100 years on from the Waratah March

Nowra historian Alan Clark is updating his book on the Waratah March. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Nowra historian Alan Clark is updating his book on the Waratah March. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

One hundred years ago volunteers marched from Nowra through the Illawarra to Sydney to gather recruits to fight in the Great War. Nowra historian Alan Clark has been researching what happened to the 120 or so men who joined the march.

"May the Waratahs grow in strength, flourish while temporarily transplanted in foreign soil, and return to us rich in achievements for King and country no less conspicuous and brilliant than their namesake, the crimson monarch of the Australian bush."

These were the words of Mr E.H. Palmer, the organising secretary of the State Recruitment Committee as 50 volunteers began their walk from Nowra to Sydney in November 1915, known as the Waratah March.

Gathering military recruits along the way to fight in World War I, the March stopped at Berry, Kiama, Albion Park, Dapto, Wollongong and Wollongong's northern suburbs before heading to Sutherland, Hurstville, Kogarah.

The marchers cross the Shoalhaven River. Picture: SHOALHAVEN HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The marchers cross the Shoalhaven River. Picture: SHOALHAVEN HISTORICAL SOCIETY

An estimated 120 men had joined the Waratah March when it arrived in Sydney three weeks after leaving Nowra.

Ten years ago the Illawarra witnessed a re-enactment of the Waratah March to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the march.

Later this year the march will be commemorated with a weekend of events in the Shoalhaven.

In 1994, Nowra historian Alan Clark published a 60-page book on the Waratah March.

Waratah March through the Illawarra 1915. Picture: NOWRA MUSEUM

Waratah March through the Illawarra 1915. Picture: NOWRA MUSEUM

Mr Clark is updating this book for the centenary celebrations to be held in the last week of November, with the help of funds received through the Federal Government's Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program.

The book will be published by the Nowra RSL sub-branch.

The Waratah March was one of about 10 recruitment marches that took place in 1915 and 1916, mainly starting out in country NSW, to recruit men for service after losses suffered at Gallipoli.

The first and most successful of these was the Coo-ee march from Gilgandra, which collected 263 men.

"Many people joined the gatherings, which walked to capital cities, mainly to Sydney," Mr Clark said.

"The marches also inspired others to enlist."

Mr Clark said the men had been promised that the Waratahs would be kept together as a group where possible.

After three months of training, more than 70 of the Waratahs left Australia on the Makarini on April 1, 1916.

Most of them were in the 1st Battalion in the middle of a war zone within a short time and they were involved in heavy fighting at Pozieres, France.

The Waratahs leave Kiama headed for Jamberoo. Picture: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL

The Waratahs leave Kiama headed for Jamberoo. Picture: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL

By the end of July, 14 of the Waratahs had lost their lives and 16 others were wounded.

"Pozieres was a devastating battle for the 1st Battalion overall," Mr Clark said.

Of the 105 men identified as Waratahs by Mr Clark, 31 were either killed in action or died of wounds or disease by war's end.

Mr Clark said that after the war there was no record of the Waratahs keeping together as a group.

"Those that survived came back to their respective towns and got on with their lives," he said.

"Some found it more difficult than others, some died a couple of years after their return.

"Three found wives in England while they were in hospital over there.

"Seven lived to their 80s ... none won medals, or anything like that, but were certainly dedicated to the cause."

The Waratah march passes through Balgownie.

The Waratah march passes through Balgownie.

After publishing his book in 1994, Mr Clark said it soon became obvious there was a lot more to the men known as Waratahs.

The first edition featured pen sketches of men involved.

Mr Clark said with more information freely available through sources such as the Australian Archives and the National Library of Australia's Trove, he has been able to put together longer profiles on some of the men and their lives before and after the war.

However, records of some of the recruits have proven more elusive.

"I'm trying to do justice to the more than 100 men I have been able to trace," Mr Clark said.

"Descendants and relatives are scattered around many parts of Australia, and I have managed to track down some of them who have assisted with photographs and family information."

He said he was keen to hear from others with connections to the Waratah March as he updates his book.

People can write to Mr Clark at 16 North Street, Nowra, 2541; phone 4421 7008 after hours; or email alanwclark@yahoo.com.

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