Wiggins name returns to Gatton

Gatton and District Historical Society vice president Kelven Freeman dived into historical records to share Warrant Officer Clement Batstone Wiggins’ story. Picture: JACOB HAYDEN

The discovery of Gatton-born Warrant Officer Clement Batstone Wiggins’ final resting place sparked a great deal of excitement for Kelven Freeman.

A team of divers recovered the remains of a Beaufort aircraft in 2022 in the waters south of Gasmata, Papua New Guinea.

A team of specialists recently confirmed the DNA of bone material belonging to WO Wiggins and Brisbane-born Warrant Officer Russell Henry Grigg.

This discovery prompted Gatton and District Historical Society vice president and local military expert Kelven Freeman to dive into his own records to share the Wiggins family’s history.

He said the Wiggins family had a rich history within Gatton spanning more than 130 years, beginning as haberdasheries and storekeepers.

“The original Clement Batstone Wiggins [WO Wiggins’ grandfather] was a JP, and he was also one of the first on the scene of the Murphy murders in 1898, he actually authorised the removal of the bodies,” Mr Freeman said.

WO Wiggins was born 29 March 1915 in Gatton and began school at Gatton Primary in 1920.

He passed his junior exams at Lockyer State High and Technical College in 1931, and later began his teaching career.

“There’s a gap [after school] and then he started teaching in the South Burnett,” Mr Freeman said.

He taught in Nanango from 1936 and in Murgon from 1940, when he also enrolled in the Citizen Air Force before enlisting on 2 March 1941 in Brisbane.

“At some stage in this time he moved down to Sale in Victoria to do his flight training,” Mr Freeman said.

“He was obviously recognised as something decent and he completed officer training in 1942.

“He then did his Beaufort training down there, and he completed that in March 1943.”

While in Victoria, WO Wiggins met wife-to-be Colina Ailsa Louise McNaughton, who was serving in the Australian Women’s Army Service.

“They married there (12 November 1942), and then he was posted to New Guinea with the 100 Squadron,” Mr Freeman said.

“He flew five combat missions, 27 hours of combat missions, and was killed on the 5th of September 1943.”

Bizarrely, WO Wiggins’ gravestone in Gatton Cemetery states his date of death as 5 September 1942, a year earlier than reported.

WO Wiggins died at the age of 28, and Colina remarried to Raymond Atkins in 1950 in Victoria.

WO Wiggins’ younger brother, Mervyn John Wiggins, was also serving in New Guinea in the Australian Army 2/4 Anti Aircraft Regiment at the time of his passing.

Mr Freeman said he knew Mervyn quite well as a child.

“When he returned to Gatton he began manufacturing furniture in a little factory opposite to where AR (Agricultural Requirements) is now,” he said.

Mervyn and his wife lived in a house on 12 Wiggins Street and had three sons – Graham, Keith and Ian.

“In the late 50s, Merv entered into a partnership with Rod Andersen,” Mr Freeman said.

“Merv and family moved to Brisbane in about 1960 and Rod continued with the business – and Andersens Flooring was born.

“The rest is history, we’ve got a big shed over there and franchises all over the eastern states.”

Mr Freeman said it was great to see the Wiggins name return to Gatton.

“It meant everything to me that Clem and his crew had been found, thanks to Twiggy Forrest and his expedition,” he said.

Gatton RSL Sub Branch vice president Kevin Jacoby shared Mr Freeman’s sentiments.

“It is fantastic to hear this news confirming the identity of these two airmen and to be able to put them to rest officially, and to get the families some closure,” Mr Jacoby said.

“One of the very important things for the RSL is to make sure families have closure with the loss of their soldiers and airmen.

“It’s a pity we couldn’t find the other two airmen who were in the Beaufort as well, but that’s just the way life is.

“I’m glad that there will be a service held for the family members of the crew.”

The lost airmen will be honoured at a private memorial service on 26 April at RAAF Base Amberley.