Christopher was living in Orange with his wife Violet and their two young sons, when he enlisted in April 1916. He spent two weeks at camp in Dubbo, before joining the 54th Battalion at Bathurst. Gage embarked from Sydney in August 1916, and arrived in England in October. He proceeded to France in December 1916, less than two weeks after his younger brother Charles was killed there.
In April 1917 Christopher was promoted to Lance Corporal. On the night of 24 September Gage’s unit was moved into the front line trenches at Polygon Wood near Ypres, where they remained until the morning of 26 September, awaiting their orders. They came under fierce attack at 5.45 am, and shelling continued all day. The following morning Gage and four of his comrades were found, having been struck by a shell that killed them all instantaneously. Lance Corporal Gage was one of three men from the Orange district to be killed in the Battle of Polygon Wood.
Lieutenant JAS Mitchell wrote a letter of condolence to Gage’s widow, Violet, describing him as “a very popular man” who “died a game death”.
Violet and her sons, Noel and Walter posted the following poem in Christopher’s death notice in The Leader:
Killed in action, the cable said, That is all the tale they tell Of the soldier brave who loved us, Of the one we loved so well. How his life was spent, we know not, What the last word, look or thought, Only that he did his duty, Died as bravely as he fought.
Lance Corporal Gage’s name appears on the Patrician Brothers’ Roll of Honour, the Holy Trinity Church Orange Honour Roll and on the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph.
In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte CH Gage”; it was donated by JH Hamilton. Very few of the trees are still standing today.
24 year old Charles was working as a labourer in Eugowra when he enlisted in March 1916. He spent a month in camp at Bathurst before joining the 30th Battalion at Kiama in April 1916. Private Gage embarked in Sydney in August that year, arriving in England in late September.
Gage joined the 56th Battalion in France in November 1916 and was killed just three weeks later. Details of his death are sketchy, and he has no known grave. According to fellow soldier, Private Frank Reid, their unit was marching into the firing line on the night of 3 December when a shell burst and killed a number of men, among them Gage. Charles’ older brother, Christopher, was killed in action less than a year later, in September 1917.
In January 1918 the Forbes Advocate reported that Charles’ father had been charged with being “of unsound mind”, and was to be admitted to Parramatta Mental Hospital. A witness reported that “Gage’s two son’s had been killed in the war, and ever since then he had not been the same man.”
Gage was still an inmate of the hospital in May 1922, when Charles’ British War Medal and Victory Medal were issued to his mother, Mary.
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Walter Coe was born in Cowra in 1895. He enlisted for WWI several times, including at Orange in May 1917. Walter was one of nine known Aboriginal servicemen with a connection to Orange. Four of Walter’s brothers also volunteered for the First World War, as did his uncle, John Henry Alfred Coe, who was killed in action at Pozieres in 1917.
Coe enlisted initially in January 1916 at Cowra in the 13th Reinforcements for the 17th Battalion. He was discharged just three months later, but re-enlisted in Orange in May 1917. He attended camp at Menangle Park as a trooper in the 6th Light Horse Regiment. He then became a private in A Company Composite Battalion, 10th GSR, embarking from Melbourne in October 1918. He was transferred to the 57th Battalion and then the Australian Army Medical Corps Details.
In October 1919 Walter married Fanny Challenger, a British nursemaid in Bath, UK. He returned to Australia in May 1920 and was discharged from the AIF the following month.