In 1911 the population of the local government area of Kempsey was 2862 including 1382 males. Working on statistics on recruiting for World War 1 service and local Honour Rolls, I arrived at a list of over 1000 men who were connected in some way with the Macleay Valley and who enlisted in World War 1.
While the number includes itinerant workers who left employment on the railway expansion and other occupations, this is an extraordinary number of recruits from a provincial rural centre. From these recruits, 200 would not return - a figure much higher than the national average of 140 deaths per 1000 enlistments.
Despite not being able to legally do so, a number of Aboriginal men from the Macleay enlisted, two of whom were killed in action - Private Harold McGuinness and Private Denis Sherry.
The Macleay River Historical Society has told the stories, many of them for the first time, of these volunteers from the Macleay Valley in a new publication Macleay Fallen: Volunteers from the Macleay River Valley who paid the supreme sacrifice in the War of 1914-1918. Angus McNeil, the famed Kempsey photographer, took many servicemen and women's photographs for free in World War 1 and other conflicts and displayed these in his studio windows to encourage others to enlist. Many of these photographs are reproduced in the book.
Included in the same volume is Macleay Nurses 1914-1918 by Dr Noeline Kyle. More than 2000 Australian nurses served overseas in World War 1 including a number from the Macleay.
Among them was Catherine "Kitty" Tully, a former matron at the Kempsey District Hospital who was in London when war broke out and immediately joined the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service and saw service in Belgium, Egypt, East Africa and France.
Throughout the war, a number of enlisted men from the Upper Macleay described themselves as the Hickeys Creek boys and kept readers of the Macleay Chronicle and Macleay Argus enthralled with stories of their exploits. One of their most frequent correspondents was Alonzo "Lonnie" Hudson who won the Military Medal for gallantry. They returned from the war minus two of their number - Jim Charlton and Oliver Waters.
The publication Macleay Fallen: Volunteers from the Macleay River Valley who paid the supreme sacrifice in the War of 1914-1918 is available from Kempsey Museum, telephone 02 6562 7572 or email email@example.com.