The Coo-ees. Part in the fray, anniversary of the start
Transcript of an article from The Bathurst Times, 10 October, 1916, p. 4.
PART IN THE FRAY, ANNIVERSARY OF THE START.
It’s twelve months all but two days since the Coo-ees started their long march from Gilgandra to Berlin, and though 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, caused 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 which 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 out and fed until their leaders began to fear that they would he killed by the 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 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 also fought in the South African war, and had the soldiering blood in him. 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, joined 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 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 200 eventually set sail 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.
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 Repariation Fund. Numbers of private parcels are being made up, however, in the way of 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 Sid Houston, wounded, is a son of Mr. and Mrs. George Houston, 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 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 Letcher, who has been killed in action, was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Letcher of Bathurst, and was only 17 years old when he joined the Coo-ees at Bathurst.
Private G. Seaman, who also joined the Coo-ees at Bathurst, has been reported wounded.
Private W. E. Hunter, Redfern, 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. He is reported wounded.
Corporal W. Smith, who enlisted with the Coo-ees at Geurie, where he was employed as Shire Clerk, was taken to England from France 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 a boarding-school before going to the front.’
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