On August 17, 1914, 28 men boarded a train to Perth. They were the first of 646 enlisted soldiers who left the open skies and quiet farmlands of Geraldton — population about 4000 — to serve in World War I.
Out of those 28 who made up part of 11th Battalion, G Company, 10 never returned. The youngest of them, Sgt Roy Thompson, pictured, had a listed age of 20. He survived storming the beach at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915, only to be killed in action a week later.
That was not the start of the town’s involvement in global conflicts. In 1899 members of the Geraldton Rifle Volunteer Corps — a small militia formed after the withdrawal of British troops from the colony — joined the mounted infantry to fight in the Boer War.
Members of the corps were again called upon at the outbreak of World War II.
Now mainly a sporting club, the men were asked to perform voluntary work for the army, which had all but taken over Geraldton.
The back beach was covered in barbed wire, and three bunkers had been built with machine gun emplacements in preparation for invasion.
That threat became all too real in November 1941, when HMAS Sydney was sunk off the coast of Shark Bay. The fateful encounter with the German merchant raider HSK Kormoran happened just 200km off the WA coast. and with the Japanese bombing of Darwin in early 1942, many Geraldtonians fled inland, or to metropolitan areas.
So many of Geraldton’s young men left to fight that, in April 1942, the Geraldton Guardian reported the association football season had to be cancelled, as there simply weren’t enough men to play.