Category Archives: Remembering the Coo-ees

Update on visiting the graves and memorials of the Coo-ees

Update on visiting the graves and memorials of the Coo-ees

Over the past 21 days Stephen and I have visited 22 cemeteries and memorials in England, and 161 cemeteries and memorials in France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany, to take photographs of the headstones or names on memorials of  about 762 WWI or WWII soldiers who were from our local Central West NSW area (and a few family members), and those who were recruits on the Coo-ee March, the Boomerang March, and the Kookaburra March.

Coo-ees who died during WWI are in 27 of these cemeteries and memorials, including the Menin Gate at Iepers (Ypres) in Belgium, and the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France.

I had hoped to include a brief blog entry about each of these cemeteries and memorials, and the names of the Coo-ees who are buried or named there while on holidays, however due to our busy schedule, I have not been able to complete this project. I will continue with these entries, and blog entries for individual Coo-ees, focusing on those who died during WWI, once I return to Australia at the end of September.

Visiting so many cemeteries and memorials over the past three weeks, many of them dotting the rural landscape and villages which were the WWI battlefields in France and Belgium, has given us an overview of the scope and the tragedy of the many young mens’ lives that were lost during this conflict.

We were impressed with the upkeep of the cemeteries by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which have beautifully manicured lawns, and flowers (including many roses) and shrubs.

We also noted that in just about every cemetery we visited there were small Australian flags, small wooden crosses, and soldiers photographs and other mementoes (even a beer stubby holder) on many of the Australian war graves.

Earlier this afternoon we visited the Villers-Brettoneux Memorial to photograph the 180 names on our list of soldiers, who had no known grave – 11 of these were Coo-ees.

An epitah on the last Coo-ee grave we visited this afternoon – Harold Baxter from Gilgandra, at the Bancourt British Cemetery near Bapaume in France – was particularly touching:

“Harold dear, brave boy
Thou wert too young to die
But duty called”.

 

Anniversary of their start

Transcript of an article from The Sunday Times, October 8, 1916, p. 9.

THE COO-EES
EN ROUTE FOR BERLIN
ANNIVERSARY OF THEIR START
It’s 12 months all but two days since the Coo-ees started on their long march from Gilgandra to Berlin, and thought they’re not there yet, most of them are still on the way. One is well beyond the borders of Germany – he is a prisoner of war, and is reported to be in a prison camp in Westphalia – several have been wounded, and two, including their famous leader, “Captain Bill” Hitchen, are dead.
The Coo-ees started on the first stage of their march, the 330 miles trip from Gilgandra to Sydney, on Tuesday, Oct 10. There were 25 of them then ; but before they had covered half the distance the home town had sent another ten hotfoot to join them. These 35 Gilgandra men were good recruiting agents, for before they reached Sydney they had gathered in seven more men for every one of the original troop. They arrived just about 270 strong. Their example was followed all over the country, and recruiting marches were conducted from several points. None of them, however, captured such interest as that of the Coo-ees , and although public memory is always short, it is probable that Captain Bill Hitchen and his men will always be remembered when Australia’s part in the war is talked of. Certainly they will never be forgotten in Gilgandra and the other country towns they passed through.

SACRIFICES THEY MADE
Every town and township on the line turned out to meet them as they approached, and they were feted and fed until their leaders began to fear they would be killed by kindness. The enthusiasm of the volunteers, too, was infectious. All along the road men dropped their work and joined the ranks. From Gilgandra alone there were three men with families. There was Captain Hitchen (officially he was only a Corporal ; but he will always be remembered as Captain Bill), who had a family of three sons and two daughters ; there was Signaller A. J. McGregor, who left behind him a wife and five young children ; and there was Corporal J. McKeown, who left a wife and four small McKeowns. Wee McGregor, as he was known all along the march, sold out a flourishing bakery business in Gilgandra to join the Coo-ees. He had three brothers at the front, and he wanted to follow them. On the way to Sydney another brother jumped into the ranks – five from one family. McKeown had fought in the South African war, and had soldiering in his blood. At Coonamble two young brothers named Hunt joined the ranks. Their father saw them start ; but the thought of the parting was too much for him. A few days later he hurried after the boys, and at Bathurst he, too, joint the march.

MEN OF ALL AGES
The Coo-ees were men of all ages. Captain Bill himself was 52, and though the rest all said they were under 45 the authorities in many cases had their suspicions about them. On the other hand there were three lads under the age of 18.
When they reached Sydney on March 8 [sic] a number of them were rejected as medically unfit ; but 220 eventually sailed for Europe. They didn’t all go together. Some were taken into the Light Horse and others into the Engineers and Artillery ; but about 180 went away as the 15th Reinforcements of the 13th Battalion. In Egypt they were again split up ; but the majority went into the 45th Battalion. Those who stayed in Egypt were under fire three weeks after their landing, and the men who went to France were in the trenches in June. It used to be a military axiom that it took three years to train a soldier. In the case of the Coo-ees, the time spent in training was a little over three months.
A record of their doings is being kept by Mr. A. H. Miller, of Gilgandra, who took part a leading part in organising the march. He is still collecting details, keeping a list of those who have fallen, and the experiences the men have met with. He also communicates with their relatives, whenever news of any of the men arrives.
The people of Gilgandra are keeping up the anniversary of the start of the march on Tuesday by a social. They originally intended to devote the proceeds to purchasing Christmas hampers for the men ; but the State War Council refused permission for this, and the money will now be devoted to the Repatriation Fund. Numbers of private parcels are being made up, however, for Christmas gifts, for the men. So far there have been but nine casualties among the Coo-ees.

COO-EES WHO HAVE FALLEN
Corporal Hitchen died of diabetes in Harefield Hospital, in England, a few weeks ago. He was ill when he arrived in England and went straight into hospital. He died two months later. When news of his death was received in Gilgandra, all the business houses closed their doors for two hours.
Private Victor Quinton, of Gilgandra, is wounded, though he was at first reported missing. He is a son of Mrs. A. Lumsey, of Gilgandra.
Private Sid Heuston, wounded, is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Heuston, of Wellington. He joined the Coo-ees there when he was only 17 years and three months of age.
Private Dave Wagner, wounded, is a son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Wagner, of Valley Heights. He was only 16 years and 10 months old when he enlisted.
Private J. Wiggins, wounded, is a son of Mr. E. Wiggins, of Springwood. He and his mate, Dave Wagner, both enlisted from Springwood, the only recruits in the march from the township.
Private C. Crease, wounded, joined the Coo-ees in the mountains. He is a brother of Mrs. P. Letham, of Simmons-street, Enmore.
Sgt. T. Thorne, who died of illness in England, was 23 years of age. He was the only son of Mrs. and the late Mr. G. Thorne, of Thorneycroft, Lawson. His father died suddenly from heart failure a month after the boy left for the front.
Private D. S. Stewart was at first reported missing, but has since been traced to a prison camp in Westphalia, where he is a prisoner of war. He is the second son of Mr. and Mrs. A Stewart, of Parkes-street, East Wellington, and was only 16 years and 9 months old when he enlisted. He was the youngest recruit with the Coo-ees. Another brother, who enlisted at 18, is in the trenches.
Private Oliver James Harmon, of Granville, killed in action, was a son of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Harmon, of Alfred-street, Granville. He joined the Coo-ees, many of whom he had known out West, at Parramatta. His younger brother, Percy, is on H.M.S. Phantom, and another is in camp at Liverpool.
Private C. Marchant, accidentally wounded in Egypt and invalided home, is a son of Mr. and Mrs. E. Marchant, of Gilgandra, at which township he joined the Coo-ees. He was prominent in boxing circles in the West, and also a member of the Gilgandra Waratah Football Club and the League of Wheelmen.
Private Albert Nelson, wounded (second occasion), is the son of Mr. and Mrs. R. Nelson, of Gilgandra. He joined the Coo-ees at Liverpool Camp, and sailed for the front with them on March 8. When he was wounded on the first occasion he remained on duty. This time he was wounded in three places – knee, back and foot.
Private Borton, Lawson (wounded).
Private R. Uhr (invalided home).
Private J. Morris, Parramatta (killed in action).
Private G. Seaman, Bathurst (wounded).
Private W. E. Hunter, Redfern (wounded), enlisted at Geurie, and when the Coo-ees were in Orange he received a letter from his mother stating that his two brothers had been killed at the Dardanelles.
Cpl. W. Smith, who enlisted with the Coo-ees at Geurie, where he was employed as Shire Clerk, was taken from France to England to undergo an operation. From advices received by the last mail he was improving fast. He was a widower with a number of young children, whom he placed in boarding-school before going to the front.’

 

Oral recording by Leslie Greenleaf about the Coo-ee March

Oral recording of Leslie Webster Greenleaf’s recollection of the Coo-ee March

An oral recording is held in the Australian War Memorial sound collection (ID number S00329), which has the title: : ‘Leslie Webster Greenleaf, MM, as a private, 13th Battalion, discusses his part in the Gilgandra “Cooee March” in October 1915 in an interview with Kaye Mallison’.

This recording covers Leslie Webster Greenleaf’s recollection of joining at Gilgandra, the march to Sydney, training in Liverpool, the trip on the troopship ‘Star of England’, final parade in Egypt, and subsequent break-up of the Coo-ees, which he described as “that was the end of the era for the Coo-ees”, and his subsequent troopship journey to France.

This oral recording can be listened to online at http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/S00329/

To listen to this recording, click on the “Sound” link next to the file name.