Australian rules football during the World Wars
Australian rules football was heavily affected by both World War I and World War II. Hundreds of leading players served their country abroad, and many lost their lives. On the home front, competitions like the Victorian Football League (VFL) went ahead during these wars, but faced many restrictions.
- 1 World War I
- 2 “Pioneer Exhibition Game” in London (1916)
- 3 World War II
- 4 VFL players who died in active service
- 5 Commemorations
- 6 See also
- 7 Footnotes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
World War I
In March 1915, the VFL voted on whether or not to suspend the 1915 season, but voted in favour of playing by 13 votes to four. Melbourne University Football Club were forced to withdraw from the league as too many of their players had enlisted to fight. The season began on 24 April, the day before Australian troops landed at Gallipoli. Attendances were poor throughout the year.
St Kilda changed their club colours because their traditional red, white and black colours were the same as the German Empire. Their new colours of black, red and yellow were chosen as support to Australia's ally Belgium, where a group of St Kilda players were serving.
The 1916 season was heavily affected by the war. Only four clubs, Carlton, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Richmond, competed in the league. The other clubs withdrew from the competition, both out of patriotism and as a result of player shortage. Despite finishing the home and away season in last place, Fitzroy won the Grand Final that year.
Both Geelong and South Melbourne returned to the league in 1917, while St Kilda and Essendon made their comeback in 1918. Melbourne spent the longest time out of the league, missing three seasons before rejoining the VFL in 1919.
The West Australian Football League (WAFL) continued to play throughout the war; however due to lack of players and extremely bad on-field records North Fremantle and Midland Junction were forced to disband after the 1915 and 1917 seasons respectively. Neither was to return after the war, though attempts to revive Midland Junction were made.
The South Australian Football League (SAFL) suspended play in favour of a “patriotic competition” between 1916 and 1918.
“Pioneer Exhibition Game” in London (1916)
On Saturday 28 October 1916, the former Olympic champion swimmer and the later Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Lieutenant Frank Beaurepaire, organised an Australian Rules football match between two teams of Australian servicemen in aid of the British and French Red Cross.
The match was promoted as the "Pioneer Exhibition Game of Australian Football in London". It was held at Queen's Club, West Kensington before an estimated crowd of 3,000, which included the (then) Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and King Manuel II of Portugal.
An Australian football match (an Australian Division v. Training Groups) will be played at Queen's Club, West Kensington, tomorrow, at 3 p.m., in aid of the British and French Red Cross Funds. The game, played by 18 players a side, will show how Australians have combined "Soccer" and Rugby. (The Times, Friday, 27 October 1916.)
The members of the competing teams, Australian Training Units and The Third Australian Divisional Team, were all highly skilled footballers, the majority of whom had already played senior football in their respective states.
A news film was taken at the match.
In order to celebrate the match Beaurepaire commissioned a set of team photographs that were inserted into a mounting board decorated with a British Union Jack and an Australian Red Ensign, that had "Australian Football in London. Pioneer Exhibition Game. At Queen's Club, West Kensington. Saturday 28 Oct. 1916" at its head, and "Organizer of Match & Donor of Photos to Club Lieut. Frank Beaurepaire" at its foot.
The names that follow are taken from the names of the team members and officials that appear beneath each of the photographs on the mounted set; some of the names have been corrected from VFL, A.I.F. records, etc.
Australian Training Units Team
The team played in a red guernsey with a large white kangaroo on its left breast, and in black shorts.
The team members were: Jack Cooper (Fitzroy), eighth man (seventh player) from left, top row, Percy Trotter (East Fremantle), third from left (of five) in middle row, Clyde Donaldson (Essendon), sixth man (fifth player) from left, top row, Harry Kerley (Collingwood), John Hoskins (Melbourne), Harold Boyd (no club given), Stan Martin (University), ninth man (eighth player) from left, top row, A.C. Cesari (Association), Charlie Armstrong (Geelong and Melbourne), J. Scullin (South Fremantle), Malfield (Fremantle), Thomas Paine (Northam), George Bower (South Melbourne), second man (first player) from left, top row, McDonald (Essendon), Alfred Jackson (South Australia), and H. Moore (South Australia).
Third Australian Divisional Team
The team played in a blue guernsey with a large white map of Australia (minus Tasmania) on the centre of its front, and in white shorts.
The team members were: Jack Brake (University and Melbourne), Dan Minogue (Collingwood), seated at right of man with hat, middle row, Carl Willis (South Melbourne), Leo Little (Melbourne), Bill Sewart (Essendon), James Pugh (Launceston), H.M. Moyes (St Kilda), Percy Jory (St Kilda), Charlie Lilley (Melbourne), Les Lee (Richmond), fourth player from left, top row. Cyril Hoft (Perth), player at right of middle row with back row team mates' hands on his shoulders, L. Martin (University), Ned Alley (Williamstown, formerly South Melbourne), Hugh James (Richmond), fourth player from right, top row, Benjamin Mills (Brunswick), Jim Foy (East Perth), and Billy Orchard (Geelong), player at left, top row.
The Third Australian Divisional Team beat the Australian Training Units Team 6.16 (52) to 4.12 (36).
NOVEL MATCH AT QUEEN'S CLUB.
Over 3,000 people watched a football match at Queen's Club on Saturday between team from an Australian Division and another representing Training Details. The game was played under Australian rules, and was a novelty to most of those present.
The ground is oval, running to 120 yards in width and 180 yards in length. The goal posts have no cross-bar, and as long as a ball is kicked through them the height does not matter. A penalty goal can be dropped, punted, or placed, and in passing the short kick is much used, the off-side rule being non-existent. All the rules are designed with the object of making the game a fast one, and it has certainly the look of being that. There are four-quarters of 20 (sic) minutes each, and after the first and third there is merely a quick change round and no interval.
The spectators were also treated to their first exhibition of Australian "barracking". This barracking is a cheerful running commentary, absolutely without prejudice, on the players, the spectators, the referee, the line umpires, and lastly the game itself. On Saturday it was mostly concerned with references to the military history of the teams engaged. When a catch was missed, for instance, a shrill and penetrating voice inquired of the abashed player, "D'you think, it's a bomb? It's not, it's a ball." On one side there was a colonel playing among the backs and the captain of the other side was a chaplain, and a popular one, to judge by the cheery advice that he got from the privates on the line and in the stand.
The men playing on Saturday were not used to each other, but though the teams thus lacked combination the game was fast, and there were some excellent displays of high marking and kicking for goal. The Division eventually won by six goals and 16 behinds (52 points) to four goals and 12 behinds (36 points). All the gate money and profits from programmes went to the funds of the British and French Red Cross Societies.
The Times, Monday, 30 October 1916.
World War II
Disputes over whether football should be played in wartime came up again in World War II. The VFL continued operation, but Geelong withdrew from the 1942 and 1943 VFL seasons when rail and road transport restrictions made it too difficult for supporters to attend games in Melbourne. Because the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Lake Oval were taken over by the United States Air Force as bases, Melbourne and South Melbourne had to play their home games elsewhere, whilst the Junction Oval for two seasons and the Western Oval for 1942 were also commandeered. The Western Australian National Football League restricted the competition to players under the age of 18 in 1942, and under 19 in 1943 and 1944. The eight SANFL clubs temporary merged into four combined clubs for a reduced competition between 1942 and 1944.
In 1940, both the SANFL and the VFL staged the first Australian football Lightning Carnivals as fundraising events. The carnivals featured every team in the league in a one-day knockout tournament, featuring shortened games. Several more of these carnivals were held by major and minor leagues as wartime fundraisers.
Australian rules football also played a significant part in the Australian forces during the war, with the first Australian assault in Libya commencing with the signal of a football being kicked into no-man's land.
Prisoners of War
Australian rules football was also played by Prisoners of War throughout World War II, with competitions held in Singapore and Germany. The Changi Football League, played at Changi Prison was held in 1942/43 and contested by teams called "Melbourne", "Richmond", "Essendon" and "Carlton", while a League was also set up at Stalag 383, near Nuremberg, contested by the "Kangaroos", "Emus", Kookaburras" and Wallabies".
VFL players who died in active service
- Anon, 27 October 1916.
- Anon, 30 October 1916.
- Anon, "News in Brief", The Times, Issue 41309, (Friday, 27 October 1916), p.15, column B.
- Two stills from the news film appear at Holmesby & Main, (1996), p.49.
- A photograph of the mounted set that was sent to the Collingwood Football Club appears at Ross, (1996), p.89; Ross lists the source of the photograph as the Collingwood Football Club on p.370 (which is consistent with the mounted set being prepared, in part, for donation to each player's club). An almost identical pair of photographs, taken by the same photographer, at the same time (the fourth and the third players from the right in the back row also have their hands on the shoulders of the player seated at the right of the middle row), of the same men, are held by the Australian War Memorial (see  and ). Note that, on the evidence of the date on the mounting board (Ross, p.89), and the Times newspaper reports of 27 and 30 October 1916, and that in the text of Holmesby & Main, (1996, p.49), who had access to the news film — all of which place the match on Saturday 28 October 1916 — the date currently (viz., at 25 April 2008) given by the Australian War Memorial for the match (i.e., 2 November 1916) is mistaken.
- Unable to identify this individual any further from the information provided with the mounted photographs.
- Private George Thomas Barry (6777). First World War Embarkation Roll: George Thomas Barry; World War Nominal Roll (Barry,Benjamin John – Barry, Henry Albert).
- Sergeant Thomas Sinton Hewitt (129). He was a well-performed long distance runner (Holmesby & Main, (1996), p.49); he represented Australia, running under the name of "Sinton Hewitt", in both the marathon (finishing 30th, in 3h 3m 27s) and the 10,000 metres (finishing tenth in his heat, time unknown) at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium. Listed on photograph mount as "T.S. Hewitt". First World War Embarkation Roll: Thomas Sinton Hewitt; Australian Olympic Committee Statistics: Sinton Hewitt (Athletics).
- Private Edward John Watts (6372).First World War Embarkation Roll: Edward John Watts
- Lieutenant Alexander Emil Olsson.First World War Embarkation Roll: Alexander Emil Olsson
- Charles Julius Perry had enlisted as a Methodist Chaplain on 16 November 1915, aged 27 (First World War Embarkation Roll: Charles Julius Perry). At the time of the match he was a Chaplain-Captain, later in the war he was promoted to Chaplain-Major. He had played 58 senior games with Norwood Football Club, and had finished first in a three-way tie for the South Australian Football League's best and fairest award, the Magarey Medal in 1915 (Full Points Footy Biography: Charles Perry[dead link]). Listed on photograph mount as "Capt. C.J. Perry (capt) Norwood". On 24 January 1919, Lieutenant-Colonel H.D.K. Macartney (Australian Dictionary of Biography: Macartney, Henry Dundas Keith (1880–1932)), the Officer Commanding of the 3rd Australian Divisional Artillery recommended that Perry be awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire: "During the period Sept.17th to Decr.31st 1918, Chaplain-Major PERRY has been Chaplain to the 8th Aust.F.A.Brigade [viz., Australian Field Artillery Brigade]. His duties have always been carried out in a thoroughly cheerful and tactful manner, and throughout the rapid advance, leading up to the cessation of hostilities, his gallant bearing and unselfish devotion to duty, generally under adverse conditions, have materially assisted the administration of this Unit. He has been a splendid example to both Officers and men. [Signed] H.D.K. Macartney, Lieut-Colonel. Commander, 3rd. Aust. Div. Artillery."(Honours and awards (Recommendations: First World War): Recommendation for Charles Julius Perry to be awarded a (sic) Order of the British Empire). There is no indication within the records at the Australian War Memorial as to whether the Officer of the Order of the British Empire was ever awarded to Perry as Macartney had recommended.
- Lance-Corporal John Thomas Cooper (4753), 8th Battalion, First A.I.F., died on 20 September 1917 in the Battle of Passchendaele, at Polygon Wood, in Belgium. Listed on photograph mount as "J. Cooper Fitzroy". Main, J. & Allen, D., (2002), pp.39–42. Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour: John Thomas Cooper (4753); Full Points Footy Biography: Jack Cooper[dead link].
- Private Percy George Trotter (5791). Listed on photograph mount as "P.G. Trotter Fremantle". First World War Embarkation Roll: Percy George Trotter; First World War Nominal Roll (Trotter, Percy George – Trowbridge, Alec Roy). He had played 109 games for Fitzroy in the VFL from 1901 to 1906. AFL Statistics: Percy Trotter.
- Private Clyde Donaldson (251). Listed on photograph mount as "J. Donaldson Essendon". First World War Embarkation Roll: Clyde Donaldson; Full Points Footy Biography: Clyde Donaldson[dead link]
- Private Henry Charles Kerley (1687). Listed on photograph mount as "H. Kerly Collingwood". First World War Embarkation Roll: Henry Charles Kerley; AFL Statistics: Harry Kerley
- Listed on photograph mount as "J. Hoskins Melbourne". This is almost certainly Private John Hoskins (5708), 6th Battalion, First A.I.F. His record on the Army's embarkation roll indicates that, at the time of his enlistment (4 March 1916), he was 21. His occupation was listed as labourer, and his address was given as Mumbannar in far western Victoria, and that of his father (as next of kin) in the nearby town of Heywood, Victoria. There is no record of anyone with the family name of Hoskins ever playing senior football for the Melbourne Football Club; and there is no record of anyone with the family name of Hoskins playing VFL football around that time. Given his age, and the fact he would have been 20 in the 1915 football season, it is reasonable to assume that he would have been too young to have been a footballer at senior level, and that the "Melbourne" refers to his embarkation point. He returned to Australia on 13 July 1919. First World War Embarkation Roll: John Hoskins; First World War Nominal Roll: (Hoskins, Charles Healey – Hoskisson, Thomas John).
- Corporal Stanley Carlton Martin (4488), 22nd Battalion, First A.I.F., died at Bullecourt, France on 3 May 1917. Listed on photograph mount as "S.C. Martin University". First World War Embarkation Roll: Stanley Carlton Martin (4488); Main, J. & Allen, D., (2002), pp.114–115; Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour: Stanley Carlton Martin (4488); AFL Statistics: Stan Martin.
- Name indistinct on photograph of mounting. Unable to identify this individual any further. Atkinson (1982), p. 7. gives name as "Cesari".
- Supply Private Charles Armstrong (2131). Listed on photograph mount as "C. Armstrong Geelong". First World War Embarkation Roll: Charles Armstrong; AFL Statistics: Charlie Armstrong
- Private John Joseph Scullin (767), 28th Battalion, First A.I.F., died at Villers-Bretonneux, France on 29 July 1916. Listed on photograph mount as "J. Scullin S. Fremantle". First World War Embarkation Roll: John Joseph Scullin; Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour: John Joseph Scullin (767)
- No initial given; and, in absence of which Fremantle club it might be, unable to identify further.
- Private Thomas Paine (5656). Listed on photograph mount as "T. Paine Northam". First World War Embarkation Roll: Thomas Paine.
- Private George Buxton Bower (1446). Listed on photograph mount as "J. Bower S. Melb". First World War Embarkation Roll: George Buxton Bower; AFL Statistics: George Bower; Full Points Footy Biography: George Bower[dead link]
- Listed on photograph mount as "— McDonald Essendon".Unable to identify further; no initials or given name provided; could have been any of four McDonalds who played for Essendon in the VFL between 1905 and 1912 — or, even, it might refer to another individual who might have played for Essendon Town / Essendon "A" in the VFA. In support of this view, Maplestone, (1996), p.90 speaks of Clyde Donaldson, Bill Sewart, and Bruce Sloss as Essendon-connected players who took part in this match, but does not speak of anyone called McDonald.
- Lieutenant-Colonel (eventually Brigadier) Alfred Jackson (1887–1964), OBE, VD. Listed on photograph mount as "Lt. Col. Jackson S. Australia". Australian Military Units Service Record: Brigadier Alfred Jackson, OBE, VD; First World War Embarkation Roll: Alfred Jackson; Honours and awards (gazetted): Officer of the Order of the British Empire: Alfred Jackson; Australian War Memorial: First World War Nominal Roll: (Jackson,Albert – Jackson, Alfred John).
- Lieutenant Bruce Moses Farquhar Sloss, 10th Machine Gun Company, First A.I.F., was killed in action at Armentières, Northern France, on 4 January 1917. Listed on photograph mount as "B. Sloss (capt) Sth. Melb.". Main & Allen, (2002), pp.179–183; Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour: Bruce Moses Farquhar Sloss; AFL Statistics: Bruce Sloss; Full Points Footy Biography: Bruce Sloss[dead link].
- Lieutenant James Brake. Listed on photograph mount as "Lt. J. Brake University". First World War Embarkation Roll: James Brake; Full Points Footy Biography: Jack Brake[dead link]; AFL Statistics: Jack Brake.
- Gunner Daniel Thomas Minogue (24559). Listed on photograph mount as "D. Minogue Collingwood". First World War Nominal Roll (Minns,George Albert – Minster, Carlos Edward); First World War Embarkation Roll: Daniel Thomas Minogue; AFL Statistics: Dan Minogue; Full Points Footy Biography: Dan Minogue[dead link].
- Lance-Corporal Carl Bleakley Willis (346). Listed on photograph mount as "C. Willis Sth. Melb.". First World War Embarkation Roll: Carl Bleakley Willis; (AFL Statistics: Carl Willis.
- Sergeant Leo Paul Little (317). Listed on photograph mount as "L. Little Melbourne". First World War Embarkation Roll: Leo Paul Little; Honours and awards (gazetted) Military Cross: Lieutenant Leo Paul Little; First World War Nominal Roll (Little,John Henry – Little, Sidney Joseph); AFL Statistics: Leo Little.
- Private William Isaac Sewart (307). Listed on photograph mount as "W. Sewart Essendon". First World War Embarkation Roll: William Isaac Sewart; First World War Nominal Roll (Sewart,William Isaac – Sewell, Philip Heauchamp); AFL Statistics: Bill Sewart; Full Points Footy Biography: William Sewart[dead link]
- Sergeant James Pugh (253), 40th Battalion, First A.I.F. Listed on photograph mount as "J. Pugh Launceston". Pugh enlisted in Launceston, and that may be why he was listed on the photograph as coming from Launceston, rather than because he played with the Launceston Football Club (something for which there is no trace). He was a prominent footballer and athlete. He was killed in action on 28 January 1917, in France. Information supplied to Australian War Memorial by Pugh's father; Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour: James Pugh; First World War Embarkation Roll: James Pugh.
- Sapper Harold Milne Moyes (10993). Listed on photograph mount as "H.M. Moyes St Kilda". First World War Embarkation Roll: Harold Milne Moyes; First World War Nominal Roll (Moy, James Arthur – Moylan, Jeremiah)
- Gunner Percival James Hector Jory (19992). Listed on photograph mount as "P.J. Jory St Kilda". First World War Embarkation Roll: Percival James Hector Jory; First World War Nominal Roll (Jorgensen,James Axel – Jose, James Joseph); AFL Statistics: Percy Jory.
- Gunner Charles Harold Lilley (19632). Listed on photograph mount as "C. Lilley Melbourne". First World War Embarkation Roll: Charles Harold Lilley; First World War Nominal Roll (Lill,Charles Edward – Lilley, Willmott John Sewell); AFL Statistics: Charlie Lilley
- Private Leslie Edward Lee (224), 10th Machine Gun Company, First A.I.F., killed in action on 8 June 1917, in the Battle of Messines, Belgium. Listed on photograph mount as "L.E. Lee Richmond". Main & Allen, (2002), pp.101–105. First World War Embarkation Roll: Leslie Edward Lee; Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour: Leslie Edward Lee (224); AFL Statistics: Les Lee
- Private Cyril Louis Hoft (785). Listed on photograph mount as "C. Hoft Perth". First World War Embarkation Roll: Cyril Louis Hoft; First World War Nominal Roll (Hoffman, William George – Hogan, Arthur); Full Points Footy Biography: Cyril Hoft[dead link].
- Private Edwin John Alley (135). Listed on photograph mount as "R. Alley Williamstown". First World War Embarkation Roll: Edwin John Alley; Full Points Footy Biography: Edward Alley[dead link]; AFL Statistics: Ned Alley.
- Lance-Sergeant John Hugh James (223); by the time of his discharge he was Lieutenant James, MC and Bar. Listed on photograph mount as "H. James Richmond". Hogan, (1996), pp.110–111. First World War Embarkation Roll: John Hugh James; World War Nominal Roll (James,Henry William – James, John Thomas); Honours and awards (gazetted): Military Cross and Bar to Military Cross John Hugh James; AFL Statistics: Hughie James; Full Points Footy Biography: Hugh James[dead link].
- Private Benjamin Hastie Mills (166). Listed on photograph mount as "B.H. Mills Brunswick". Identified by Main & Allen, 2002, p.115, as Benjamin Mills who had played for Brunswick before his enlistment, and would play for Northcote after the war. First World War Embarkation Roll: Benjamin Hastie Mills; Australian War Memorial First World War Nominal Roll (Mills, Abner Haydn – Mills, Claude Cameron).
- Sergeant James Francis Foy (809), 44th Battalion, First A.I.F., was killed in action on 14 March 1917, near Armentières, Northern France. Listed on photograph mount as "J. Foy Perth". Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour: James Francis Foy; First World War Embarkation Roll: James Francis Foy; ; Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files: James Francis Foy (the initial declaration of "missing in action"
- Lieutenant William Henry Orchard; by the time of his discharge he was Captain Orchard, MC. Listed on photograph mount as "Lt. W. Orchard Geelong". First World War Embarkation Roll: William Henry Orchard; First World War Nominal Roll (Orchard, George – Orders, Frederick Arthur); Honours and awards (gazetted) Military Cross: William Henry Orchard; AFL Statistics: Billy Orchard; Full Points Footy Biography: Billy Orchard[dead link]
- Anon, "Australian Football. Novel Match At Queen's Club", The Times', Issue 41311, (Monday, 30 October 1916), p.11, column C.
- “League Football – An Open Competition: Decision for 1945 Season”; The West Australian, 23 March 1945, p. 2
- "Lightning Football Carnival raises more than £1000 for patriotic and charitable funds", The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), 15 July 1940: 7
- Taylor, Percy (2 August 1940), "Unique competition", The Argus (Melbourne, VIC): 14
- Shaw, p. 57
- Shaw, p. 58-59
- Shaw, p. 58
- Shaw, p. 59
- Anon., "Australian Football. Novel Match At Queen's Club", The Times, Issue 41311, (Monday, 30 October 1916), p. 11, column C.
- Anon., "News in Brief", The Times, Issue 41309, (Friday, 27 October 1916), p. 15, column B.
- Atkinson, G. (1982) Everything you ever wanted to know about Australian rules football but couldn't be bothered asking, The Five Mile Press: Melbourne. ISBN 0 86788 009 0.
- Hogan P: The Tigers Of Old, Richmond FC, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 0-646-18748-1
- Holmesby, R. & Main, J., This Football Century: "The Greatest Game of All", Wilkinson Books, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 1-86350-222-X
- Main, J. & Allen, D., Fallen — The Ultimate Heroes: Footballers Who Never Returned From War, Crown Content, (Melbourne), 2002. ISBN 1-74095-010-0
- Maplestone, M., Flying Higher: History of the Essendon Football Club 1872–1996, Essendon Football Club, (Melbourne), 1996. ISBN 0-9591740-2-8
- Ross, J. (ed), 100 Years of Australian Football 1897–1996: The Complete Story of the AFL, All the Big Stories, All the Great Pictures, All the Champions, Every AFL Season Reported, Viking, (Ringwood), 1996. ISBN 0-670-86814-0
- Shaw, I. (2006) The Bloodbath, Scribe, Melbourne. ISBN 1-920769-97-8.
- ABC radio transcript[dead link]
- Paul Daffey, "The 10 best Anzac club links", The Sunday Age, 25 April 2004[dead link]
- Chronology: A year by year summary of our history (Melbourne Football Club)[dead link]
- 1940 VFL Patriotic Cup - Melbourne - BoylesFootballPhotos
- 1942 Inter-Services Competition - Melbourne - BoylesFootballPhotos
- 1943 RAAF Competition - Melbourne - BoylesFootballPhotos