as WO Owen confirmed Patrick had been killed.

But this was still not enough for the authorities … a note to the family in Murgon, held in the National Archives, said the Air Ministry in London did not consider the Red Cross report sufficient to reclassify Tiernan and his colleague Alfred Burns as deceased “and therefore they will remain classified missing pending receipt of official confirmation from the German authorities”.

This ultimate confirmation finally came through in early 1945.

Patrick was awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Aircrew Europe Star, France-Germany Star, 1939-45 Defence Medal, 1939-45 War Medal and the 1939-45 Australian Service Medal for his war service.

Jillian said Patrick’s sisters Eileen and Nelly Tiernan, who never married, travelled to the Netherlands in 1955 to visit the town where their brother had died. They are believed to have spoken to members of the Dutch family that attempted to assist Patrick and Alfred Burns.

The Tiernan family is quite excited by the renewed interest in their family member, and several are now planning a trip to the town of Dodewaard.

But Jillian said Patrick had never been forgotten by the family.

For many years, the family would gather on the verandah of The Australian Hotel in Murgon on Anzac Day as the parade passed by as a mark of respect for “Uncle Pat”.

The letter from the Air Ministry stating that German authorities had confirmed Patrick Tiernan's death

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