And the Men From Snowy River Are Responding to the Call

contributed by Michael Hall

Following the success of the ‘Cooee’ march from Gilgandra in 1915 a number of other marches were organised as a way of attracting recruits.  One was the Men from Snowy River Route march which left Delegate on 6 January 1916 and travelled via Bombala, Cooma, Queanbeyan and Bungendore before arriving in Goulburn on 29 January.  The march was organised by Captain F.R. Wedd, who expressed the hope of recruiting 200 men.

“The famous Monaro brumby is noted for its staying qualities” wrote Captain Wedd before the march began, “whilst the man from Snowy River is noted for his fine physique and stamina”.  His language was always colourful, but as numbers began to fall short of his estimate he turned to the rhetoric of shame. “Eligible men were hiding behind women’s petticoats” he said, “ignoring their duty to their mothers, sisters and country”.  By the end of the march he seemed to think more of the women than the men. “What can I say of the noble women of Monaro?  They along the route were ever fountains of energy, amongst whose refreshing showers were crystallised the golden heart of the women of Monaro, and the click of whose knitting needles along the route was an everlasting lullaby”. The march ended in Goulburn with 142 men although others, unable to join the march, enlisted shortly afterwards.

Perhaps the eloquence of Captain Wedd failed to inspire the men of the Monaro, or perhaps they were simply too practical. As one man from Cooma was quoted as saying; “I wanted to enlist, but I could see no point in walking to Goulburn to do it”.  He took the train instead.

Tim McMahon answered the call. Born at his grandparent’s farm at Majura but raised in the Tharwa and Michelago areas, he joined in Cooma and, like others in the march, found himself in the 55th Battalion bound for France. His war, though, was as much against illness as the Germans; he was hospitalised a dozen times in the first eight months of 1917 with trench fever and bronchitis and he returned to Australia blind in one eye.  Jack Webb was 42 years old when he enlisted as the march passed through Queanbeyan. Described by a mate as a “little lion … all fight and every muscle taut” he was killed in action on 2 April 1917. On the same day another participant in the march, Harry Robertson from Oaks Estate, also died.

Probably the most decorated soldier to participate in the march was Ernie Corey.  Corey joined the march from Nimmitabel and spent the war not armed with a rifle but with a stretcher. He was the only man in World War I to be awarded Military Medal and three bars. That is, he was awarded the Military Medal four times - at Queant (near Bullecourt) in May 1917, Polygon Wood in September 1917, at Peronne in September 1918 and later that month at Bellicourt on the Hindenburg Line.

In the March 1931 edition of Reveille the commanding officer of the 55th Battalion described Corey “as a splendid soldier whose temper remained unruffled even in most adverse circumstances” and that “Corey was of powerful physique and, invariably while out stretcher-bearing, he wore white shorts, carried his stretcher perpendicularly, but seldom made use of it, preferring to pick up his patients under one of his strong arms, and walk back with him, still holding the stretcher perpendicularly with the other.  He had an undaunted spirit, and worked almost up to the enemy wire, rescuing wounded - foe as well as friend”.

In 1922 Corey moved to Canberra to work, living at Westlake and later at Downer and enlisting for service in World War II. For many years he worked at the incinerator in Westbourne Woods.  He died in August 1972 and is buried in the ex-servicemen’s portion of the Woden Cemetery. His medals are on display in the Australian War Memorial, as is the ‘Men from Snowy River’ banner used in the march of 1916.