The Men from Snowy River
contributed by Michael Hall
Photographs from the left: Tim McMahon with his half-sister, Mary Grady, a nurse at Goulburn's Kenmore Hospital, 1916; Henry Bruiser Robertson (probably taken at Goulburn Camp); John 'Jack' Webb, Our Queanbeyan Boys Number four postcard; Alfred Arthur Apps, Our Queanbeyan Boys Number two postcard' Jack O'Grady, Our Queanbeyan Boys Number two postcard; Arthur Samuel Jacobs, Our Queanbeyan Boys Number three postcard; Ernie Corey Memorial, Vale Street, Cooma NSW
As the fighting in World War 1 ground on during 1915 the demand for more recruits for the war effort grew. The British Government cabled the Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher asking for every available man to be recruited for the war. However, after peaking in July and August 1915 enlistments in Australia declined; a reflection of the stalemate in fighting on Gallipoli and the long casualty lists from the campaign.
Recruiting committees were set up in towns across the country to encourage volunteers, and in October 1915 a group of men left Gilgandra in north west New South Wales determined to march to Sydney to enlist. By the time they reached their destination their numbers had grown from 30 at the start of the march to about 260 men. The number of recruits was perhaps less significant then the publicity they generated. The men became known as the Cooees and they inspired a number of other marches in New South Wales. One was the Men from Snowy River route march, organised by Captain Frederick Robert Wedd,
Frederick Wedd was born in Melbourne in 1860 and arrived in Goulburn in the 1880s where he worked as an ironmonger, married Harriett Webb and fathered four sons, three of whom served in World War 1 and one of whom, Charles, a former Duntroon cadet, was killed near Passchendaele in 1917. Wedd joined the Australian Light Horse in 1898, rising to become adjutant in one of the regiments but found his calling in 1911 when he was appointed as area officer for District 43C which extended from Goulburn to Eden. His role was to oversee the registration and training of cadets and the compulsory training of men 21 years of age and older as required under the Defence Act, a task he pursued with great zeal. When news of the Cooees reached Goulburn, Wedd began organizing his own recruiting march.
The Men from Snowy River march began in the rain in front of the Delegate School of Arts on 6 January 1916 with twelve men accompanied by Captain Wedd, a piper, a drummer and a chaplain. The recruits were advised to have good walking boots but were issued a dungaree coat, trousers and a white hat. They were presented with a jack knife, a pair of socks, a badge, toilet soap and flowers at their farewell as well as a banner provided by the MHR for Eden-Monaro, Austin Chapman. Marching via Bombala, Cooma, Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Tarago they arrived in Goulburn on 29 January. “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.” He expressed the hope of recruiting 200 men along the way, although he had organized for 300 badges to be made, featuring the Snowy Mountains in the background, to be given to those who enlisted.
It took two weeks to reach Michelago by which time Tim McMahon had become the first local man to join the march. They stopped in Williamsdale the next day for a spot of lunch, cricket and tennis before continuing on to Royalla for the night. Now 104 men in strength, well below Wedd’s desired number, they started early on Saturday, 22 January, and marched double time along the Cooma Road, reaching Glenrock, a property then on the southern outskirts of Queanbeyan, before lunch. Later that afternoon a procession accompanied the men into town led by the Mounted Police, the Queanbeyan Town Band and local politicians in a motor car.
The people of Queanbeyan festooned Monaro Street with banners, bunting and flags and enthusiastically welcomed the marchers all the way into town. Then came the speeches. Wedd possessed an almost religious fervour and he yearned for “a revival like the fiery cross in the days of old” to rouse men from their lethargy and stir the “sluggish blood of the lads of Monaro”. He added that “the enlisted and the men at the front are prepared to fight for the wives and the girls but should we fight for these men?” The “we” did not include Wedd, who had far more important work to do at home.
The men camped at the showgrounds, were fed, feted and entertained through the night and the following morning, a Sunday, marched off to church where the clergy added their voices to the patriotic calls for men to enlist. They left Queanbeyan on the Monday morning, plied with cigarettes and newspapers and supported by the town band as far as the bridge. At the top of Bungendore Hill they were met by local alderman and cordial maker George Morton, who supplied them with refreshments on what was described as a “broiling hot” day.
The march ended in Goulburn when 142 men entered camp at the showgrounds (which today is the Goulburn Workers Arena). Wedd, while expressing pride in the marchers who reached Goulburn, was still disappointed with the number of recruits. His language was always colourful and he turned to the rhetoric of shame. “Eligible men were hiding behind women’s petticoats” he complained, “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.”
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.
He wasn’t the only one. While nationally enlistments had been in decline, in the ACT for instance, they peaked between July 1915 and February 1916 during which time around 140 men joined up. One source suggests that the Men from Snowy River march inspired at least 280 men other than the marchers to enlist.
The exact number of recruits who joined the march in Queanbeyan varies according to the source, as does the names of all those others who enlisted along the way. Several soldiers are referred to as marchers even though they may not have actually enlisted with the ‘Snowies’. The confusion could be the fault of Wedd and the manner in which individuals were attested. Wedd signed the enlistment forms as attesting officer but the dates and place of attestation sometimes conflict with the schedule of the route march.
Among the local men thought to have marched at least five – William Bryce, William Penney, Leslie Quigley, Harry Robertson and Jack Webb – were killed in action and another, Arthur Winner was a victim of the influenza pandemic at the end of the war. They, as well as Alfred King, Alfred Apps, Arnold McInnes, Jack O’Grady, Frank Foster, Cecil Read, Harold Bingley and Ernest Venables, were given a farewell at the Triumph Hall in Queanbeyan in May 1916. Like nearly all of the ‘Snowies’, they were part of the 4th reinforcements for the 55th Battalion and reached the frontline near Flers on the Somme just before Christmas 1916.
Possibly among them were two men from the brickyards at Yarralumla, Arthur ‘Sam’ Jacobs and Willliam Stalker. Stalker, originally from Jembaicumbene near Braidwood, joined up around the same time as two of his brothers who are counted as ‘Snowies’ but he is not. Jacobs would earn the Military Medal, but probably the most decorated soldier to participate in the march was Ernie Corey. Corey came from the Monaro but after the war moved to Canberra, joined the ‘Snowies’ at Nimmitabel and was the only man in World War 1 to be awarded the Military Medal and three bars. He did it not armed with a rifle but with a stretcher, earning the Military Medal at Queant (near Bullecourt) in May 1917, Polygon Wood in September 1917, at Péronne in September 1918 and later that month at Bellicourt on the Hindenburg Line where his femoral artery was nicked by shrapnel and he had to be saved by Weetangera farmer, Arthur Clark.
In 1940 an attempt to replicate the march was made with six men leaving Delegate and following a similar route to the 1916 marchers. This time they travelled in vehicles, although they would stop and march through each town. There was a slight alteration to the route to include Canberra (where fifteen men joined). Another twenty signed up at Queanbeyan. It took just five days and by the time they reached Goulburn there were 108 men in the march.
A re-enactment of the Men from Snowy River march took place in November 2015. As with the original march, it started in Delegate and passed through Queanbeyan on 8 November, reaching Goulburn two days later. Similar re-enactments of the other route marches in New South Wales also took place with the participants meeting at the Cenotaph in Martin Place in Sydney on Remembrance Day, 11 November 2015.
T. J. Cook, 2014, ‘Snowy to the Somme: A Muddy and Bloody Campaign 1916-1918,’ Big Sky, Newport, N.S.W.
D. Rutherford, 2004, ‘The Men from Snowy River,’ Wartime, no. 26
Author Unidentified, 1916, 'Route March,' Bombala Times, 7 January 1916
Goulburn Evening Penny Post – 21 September 1934
Queanbeyan Age – 25 January 1916, 30 May 1916
Queanbeyan Leader – 24 January 1916, 27 January 1916