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Supporting the soldiers of the 15th Battalion from Charters Towers

By Anne Scheu | 16 June 2016

Guest blogger: Michael Brumby, Charters Towers Archives

Young ladies pose alongside Enlistment Sergeant William Mackay. All were members of the 15th Battalion Knitting Club, Charters Towers, 1917. Collection: Charters Towers Archives.

This special photograph showing Enlistment Sergeant William “Mack” Mackay, surrounded by members of the 15th Battalion Knitting Club, was taken in the front garden of Mrs Mary Urquhart's home in Prior St, Charters Towers in 1917. "Mack" had been severely wounded while serving with the 15th Battalion at Gallipoli. He always hoped to return to war duties but reconciled himself to work as the Enlistment Sergeant in Charters Towers, where he immersed himself in the life of the city instead.

Aside from his enlistment work, William Mackay was elected the 1st President of the local branch of the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australia in July, 1917. In February 1918, he married local girl Lilian Green. "Mack" was popular but frustrated by his injuries which lead to his early demise in 1925.

Charters Towers eulogised the bravery of its three best known soldiers who had fought and died at Gallipoli. They were John Francis Walsh, Hugh Quinn and Samuel William Harry. All were members of the 15th Battalion, as was William Mackay who received his injuries defending Quinn’s Post. In the Australian War Memorial image below Corporal William Mackay (circled) is left in the 2nd row. Captain Hugh Quinn is second on the right, front row.

Group portrait of officers and men of E Company, 15th Battalion. c December 1914 in Broadmeadows, Melbourne, VIC. Image: A 03577 Australian War Memorial

The 15th Battalion continued to fight in France with more Charters Towers men filling its ranks. Local share-broker George Urquhart enlisted as a Private in August 1915, claiming to be 44 years of age. In truth, he was actually 50 years of age! George rose to the rank of Lieutenant while his wife Mary responded to the cause of the men fighting in the trenches and elsewhere by forming the 15th Battalion Knitting Club.

Mary Urquhart ( middle left) is photographed with members of the 15th Battalion Knitting class in the grounds of the Charters Towers Town Hall, Gill Street, Charters Towers. Collection of Charters Towers Archives.

Mary Urquhart became known within the community as the “Lady of the Bundles”.

Michael Brumby, Community Historian, Charters Towers Archives 

Key Sources

The Cairns Post: 11/05/1925 - 4

The Evening Telegraph: 20/02/1917 - 5

The Northern Miner: 16/12/1940 - 4

Images: Charter Towers Archives; Australian War Memorial A03577


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