Valley Veterans: Remembering the McGree family's sacrifice for World War I

When we commemorate the Armistice this year we will remember the fallen and those who served, but there are those who’s sacrifice may be beyond that of our khaki clad heroes.

What about those mothers who lost a son? What about the unthinkable, mothers who lost more than one son?

During the Great War Bridget McGree was a farmers wife living at Taylors Arm. Her and her husband James had raised five sons and four daughters, the boys, strong in spirit and straight of limb, they were not going to miss out on the greatest adventure of their life time.

John McGree enlisted at Holsworthy in August 1915. His brothers Patrick and Michael, who were working in New Zealand, signed up with the Kiwis. The McGrees were a true ANZAC family indeed.

It is hard the fathom the worry of a mother who knows that her sons are somewhere on the other side of the world in harms way.

Life in Taylors Arm in the early 1900s was for the hard-working, ‘roll-up-your-sleeve’ types, who knew that there would be reward for toil in this bountiful part of the world.

Forests full of fine timber and lush green pastures for fat dairy cattle, land that is as good as it gets in this lucky country.

While the McGree’s tended to their farm at Taylors Arm in 1915 one of their sons, Patrick, was in the Dardanelles fighting against the Turks as a soldier in the Wellington Infantry Regiment.

In early August 1915, before the ANZAC Landing at Gallipoli, the Kiwis and the Brits were together engaged in bitter fighting known as the Battle of Sari Bair. It was during this battle, while fighting the capture, a peak known as Chunuk Bair, on August 8, 1915, that Patrick McGree was killed in action. He was 32.

While the attack on Chunuk Bair was successful and the Kiwis magnificent in their fighting, the position could not be held and was recaptured by the Turks. The now famous ANZAC landings on April 25, was an attempt to end this stalemate. The McGrees have now lost one son in this terrible war.

Three weeks following his brothers death, and probably not yet even aware of it, John McGree, then 22-years-old, joined the Army in Holsworthy and within a few short months he was on his way to France.

In France during the July of 1916 the 1st ANZAC Corps was playing its part in the British offensive known as the Battle of the Somme.

We best remember this action as the Battle of Pozieres Ridge where some 23,000 ANZACs were killed or wounded.

The first phase of the Battle of Pozieres Ridge began on July 23, 1916 and it was during that battle that John Mcree was wounded so severely that he died in hospital just three days after the battle had begun. Now Bridget and James McGree are to mourn two sons.

Michael McGree, one year older than his brother John, also joined up with the Kiwis, fought at ANZAC Cove, although some months after the Gallipoli landings, became ill and spent and spent several weeks on a hospital ship.

He was wounded in action at Armentiers France in 1916. He was evacuated to England to recuperate and eventually rejoined the 2nd Battalion, Otago Regiment where, in 1918 during what was to be the last four-months of the war, was killed in action at a place called Rossignal Wood in France.

There were four McGree boys fighting in the war and only one made it home.

Commemorating the Armistice means much more than remembering the fallen. It’s about remembering local families like the McGrees. Lest we forget.

About the author: Mick Birtles is a recently retired Army Officer now living in Nambucca Heads. During his 36-year career, Birtles served in Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for command and leadership. Here he shares his interest in the welfare and well-being of veterans on the Mid North Coast.

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