Private Lawrence John Gaffney turned 18 on April 11, 1916. Three days later, he was bound for the Western Front.
As a member of the first Kangaroo March, ‘Jack’ Gaffney joined 88 Riverina recruits who walked 520 kilometres from Wagga to Campbelltown ahead of their deployment.
With the 55th Battalion, Jack was sent to the Somme.
While charging from the trenches on July 15, 1918, a bullet struck the end of the 19-year-old’s bayonet, ricocheting into his nose.
The impact shattered the right side of his face.
Jack documents his recovery in letters to his mother, now collected by his nephew Terry Gaffney.
Mr Gaffney and his 81-year-old cousin Kevin Thompson, are Jack’s last remaining nephews.
“The letters all begin simply with ‘dear mother’,” said the 73-year-old Tolland resident.
“The best one says “dear mother, I’ve been shot in the face. The bullet went off my bayonet and blew half my face off. If they ever find the bullet, I’ll send it to you as a souvenir”.”
After convalescing in Birmingham hospital, England, Jack was sent back to the front.
He remained there until the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918.
When eventually he did return to Wagga on January 20, 1919, he bore the irreversible damage of war.
“He had a hole in his forehead, about the size of two fingers, and he was completely missing part of his jaw. Eating was always a struggle,” said Mr Gaffney.
Before the war, Jack had been a celebrated swimmer, cricketer and footballer.
But upon return, he was never able to compete again. He had also held lucrative work as a skilled carpenter.
“You couldn’t have him climbing ladders or using big machinery, so he was very limited to what he could do afterwards,” said his nephew.
To commemorate the centenary of the Kangaroo March in 2015, Terry joined the re-enactment march.
Over 36 days, more than a hundred participants traced the steps of the soldiers.
“All the way along there were school children who came out to wave flags and cheer us on, it was beautiful,” said Mr Gaffney.
“It would not have been like that for [the first soldiers]. We had running water, portable toilets and showers, paramedics with us, they didn’t.”
Of the hundred who began the commemorative journey, only eight completed it, Mr Gaffney among them.
But a bought of pneumonia has left its mark on his lungs.
“I was thinking all the way there, how did they do this? How did they survive it? Then they had to fight a war. For them, this was the easy bit,” he said.
“I’m that proud of Jack. Just the sheer hardship of what he went through.”