Members of a North Queensland family believe a letter written by Winston Churchill, confirming their descendant saved the former British prime minister's life, may be stuffed into a trunk of documents somewhere in the Wide Bay region.
Private Fergus 'Rogie' McFadzen from Nebo, south-west of Mackay, told his family shortly before he died that he had saved Churchill's life while serving in the Fourth South Africa 'Queensland Imperial Bushmen Contingent' in the Second Boer War in 1900 and 1901.
Churchill, then in his twenties, was working in the area as a war correspondent for London's Morning Post.
While Private McFadzen died in 1944 aged 63, the legend has been passed down to generations of McFadzens, who believe their ancestor played a pivotal role in shaping 20th century history.
'It was something a soldier would do for his mate'
Private McFadzen's daughter-in-law, Violet McFadzen, can remember the first and only time her husband Kevin's father talked about the war in her presence — in 1944, just before his death.
"We were just sitting idly chatting one day and more or less it was mentioned about him being a returned man from the Boer War, because he was invalided home with one of his eyes [that] had lost sight," she said.
"We said more or less 'What happened?' and he told us the story that he was just a young man fighting in the Boer War.
"It was something that he didn't want any recognition for.
"It was something a soldier would do for his mate just to get away from the enemy. You do what you do on the spur of the moment, which is what I imagine he did.
"He thought nothing more of it until later on when he got back to the head office. They said 'Well, that man that you saved was an officer by the name of Churchill'.
"Which meant nothing at all to any of them. He was just another officer, and then later on in life that particular man joined parliament and made a career of his life and finished up to be Winston Churchill."
Soldier picked up Churchill on his horse
An article from The Farmer and Settler newspaper in 1944 quotes Private McFadzen explaining to Mackay's Daily Mercury how the rescue happened when he spotted Churchill out on an expedition to forage for food.
"He was about half-a-mile away and as he drew closer I could see he was an Englishman," the private said.
"He signalled not to shoot and later gave me his name, and explained that he was a war correspondent, representing a London newspaper, The Morning Post.
"We were a long way from the British lines, and from the direction Churchill was heading he would have missed the lot of us by miles, and either been shot by a Boer sniper or again taken prisoner.
"Tethered behind my saddle I had several bundles of hay for my horse … Churchill rode pillion with me amongst the hay. In this position I landed him back safely in the British camp."
In the same place at the same time
Private McFadzen's grandson Les McFadzen, who has kept a newsletter of McFadzen family history for many years, said his research indicated his uncle's movements in South Africa matched up with Churchill's.
"The first thing that I found was that they were both in the same location at the same time for about four months," he said.
Mr McFadzen said the honorary secretary of the Bundaberg branch of the African War Veterans Association in Queensland had written to Churchill to confirm Private McFadzen's story, and received a reply from Churchill himself.
"Mr Henrickson confirmed that he had written to Churchill and Churchill had answered and confirmed the story about being rescued by Rogie," he said.
But despite searching for this letter for 30 years, Mr McFadzen has not been able to find it.
"When I started researching in the early '80s I contacted a descendant of Mr Henrickson who was still in the Wide Bay area, and he said he believed the documentation was still held by the family," Mr McFadzen said.
"I was told that the secretary of the organisation … had kept a trunk-load of documents from the organisation and we would expect the letters to and from Churchill to be included in that, but we don't know what's happened to that information."
'It's all true as far as the family is concerned'
Ms McFadzen said Private McFadzen rarely spoke about the war, and his reluctance to spread the story of the rescue lent credibility to the tale.
"It's all true as far as the family's concerned," she said. "We believed it. It's all true."
"[Churchill] was an unknown man and he was just fighting with the other men in the army, fighting against the Boers, and he just … turned out to be who he was years later."
Mr McFadzen believed his grandfather had been reluctant to talk about the rescue because Churchill would have been unpopular among many of his grandfather's peers.
"For us we remember Churchill from the Second World War as the prime minister of England, but when you go back to the First World War, Churchill was the architect of the Gallipoli campaign," he said.
"If any Australian First World War veterans had known that Rogie had actually rescued Churchill in 1900, they would have probably lynched him."
'World history would have been completely different'
Mackay RSL historian Col Benson said he had heard rumours for about 20 years of a Nebo soldier who saved Churchill, but never knew his name.
"Sometime between 1993 and 2003 when I produced a monthly RSL Mackay newsletter … a World War II veteran had handed me a piece of paper and on it, it said about a Nebo soldier who during the Boer War had rescued Winston Churchill," he said.
"It's always been in the back of my mind to try and find out more about the story."
Mr Benson said he had no reason to doubt Private McFadzen's tale.
"[A journalist] obviously pursued him, that was 1944, so you're looking at 45, 46 years after the event, and he brushed it off but he did mention what had happened, so it all seems fairly legitimate to me," he said.
"Just imagine if Winston Churchill had been lost on that particular occasion. World history would have been completely different."