Young George McVey’s brief war service became a local legend in the Canungra district, after the troopship he had boarded in Brisbane sailed without him.
George enlisted in the AIF on April 25, 1916, exactly a year after the Gallipoli landing which gave rise to its own legend, ANZAC.
Describing himself firstly as a labourer and then an axeman, George stated his age as 21. He was not even 18, having turned 17 a week earlier, according to an entry in the History of Biddaddaba Creek.
However, at 170 centimetres (five foot seven inches according to his medical examination) he was as tall if not taller than many men from the Canungra district who enlisted for overseas service during the war.
Page 12 of his Army service record is simply a handwritten note, dated September 9, 1916, by the Adjutant of the 41st Depot Battalion at Bell’s Paddock Camp in Brisbane, regarding Private McVey.
It states simply:
“This man’s Universal Kit with contents went with troopship Clan McGillivray.”
However, it barely captures the drama which had played out two days earlier, when George’s desperate father, Daniel McVey, who had travelled from Sydney to find his son, had pleaded with authorities to remove him from the ship just as it was about to leave Brisbane on September 7.
The ship had sailed with George’s belongings and his new mates, leaving in its wake a disappointed teenage boy.
Families farewell troops of the 41st Depot Battalion leaving Pinkenba on HMAT Clan MacGillivray in a photo dated 1916. George McVey was not among his new mates when the ship sailed that September – he had been taken off the vessel at the last moment because he was only 17.
After a little more than four months’ training, during which he proved himself a fairly competent shot on the rifle range, George was discharged from the Army for being underage.
There were no medals or imagined battlefield glories for George, but he was spared the nightmare of the winter of 1916-17 on the Western Front and the slaughter which continued for almost another two years.
Some 20 years after the Armistice, when Canungra finally unveiled its memorial to those who enlisted in the Great War, George’s name was included, next to that of his older brother, Harry McVey, who really was 21 when he enlisted in May, 1918.