What Happened to the Tooraweenah Kookaburras

What Happened to the Tooraweenah Kookaburras


Seven men returned to Australia wounded or ill before the war ended, seven men died on the Western Front and only nine men returned after the war ended


The Kookaburra March commenced in Tooraweenah on January 12, 1916 with 25 recruits. ‘Captain’ William Thomas Hitchen assisted in organising the march as they travelled through Yarragrin, Mendooran, Dunedoo, Gulgong, Mudgee, Rydstone, Kandos, Capertee, Portland Yetholme and arrived in Bathurst on Friday February 3, 1916 with 92 men. The Boomerang Recruitment marchers from Forbes and Parkes arrived at Bathurst at the same time with 202 men. Training took place at the Bathurst Showground until heavy rain flooded them out and they moved camp to higher ground.


The majority of the Kookaburras were in the 45th Battalion and joined many of the Coo-ees, who were in the 45th or 13th Battalions. Michael O’Connor kept a diary which gives an insight into daily life in the army. Michael and Patrick O’Connor and his good friend, Maeford ‘Gundy’ Mills marched to Bathurst and brother, George O’Connor joined them there. Training, drill, lectures and marches kept them busy, and sports of cricket, boxing and tug of war kept them fit. On March 23, 1916 they received word they would go to the Western Front and enjoyed final leave and a send off from the people of Collie. A ‘bonser march through Bathurst’ saw them on their way to Sydney via trains to embark on the HMAT Ceramic bound for Egypt. The sea was rough about Melbourne and their last sight of Australia was at Albany, ‘a very pretty harbour’.

He liked Colombo, ‘had a real good time..plenty beer, a fine place’. The weather was hot and a lot of Australian troop ships. A soldier died at Colombo and they buried him at sea.

He liked the Suez Canal, ’passed by some big camps, thousands of troops and camels, splendid sights, saw a seaplane.’ Arrived at Port Said, ‘took a train to Tel el Kebir, arrived 10.30pm. had a pretty rough time, hot winds (and) had to cart our stuff on vans and pull them ourselves.’ The introduction to Egypt was not good. They camped at Mena, near the pyramids and continued training and sports.

On June 6, 1916 they ‘travelled all night in an open truck and embarked about 9pm..got a fresh cold, some bonser sights. All the country is irrigated. Egyptians are good workers.’

The ‘Francona’ took them to Plymouth, where they saw 8 mine destroyers and a submarine destroyer escorted them into the harbour.

After further training in England, Michael arrived in France in September 1916 to join the rest of his unit in Ypres, Belgium. He described the mud and marching four miles for a bath and change of clothes; the shelling and the bombardments; the rations that were not very good, ‘George went back to buy some’. In October they were at the Somme, experiencing the mud and snow and cold of winter. In December, brother Pat went to hospital in England with nephritis (kidney disease) and returned to France in June 1917. In late December 1916, Michael went to hospital with spinal meningitis and returned to Australia in April 1917. His diary ends there. Thank you to Doug O’Connor for access to this diary.



Walter James Baker was discharged medically unfit at the Bathurst Depot and attempted unsuccessfully to enlist two more times. David Balderston, James Donnelly, Patrick Hayes, James Ransome, Patrick and Michael O’Connor all returned to Australia and discharged medically unfit. Balderston and Hayes died in 1919 and Ransome in 1918.


William Cleaver, William Cook, Andrew Ferguson, Herbert and Harold Keegan, John McNabb, ‘Gundy’ Mills, William Moore and Michael Wartley returned to Australia after the war ended. M Wartley had been a prisoner of war of the Germans since February 1918 and released at the end of the war.


The Tooraweenah Kookaburras who didn’t return are Donald Ferguson, killed in action at Le Verguier, France and buried in the Jeancourt Communal Cemetery. Augustus Chalson, died of wounds when hit by a shell and buried in the Menin Road Military Cemetery, Belgium. Walter Giddins, died of pneumonia and nephritis while a prisoner of war and is buried at Tournai Communal Cemetery, Belgium. David Gow, was killed in action at Passchendaele and is buried in the Passchendalele New British Cemetery, Belgium. Davidson Hedley and Leslie Pearson, were killed in action at Passchendaele and have no known grave, they are commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. Harold Smith was killed in action at Messines and has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Ypres, Belgium.


The stories of the men who left Tooraweenah 101 years ago in January 1916 are being compiled from their service records and other public sources, but to be complete, the family stories and photographs are necessary, so please contact Margo Piggott or the Gilgandra Museum ad Historical Society


Please contact Margo Piggott




Gilgandra Museum and Historical society

PO Box 36

Gilgandra NSW 2827


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