The Coo-ee March


Coo-ee March 1915


The following information and photographs are extracted from John Meredith’s book The Coo-ee March, 1986, and can be purchased for $15 (inc postage and handling) from the Gilgandra Visitor Centre.  Email us to order a copy.

Following the disaster of Gallipoli and the heavy casualties in France in the latter half of 1915, recruiting figures for enlistment in World War I had dwindled. Numerous recruiting rallies became increasingly ineffective. It was at this dark hour that Gilgandra's butcher, R.G. Hitchen and his brother Bill, the local plumber, had the idea of organising a route march of volunteers to Sydney, enlisting recruits as they marched.

The idea caught the imagination of the public, and the Coo-ees (as the volunteers were known) became national heroes. The action of "Hitchen's Own" and the subsequent marches, which followed, were responsible for a dramatic upturn in recruitment figures.

Twenty six men left the little Western town on the Castlereagh River. They were feted at each town on the route, and the stirring story of their march has become part of the official war history of Australia. Recruitment meetings were held in each centre and their number increased to 263 by the time they reached Sydney.

Conditions in the country in 1915 were vastly different from those today.  Meredith describes: The unsealed roads were made of dirt, or perhaps, in a town, of crushed stone or blue metal.  In dry weather traffic was coincidental with clouds of dust; when it rained the roads became ribbons of mud.  Considered against this background a march of 320 miles over those rough roads was a much greater undertaking than it would be under today’s conditions.  The feats of cooking, transporting and servicing the food provided for the Coo-ees at each camp place, and even assembling of welcoming crowds were huge accomplishments.

Pictures to the right show a portion of the immense crowd which stretched from Newtown to the Sydney Domain to welcome the Coo-ees at the end of their historic march.  This is just the Martin Place block between Pitt and George Street.

 

Coo-ee Re-enactment March

24th October 1987 to 14 November 1987

A band of brave men revisited our past and followed the footsteps of the 1915 Coo-ee March from Gilgandra to Sydney. As with the original march three men organised this re-enactment, Brian Bywater, Kimlyn Templeton and Robert McLean, who were relying on the generosity of private citizens in towns and cities along the route.

Gilgandra contributed 40% of those who left Gilgandra as marchers and supporters. 72 years after Gilgandra's sons first left for war, the community still remembers efforts of the marchers and they came out in force to support and farewell the re-enactment.

Gilgandra re-enacted the events leading up to the official send off.

Thursday night a provisions and farewell was hosted by Apex at the Royal Hotel with a barbeque and bush band and a warm welcome to all visitors.

On Friday Australia Post launched Gilgandra's Permanent Pictorial Postmark depicting and commemorating the 1915 Coo-ee March.

Friday evening Gilgandra Entertainers hosted the Grand Ball. This was a memorable evening - most attired in period costume were entertained with the songs and footage of soldiers boarding ships destined for Gallipoli.

Saturday morning Quota ladies put on an Aussie Breakfast in Quota Park followed by a morning service and blessing from Bishop Goldsworthy at St. Ambrose Church.

The Shire President delivered the farewell speech in Bridge Street and the march moved off at 10 a.m.

They were led out of Gilgandra by two horsemen in Light Horse Regalia, seven ladies on horses, the flags, the Shire President and twenty four marchers with banners followed by our R.S.L. Club, Returned Servicemen, Clubs, Scouts, citizens, vintage cars and horse drawn vehicles.

This procession was followed by thousands of Gilgandra residents to Coo-ee March Memorial Park for a memorial service and a 21 gun salute by the Rifle Club at Boberah Bridge was re-enacted.

This march continued on to Sydney via the route of the original march and received a rousing reception in Sydney some 22 days later.

Film Australia captured the story of these Coo-ees for all to see in a movie, which received nominations for the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals.

The premiere of this documentary took place in Gilgandra on 16th July 1988.

William Thomas Hitchen - Leader of the Coo-ees
William Thomas Hitchen
Leader of the Coo-ee's
The original 26 men leaving Gilgandra
The original 26
men leaving Gilgandra
Arriving at Martin Place
Arriving at Martin Place
Marching in front of Orange Post Office 23rd Nov 1915
Marching in front of Orange
Post Office 23rd November 1915
Nearing Springwood 8th December 1915
Nearing Springwood
8th December 1915
Marching towards Husson's Walls outside Lithgow
Marching towards Husson's Walls
Outside Lithgow
At the Royal Hotel - Little Hartley 4th Dec 1915
At the Royal Hotel - Little Hartley
4th December 1915
Picture taken at Orange 24th Dec 1915
Picture taken at Orange
24th December 1915
Letts River Bridge - West of Little Hartley
Letts River Bridge
West of Little Hartley