An unexpected small object in the collection of the Museum of the Riverina is a link to an important event in the recruiting of men for the Australian Imperial Force. This small crocheted slouch hat badge is believed to have been worn by Lieutenant Charles Aitken Mayes, who was in charge of the Kangaroo March when it left Wagga Wagga on 1 December 1915. A Scottish-born officer, he was a Boer War veteran and a professional soldier who was the District Recruiting Officer at the Cootamundra Camp.
Five thousand people were reported to have farewelled the eighty-eight recruits when they left Wagga Wagga at 2pm for Brucedale. The newspapers reported: ‘Hundreds of people stepped it out to North Wagga. Girls linked their arms with those of the soldiers, and trudged along with the men through the dust and heat and flies’. At the end of the seven-mile march they experienced the first of their daily drills under the instruction of Lieutenant Mayes.
Accompanied by a travelling kitchen and water wagon, the men camped each night, usually at a local showground, where townspeople were generous with provisions and equipment. Most nights the men were supplied with a hot meal and entertainment as well as small personal items provided by local fundraising efforts.
Once the march reached Yass, it roughly followed the route of the old Hume Highway and concluded in Sydney on 7 January with 230 men duly enlisted. The Kangaroos have the distinction of having walked 515 kilometres, the longest of the ‘snowball’ recruiting marches during the war.
Among the twenty Tumut recruits who joined the march was Private John Ryan, 55th Battalion, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Hindenburg Defences, France. Gallantry awards to other ‘Kangaroos’ included two Distinguished Conduct Medals and seven Military Medals.
Lieutenant Mayes remained a recruiting officer, travelling throughout southern NSW and Victoria on his own motorcycle, and after the war was the Supervising Officer for Cadet Training for the 1st and 2nd Military Districts (Qld and NSW).
Museum of the Riverina
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