Dawn Service with stories of Repton soldiers

The Repton Memorial Cenotaph lists only six names but this morning at 5.30am about 150 people gathered by it to pay their respects to those who have served in Australia's defence forces.

It's the seventh time that an Anzac Day service has been held here since the tradition was resurrected by locals Major Emma Parker and Captain Dianne Hutchinson.

Descendants of two of the soldiers whose names are inscribed on the monument spoke at the Dawn Service.

One was Garry Sheridan, who shared details about his great-uncle Bernard McNally, born on the Bellinger River in 1884.

"He was a late bloomer and did not enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces until the age of 32 as an engine driver in May 1916," Garry said.

Private Bernard McNally spent time in England, Belgium and France and had several hospital admissions when he was wounded in his right shoulder and suffered from mustard gas poisoning.

He was medically discharged after two years and 166 days in the army.

Bernard was presented with a medal and a watch by the citizens of Repton on 2 August 1919.

He never married, died at 73 and is buried in Bellingen cemetery.

Private Alfred Maitland

Private Alfred Maitland

The other soldier highlighted this morning was Private Alfred Maitland, who was a boilerman at the Repton Mill when he enlisted in September 1914, aged 27.

He served the entire length of the war, seeing action at Gallipoli and in France, and his grandson Ian Speechley and granddaughter Linda Vincent came to the ceremony from Bowraville and Tamworth respectively to honour him.

Ian related this story about the night his Pop signed up for the Great War:

"There was a pub across the river near the bridge. They all went over there and he signed up, got a bit drunk, and decided to swim home.

"He swam back over here - this is where the mill was that he was working at. And they caught a six-foot Grey Nurse Shark in the river the next morning.

"And he said, if I'd have known that mongrel was in there, I most probably would never have signed up. And that was the story he told us as kids."

Ian's sister Linda then read a letter that Alf Maitland had written on June 14, 1915 from the trenches of Gallipoli, a few weeks after the landing.

It was addressed to Mrs H Moran, his former boss at the Repton Mill.

"... I suppose you have heard where we are at presently. We landed here on the 25th April. We had a hard fight to get a footing but we succeeded in the end. The boys fought splendid and have done the job that we were set to do.

"It was a very difficult job for us landing in a country that we knew nothing about and in the darkness and nothing but hills in front of us for miles. We were shelled by the Turks before ever we got near the shore and when we did get near enough to jump out, the lads gave a cheer and charged. That was enough for the Turks. When they seen our bayonets they went for their lives and us after them. We fought them for three days and nights without a wink of sleep. You could not sleep if you tried, thinking that the Turks were going to charge us any minute.

We fought them for three days and nights without a wink of sleep.

Private Alf Maitland, after landing at Gallipoli

"I have been in four engagements with the Turks and we toweld them up every time. They don't like the Australian soldiers. They say we are worse than the Burgars and have christened us the White Gurkas.

"Life in the trenches is pretty hard at times and a great strain on the nerves. I shall never forget the first shell that burst near me. I was a bit nervous after that but when they begun to come over in hundreds and the bullets began to whis around we soon we soon got used to it and now they can whis anywhere near us and we take no notice except those that are unfortunate to get hit.

"I have been very lucky, came right through the fighting up to date without a scratch. I will now close with kind regards to yourself and family. From yours sincerely, Alf Maitland on Active Service, Turkey."

Alf was injured later on, and spent time at a hospital in England. It was there he met his future bride, a dress designer called Gladys, who had volunteered as a nurse's aide.

After being discharged in March 1919, he came home to Australia, but he was determined to get back to Gladys, so he reenlisted for the job of escorting German prisoners of war from England back to Germany.

The couple were married in September 1919 and settled in Sydney.

The Repton Mill where Alf Maitland worked as a boilerman

The Repton Mill where Alf Maitland worked as a boilerman