© Tom McIlveen
Winner, 2014 Gilgandra Coo-ee Festival - Coo-ee March Section, Gilgandra NSW.
I had seen the ‘Cooee Caller’ in our local weekly paper,
as he beckoned me to join him overseas.
He was seemingly involved in some extraordinary caper,
that would bring the German Army to its knees.
He was featured in Gallipoli, awaiting further orders
from his Dardanelles Peninsula Command…
and was told to cross the ranges, to the western Turkish borders,
and evacuate their God-forsaken land.
Then I heard a Cooee call one day, from up above the kitchen
of Gilgandra’s newly renovated pub.
It had been a rousing call to arms, from William Thomas Hitchen,
who was captain of our local Rifle Club.
There was William’s brother Richard, and a bunch of rowdy yokels,
who had come to hear his stirring Cooee call.
In amongst the out of towners, with at least a hundred locals,
we were packed in to the rafters, wall to wall.
We had rallied in the barroom, underneath the pub veranda,
just to hear old ‘Cooee’ make one last appeal.
He was calling on the lingerers, who’d come to take a gander
and to share a drink and complimentr’y meal.
We had marched from old Gilgandra in the warmth of mid October,
with the smell of apple blossom in the air.
And although the crowd had laughed and cheered, the mood was somewhat sober…
as they sang a hymn and blessed us with a prayer.
To the beat of pounding kettledrums, we’d marched in full formation,
through the dusty streets along the Castlereagh.
We were off to fight the Turk and Hun, with Cooee’s invitation,
and avenge the boys who’d died at Suvla Bay.
There were twenty- six of us that day, en route to join the fighting,
on the Western Front of Luxembourg and France.
We were keen as English Mustard, and were bantering and skiting…
‘How we’d flog the Hun ? if given half a chance.’
We had travelled south through Mogriguy, to Dubbo and Wongarbon,
where the ashes of an early summer blaze,
had besmeared the eucalyptus, with a coat of inky carbon,
which had lingered in the smoke and murky haze.
By the time we’d got to Sydney, we had formed our own battalion
from the progeny of every land on earth.
There were Scottish, Irish, English and a Yugoslav Italian,
who were all Australian heritage, by birth.
We were comrades, one and all, who’d shared a patriotic vision ?
to redeem the persecuted from the Hun.
We were proud to serve the King and join the British coalition,
to defend their land with bayonet and gun.
From the twenty–six who’d started out, our numbers had inflated,
and had snowballed by a multiple of ten.
By the time we got to Martin Place, the crowds had been elated
to have sighted ‘Billy’s band of marching men.’
Through an arch of blood-red roses, we had marched in proud procession,
past survivors of Gallipoli’s campaign.
They acknowledged us with haunted eyes, devoid of all expression,
as we laid a wreath, to sanctify the slain.
On completion of our training, we were loaded up like cattle,
on a merchant ship, converted for the war.
It was armed with some munitions, but unsuitable for battle,
and had never faced an enemy before.
After countless miles of ocean, we had reached the North Atlantic,
and had scanned the sea for German submarines.
And although it was deserted…the Commander had been frantic,
that we’d all be bombed, and blown to smithereens.
We had disembarked in London for some further weapons training,
and were ferried on a British Naval punt
to a port in Dunkirk Harbour, which was overcast and raining,
as we trudged through mud to reach the Western Front.
They had welcomed us with mustard gas, artillery and mortars,
and with every type of detonating bomb.
They had pounded us relentlessly, beside the tranquil waters
of a river that the French had named La Somme.
Through the smoky haze of battle, I could see a soldier crawling
in between the trenches parallel to mine.
In the chaos and confusion, I could hear his Cooee calling
me to join him, in a charge across the line.
Then a hundred Cooee calls had hailed from all across the valley…
as the Diggers rose as one, to face the wire.
With the British right behind us, we had all began to rally,
as the German troops began to open fire.
We had broken through their lines that day, and marched in full formation,
through the street they’d named ‘La Rue de Grand Marcais.’
We had taken back a piece of France, and glorified our nation,
to avenge the boys who’d died at Suvla Bay !