The appeal was made on Valentine’s Day 1915 and was addressed particularly to ‘the bush boys’, explaining that the news from the front was that a very large proportion of wounded soldiers had leg and foot injuries. This was ‘a chance for any country boy to whittle a stick from the best wood in his district’.1
Kenneth’s boyhood days were long past but he responded at once, sending a parcel in March of 15 ‘fine strong sticks’ of his own make to the Red Cross Produce Depot in Sydney. Kenneth knew his local timbers well. He was a bushman and a naturalist who had spent a lot of time tramping in the mountain near his home at Cambewarra in the Shoalhaven district of NSW. He was also a keen woodworker, well known locally for the inlaid workboxes and tabletops that he made from native timbers for friends and family.
In November 1915 he sent a further consignment to the Red Cross in Sydney, a box of seven dozen walking sticks. At first the sticks were destined for Australian war hospitals in Egypt but as the war dragged on and more and more wounded soldiers returned to Australia, the need for walking sticks was extended to local repatriation hospitals and convalescent homes. Kenneth’s third consignment, of 100 sticks in September 1917, was sent to assist returned soldiers.
Even closer to home Kenneth supplied walking sticks to the South Coast Soldiers’ Convalescent Home, which opened at Bomaderry, near Nowra, in August 1918. He also made it his business to provide every soldier from the Cambewarra district with a walking stick on their return home. By the time the last local soldier returned home, blinded, in August 1920, Kenneth had made more than 400 sticks since his first response to the 1915 appeal. It is impossible to know if any survive today but there is an umbrella stand holding a motley collection of walking sticks at Meroogal, the house Kenneth McKenzie designed in 1885 for his widowed sister Jessie Thorburn.