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ANZAC Day: How sport shaped the lives of our war heroes

Lionheart new author
Roar Rookie
24th April, 2022
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Lionheart new author
Roar Rookie
24th April, 2022
135
1142 Reads

On ANZAC Day, 25 April we commemorate the landing of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli in 1915.

The first commemoration in Australia of a life lost at Gallipoli was perhaps on 8 May 1915 when players of the Kogarah District football teams wore black armbands in honour of their former team-mate, nineteen-year-old Private Frederick Allen Doodson who died in action in the first days of the campaign.

Sport is an integral part of Service life. Many well-known sportsmen have served in Australia’s defence forces, and some have lost their lives in wartime.

Cricket featured strongly in England after both World Wars. An AIF team of largely unknowns played 34 matches, 28 of them First Class, in England in 1919. They formed the nucleus of the Australian team of the 1920s.

The RAAF cricket team (pictured at Lords, September 1943) featured in England in 1942-45, with several established and future Test players including former prisoners of war, Keith Carmody and Graham Williams, wicketkeeper Stan Sismey who was seriously wounded in May 1942, and the all-rounder, Mosquito pilot, Keith Miller.

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Ross Gregory, a promising young Victorian cricketer who played for Australia in 1936-37 at age 20, trained briefly with the RAAF team in London. Sadly, he was killed in an aircraft crash in June 1942 after his squadron was sent to Burma with the outbreak of war in the Far East.

An Australian Services Team played in five ‘Victory Tests’ against England in 1945, captained by Army Sergeant Lindsay Hassett, later Test captain. They played in India and Sri Lanka on the way home in late 1945, and then toured Australia.

Footballer James William (Judy) Masters, from Wollongong played 17 international matches for Australia as a forward in the 1920s. He embarked for Gallipoli as a reinforcement on 25 June 1915 and was wounded in France in July 1916.

He returned to the trenches in November and arrived safely home to Australia in February 1919.

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Jack Logan was said to be in a class of his own as the NSW goalkeeper in the late 1890s. He found the Balmain Football Club in 1894, was secretary of the NSW FA, formed the NSW Referees Association and broke his leg in 1890 in a 1-3 loss to Queensland. He moved to Brisbane in the 1900s, wrote on football, promoted inter-state schoolboy matches and was Chairman of the national (Commonwealth) FA from 1912 to 1914.

Logan served in France in 1917, as did his son, and he organised an AIF football team in 1918, to play against British Army teams in France.

Reg Date, described in Howe’s Encyclopedia of Socceroos as one of Australia’s most prominent goal scorers of all time, played 12 international matches from 1941 to 1953. He enlisted in Newcastle on 26 February 1942 at age 20 but was discharged two months later, medically unfit for Army service.

Robert (Bob) Lawrie from Ipswich was an international footballer who served in World War Two. He was at the Battle of Milne Bay in New Guinea, as a Corporal in the Army’s 15th Battalion in August-September 1942. He joined the RAAF in 1943 and served in England as a navigator.

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Bob Lawrie played 43 matches for Australia as a defender. In August 1950 the President of the South Africa FA praised his sportsmanship and ability as captain of Australia’s touring national team, describing him as ‘the finest captain of a team ever to leave Australia’, meaning in all sports.

Ralph Shields was a former English professional player (Newcastle, Huddersfield, Brentford) who served with the British Amy in World War 1. He migrated in 1927 and served with the Australian Army in Singapore, 1941-42 where he was captured and sent to Sandakan, Borneo. He died of malnutrition on 21 November 1944.

The Australian War Memorial holds photographs of German and Italian football teams in Murchison prisoner of war camp, Tatura, Victoria, 1943-45 but records of their matches are scarce. The picture (right) shows the Australian and Swiss service teams before a match in the demilitarized zone, Korea, 3 December 1954.

Australian Rules footballers lacked the international competition available to the other sports, but inter-unit and inter-service matches were played at every opportunity. Keith (Bluey) Truscott was perhaps the best known of the Australian footballers. He played 44 games and won premierships with Melbourne in 1939 and 1940. He joined the RAAF in 1940 and served as a fighter pilot in England, New Guinea at Milne Bay and in Darwin.

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Bluey Truscott (pictured) is credited with 16 enemy aircraft kills, mostly Luftwaffe Messerschmitt fighters, and he was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his courage and determination. He was shot down and recovered from the English Channel in October 1941. Sadly, he was killed in a training exercise off Exmouth, WA on 28 March 1943.

Bill Cosgrove played for Richmond in 1939-40. He avoided captivity in a lucky escape from Java in March 1942. He had already served in Libya and Syria as a RAAF pilot before he spent 47 days in the small craft Scorpion, crowded with 11 other airmen sailing from Java to Australia. Sadly, he was killed in action in New Guinea on 11 August 1943.

The AIF played an exhibition Australian Rules match in London in October 1916 and the RAAF played two exhibition matches in 1943-44, arranged by Bruce Andrew. He played 62 games for Collingwood including the 1928 premiership and had a long career as a sports administrator and media personality.

Bruce Andrew (pictured) served as a pay clerk and later public relations officer in the RAAF Overseas Headquarters, London. He was with the Allied Expeditionary Air Force in Normandy soon after the D-Day landings in June 1944 and in Paris in August, just days after it was liberated.

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He met up with an excited Collingwood fan then resident in Paris, a former World War One AIF soldier who was imprisoned during the German occupation.

Bruce helped organise cricket and Rugby Union teams in England and played for them both. He took 4 wickets for 28 runs off 8 overs for the RAAF at Lords against the RAF on 12 September 1942. He was an accidental rugby full back, filling in as a replacement and reportedly a good one. He organised kicking displays before some of the rugby matches in London.

The Wallaby tour to England in 1939 was interrupted by World War Two. Twenty-five of the 29 Wallaby tourists joined the Services, fourteen AIF, ten RAAF and one in the Royal Navy. Five of them became Prisoners of War. Cecil Ramali, Winston Ide and Vaux Nicholson, who was later appointed a Judge of the District Court of Queensland, were sent to labour camps on the Thai-Burma railway.

Ken ‘Mac’ Ramsay served as a Commando in New Guinea and died as a Prisoner of War on the transport ship Montevideo Maru in July 1942.

Another Wallaby, NZ born Andy Barr served in the Middle East and England as a fighter pilot. He was shot down three times, eventually captured and escaped twice. He is credited with shooting down 12 enemy aircraft and was highly decorated, awarded OBE, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross twice.

Ronald Rankin was another highly decorated Wallaby. He flew fighters in Europe and New Guinea and was awarded the DFC twice and the Croix de Guerre (Belgium).

Rugby league players who have served in war include Ken Kearney, who played for Parramatta, St George and several other clubs as a player coach in the 1950s.

He was an air gunner in RAF Bomber Command but suffered an ear illness and spent much of his service under training or grounded. He played several matches in Britain, including for Scottish Services against England.

Fred de Belin (pictured) was a navigator on Lancaster aircraft and flew bombing missions over Europe. He played in the premiership winning Balmain Rugby League team in 1945 and represented both NSW and Australia.

Herb Narvo taught unarmed combat and physical fitness as a Drill Instructor at the RAAF’s Parachute Training Unit. He was Australian heavyweight boxing champion in the 1940s and toured forward areas of northern Australia and New Guinea in 1944, with a boxing and wrestling troupe. He represented NSW and Australia in Rugby League pre-war and played club football in Newcastle and in Sydney for Newtown and St George as captain-coach in 1946.

Keith Holman served as a chef from February 1944 to October 1947, in Australia and the Pacific. He played 32 Rugby League Tests for Australia in the 1950s and was a leading referee in the 1970s.

Many others who are known for their sporting achievements in a variety of sports have served in Australia’s defence forces, in war and during peace.

ANZAC Day is not a day to celebrate. It is a day to remember all who have served in Australia’s defence forces, and to commemorate those who have died.

As sports fans it is appropriate that we remember athletes who have served, just as the Kogarah District football club did in May 1915.

Lest We Forget.

Author note: Graham O’Brien served as a navigator in the RAAF for 35 years and ten more on the RAAF Reserve. Military history, sport, wife and family are his joys. He comments on The Roar as Lionheart.

Images courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

De Belin image courtesy National Archives of Australia

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