Waratah relative relives proud history

Nowra resident Norma Irwin’s father Reg Cashman who was a member of the 1915 Waratah march.
Nowra resident Norma Irwin’s father Reg Cashman who was a member of the 1915 Waratah march.

IT is believed Nowra resident Norma Irwin is the only living relative of one of the original Waratahs.

On Tuesday, November 30, 1915, a group of 50 men left Nowra, marching for Sydney as part of a recruitment drive for World War I.

Along the way, the group visited towns and villages, recruiting volunteers and by the time it reached Sydney had swelled to 117.

Mrs Irwin’s father, Reg Cashman, volunteered for service and took part in the march.

The centenary of that march will be celebrated next year with a local committee hoping to stage a re-enactment.

“I’ve been told I may be the only living relative of the original Waratahs left,” she said.

She still has a number of her father’s personal items including his diary, which has been transcribed in Alan Clark’s book, The Waratahs.

In the diary, believed to be from as early as 1916, he listed his address as Berry Street, Nowra, his boot, collar and hat sizes, along with height and weight, accident insurance cover and his possessions, one watch and a bicycle, which he had left to his mother.

His diary told of the voyage to Europe, with Private Cashman seeing action in France, describing conditions in the trenches.

Reg Cashman in his uniform.

Reg Cashman in his uniform.

“He used to ride a pushbike to the front line delivering messages and mail,” Mrs Irwin said.

A head wound, suffered at Fromelles in April 1918, saw him shipped back to London to King George Hospital for treatment.

“He was eventually shipped home,” she said.

“The wound left him with part of his face dead.  It was like he couldn’t move his forehead.

“He never had a creased brow.”

The family still has the piece of shrapnel that caused the injury.

Mrs Irwin also has a letter his mother wrote to him on the front, in which she described what was happening in Nowra, mentioning a few identities including Alex Braithwaite, who was the local funeral director and Les Gilbert, who asked to be remembered to him.

There is also his soldier’s paybook, which revealed he was paid "14/4" per fortnight, and his bank book.

Other prized possessions include his dog tags and medals.

“They are pretty precious things and we are so lucky to have them,” she said.

“Dad never spoke about the war, like a lot of the men who returned.

“We didn’t know a lot about his war record. It wasn’t until after he died and we found his diary that we were able to piece together some of his service.

“Like a lot of young men, he put his age up when he volunteered, he was only 17.”

When he finally returned home, with a mate, he packed up his swag and travelled around the country, before eventually getting a job with Bacchus Marsh, delivering chocolate from Melbourne to Sydney.

“Somehow he ended up back in Nowra met my mother, Ada Taylor, and the rest is history,” Mrs Irwin said.

Some of the items that bring Reg Cashman’s war service to life.

Some of the items that bring Reg Cashman’s war service to life.

“He eventually joined the PMG [Postmaster General Department] and we moved around with him.

“The Waratah march is an important part of our history and I’m delighted the local area is going to commemorate the centenary.

“I’m proud of what he did and it’s great they are going to be honoured.

“It was a pretty amazing feat when you think about it, marching from Nowra to Sydney.

“It took them something like three weeks and they stopped along the way with the various towns and villages feeding them on their journey.

“Despite being a World War I man, he lived to the age 89.”


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