Our South Coast Waratahs in WW1

Who were the South Coast Waratahs ? They were WW1 volunteers  recruited during a march from Nowra to Sydney in November – December 1915.  Although they attracted only a small proportion (perhaps 5% ?) of the total enlistments of the region – nevertheless they have continued to capture the public’s imagination. Illawarra military historian Terry Bugg also notes that, in the two weeks after the march, that enlistments from the area increased, suggesting that some wished to enlist, but circumstances may have made it not possible to enlist during the period of the march itself.
The South Coast Waratahs were but one of the “snowball marches” – others were the Coee Marchers  which started in Gilgandra (click here), the Kangaroos from Wagga Wagga and the Wallabies from Narrabri – with another five under way in early 1916. 1545 men had enlisted in the marches from start to end – see DVA – see also AWM Statistics Table for “snowball marches”. Illawarra military historian Terry Bugg speaks of an undertaking to try to keep the South Coast Waratahs together when they were overseas – and many did leave on the Makarini and then serve together as the 16th reinforcements for the 1st Battalion on the Western Front.
One of the most definitive books on the The Waratahs was by Alan Clark, a local historian of Nowra – published in 1994 entitled “The Waratahs – South Coast Recruiting March 1915″. This book is now out of print but copies can be obtained via Regimental Books and ebay periodically, plus other on-line book stores. It is understood that Alan Clark is currently working on an update to include more Waratahs.
He identified 84 Waratahs, although he refers to there being 117 Waratahs by Day 17 on December 16 1915.  This tallies with the 117 Waratahs identified according to Illawarra military historian Terry Bugg. A May 2014 news story puts their number at 117 – and the same news story mentions a possible re-enactment event in November – December 2015. Of these 84 identified Waratahs in 1994, 30 lost their lives on the Western Front in Europe, 2/3 of these in 1916, but others in 1917 and 1918. And many others were injured and/or suffered significant illness.
The Australian War Memorial puts the number of Waratahs as high as 120 men,  although not all were apparently accepted into the Army.
The Australian War Memorial has a post card of the Waratah March in its collection –2/4/36 – and also an image of the Waratah’s recruiting banner. The theme song for the Waratahs was “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” according to Alan Clark.
Viv Caldwell posted an interesting article on the Waratahs in 1999-2000, which referenced her B.A. (Hons) thesis research at the University of Wollongong in 1999(complete bibliography – Illawarra at War website)
Alan Clark describes the route of the Waratahs :
  • Day 1 – November 30 1915 – Start of the March from Nowra to Berry
  • Day 2 – December 1 1915 – Berry to Gerringong
  • Day 3 – December 2 1915 – Gerringong to Kiama – see AWM photograph at Kiama –image
  • Day 4 – December 3 1915 – Kiama to Jamberoo and Albion Park
  • Day 5 – December 4 1915 – Albion Park to Dapto
  • Day 6 – December 5 1915 – Sunday – spent at Dapto
  • Day 7 – December 6 1915 – Dapto to Unanderra and Port Kembla
  • Day 8 – December 7 1915 – Port Kembla to Wollongong
  • Day 9 – December 8 1915 – Wollongong to Balgownie
  • Day 10 – December 9 1915 – Balgownie to Corrimal
  • Day 11 – December 10 1915 – Corrimal to Woonona/Bulli – Mrs Eileen James nee Fletcher provided reminiscences of the march in Corrimal to the Black Diamond Heritage Centre.
  • Day 12 – December 11 1915 – Bulli to Thirroul
  • Day 13 – December 12 1915 – Sunday – spent at Thirroul
  • Day 14 – December 13 1915 – Thirroul to Scarborough
  • Day 15 – December 14 1915 – Scarborough to Helensburgh – News Stories – 1,
  • Day 16 – December 15 1915 – Helensburgh to Sutherland – with the rain pelting down
  • Day 17 – December 16 1915 – Sutherland to Hurstville and Kogarah – here Alan Clark refers to there being 117 Waratahs
  • Day 18 – December 17 1915 – Kogarah to the Domain Sydney
Photo of the Waratahs at Kiama in 1915 – via Kiama Library – shared by Illawarra history lover Michelle Leshell – see also AWM story of Waratahs at Kiama
Stories of the Waratahs via Trove – National Library of Australia
The Waratahs – List on Trove – National Library of Australia – more
South Coast Waratahs – based on Alan Clarke’s 1994 listing
The Waratahs were led by Captain Ernest Blow of Kiama (photo and article). Captain Blow, who had served in the Boer War, was not accepted for active service in WW1, but was given the role of chief recruiting officer for the Light Horsemen, according to Alan Clark.

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