Many families on the Macleay were touched by the two World Wars and the O'Hea family of Kempsey was no exception.
Robert Stewart O'Hea was born in 1880 in Sydney, the son of James and Elizabeth (nee Hope) O'Hea. He attended Aldavilla Public School and was working in Brisbane when he enlisted in the 1st AIF on 28 July 1915.
Early the following year, he received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant after attending Officers' School, and sailed for Egypt with the 25th Battalion. From Egypt, Robert went on to France and had only just arrived when he went into action with his unit at the Battle at Pozieres.
Robert and his platoon were involved in the first wave of attacks on the night of 28 July. Witnesses reported seeing him leading his men towards the enemy line when he was hit and failed to return. His body was never recovered and may have been buried by artillery bombardments.
Robert's older brother, James Hope O'Hea (known as Bob), married Violet Grace Kemp in 1912 in Kempsey.
He had originally trained as a surveyor, but he and Violet farmed at Moonebah where they raised five children. At the outbreak of World War 2, all of Bob and Violet's four sons enlisted.
Robert Stuart (born 1912) and Everard Arthur (born 1913) enlisted in 1941, followed by Ernest Hadden (1916) and Geoffrey Albert (1918) enlisting in 1942. All brothers except Geoffrey joined the Army, and all saw service overseas.
Geoffrey travelled to Kempsey to enlist in the RAAF on 31 March 1941.
After completion of wireless, bomb and gunnery courses, he was posted to 6 Squadron operating out of Port Moresby, New Guinea. On 6 February 1942, he was part of the crew of a Lockheed Hudson bomber on a reconnaissance mission over enemy-held Rabaul when they were attacked by a Japanese Zero fighter.
Air Gunner Geoffrey fired hundreds of rounds into the enemy plane which probably crashed. Although badly damaged, the Hudson managed to return to base, with all crew suffering serious wounds.
At a time when good news was scarce, the incident made national headlines in Australia.
After recuperation, Geoffrey was posted to Netherlands East Indies Number 18 Squadron operating out of Darwin. On 28 April 1943, the Mitchell bomber Geoffrey was flying in was attacking Japanese shipping in the Arafura Sea when it was hit by gunfire and lost with all crew.
He is remembered in Kempsey by the naming of Geoffrey O'Hea Street.
Kempsey Museum has Robert Stewart O'Hea's war medals and Flight Sergeant Geoffrey O'Hea's RAAF Flying Log Book.
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