Hey Cobbers, being ANZAC day, I thought I’d do something a little different and research some Wallabies who served.
However, the more I dug, the more I unearthed. And I quickly realised there was no way I could either cover the material or do it justice in this format. So I narrowed my focus to just WW1 to keep it manageable. Plus I looked to include some Kiwi content as well given ‘ANZAC’ just doesn’t work without the ‘NZ’ bit.
But even that narrowed scope got out of control really fast. So I narrowed it down again to what happened to the lads who played in one test: the last test between Australia and New Zealand before the Great War put a kibosh on life as it was known. I hope you enjoy the offering.
I note here that I’ve pulled stuff from all over the interwebs and owe credits to all sorts of folk and sources too long to list. I also note that coincidentally, Drew Mitchell made some comments related to parts of this over the weekend prior to the Force and Highlanders match. So be clear, this isn’t my original research work and I make no claim it is. I only weaved together some threads from various places.
Now, we all know (or at least we should know) that on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his missus Sophie the Duchess of Hohenberg, were shot by an emo uni student named Gavrilo Princip who was a member of a Bosnian Serb nationalist group. And as frequently happens when someone cuts their dollar in on someone else’s pool-table, shite spiralled out of control really quickly as each group’s mates lined up behind their mates.
As part of that spin-up, apparently the Australian Government received a cabled ‘formal’ warning from the Empire Foreign Office on 30 July 1914 about the imminent danger of war. Then on the morning of Sunday, 2 August 1914, bulletins were posted outside Australian newspaper offices in each capital city announcing that Germany had declared war on Russia and a major, multinational European war was imminent. Most Australians realised the war would involve France, and so probably Britain, and therefore ‘tails were up’ it would likely then involve us. That same day, Germany took the first steps westwards, invading through Luxembourg and Belgium towards France.
Back on our side of the planet, by all accounts it was a drizzly afternoon in Sydney on Wednesday, 05 August 1914 when the telegraph lines chattered out that Germany and Britain were formally at war. And shortly thereafter the Australian Government confirmed its unreserved support for the cause with both Prime Minister Joseph Cook and Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher, who were in the midst of an election campaign, pledging full support for Britain. Boys, she was on.
What continually sobers me from those events that spun beyond reality so fast was that, from an Australia scarcely a dozen years after Federation and with a population of around 4,500,000 people, 420,000 Australians would then enlist for service of whom some 325,000 served overseas. Of those, 155,000 then recorded wounds and approx 60,500 died. For the Kiwis from a population of around 1,100,000, 124,000 served with nearly 100,000 serving overseas and among whom 35,000 recorded wounds and some 17,000 died.
To put it simply, for both countries just short of half the whole male population aged 18-45 went into uniforms, and of them just shy of 1 in every 5 men who went overseas didn’t make it back home alive. Bloody hell.
But returning to 1914, while the declaration of a war to be over by Christmas was expected (some may say enthusiastically anticipated) nonetheless, the event did throw a heap of other ‘normal life’ events up in the air.
And one such event so disrupted was the 3rd rugby test that was to be played between Australia and New Zealand at the SCG on 15 August 1914. I mean, it was such a damned inconvenient announcement that it meant even the time of the match itself had to move from 3pm to a 1pm kickoff to allow the Hobbitses sufficient lag to get back aboard their ship in time for a pre-sunset departure, or risk being stuck alongside another day as Harbour Control wouldn’t allow civilian vessels to depart in darkness. However, such a curtailment of ‘public entertainments’ did not go uncommented on, especially by those lamenting the imposition on the gambling and liquor trades put out by the reduction in opportunity for pre-match activities.
What of course was unknown at that time was how the coming war would weave its threads through the participants of that test match. And it proves sobering to realise that nine of the Wallabies that played in that test match on 15 August 1914 subsequently served overseas. And of that nine, four would be killed in action before the whole shebang was over. And it was similar for the All Blacks involved.
Reflecting on that, I list here some particulars of the participants for the 3rd rugby test of the Australia and New Zealand series as played on 15th August 1915:
- Bruce Beith (enlisted)
- Ernie Carr (enlisted)
- Larry Wogan
- Larry Dwyer
- Monty Massy-Westropp
- Bill Tasker (enlisted & killed)
- Fred Wood
- Fred Thompson (enlisted & killed)
- Harold Baker (enlisted)
- Pat Murphy
- Clarence ‘Doss’ Wallach (enlisted & killed)
- Ted Fahey (enlisted)
- Harold George (enlisted & killed)
- David Williams (enlisted)
- Clarrie Prentice
Correspondingly, the All Black side included:
- Eric Cockroft
- Tiger Lynch
- Dick Roberts
- Jimmy Ryan
- Reg Taylor (enlisted & killed)
- Jock McKenzie
- Ted Poberts
- Toby Murray
- Jim McNeece (enlisted & killed)
- James Graham
- Doolan Downing (enlisted & killed)
- Sal Irvine
- Reg Wilson (enlisted & killed)
- Bill Francis
- Mick Cain
Apologies, I couldn’t confirm the ABs who enlisted, only those who enlisted and were killed.
For the record, Australia lost by 22-7 that day and New Zealand thus took the series 3-0. Bastards.
Besides that brief snapshot, by the time the Armistice was finally signed in that railway carriage on 11 November 1918 at Versailles in France, some 35 men of the 147 who played rugby for Australia since the first test in 1899 through to that last test at the SCG saw active service in WW1. And of those 35, 10 subsequently fell in action or shortly after from wounds they received. Correspondingly, approximately 90 All Blacks served in the Great War from whom 13 gave their lives.
A quick summary of those 10 Wallabies who died in service, their clubs and where they fell is as follows:
- Blair Swannell (Nth Sydney/Sydney) – 25 April 1915, Gallipoli
- Ted Larkin (Newtown) – 25 April 1915, Gallipoli
- Harold George (Easts) – 10 May 1915, Gallipoli
- Fred Thompson (Easts) – 29 May 1915, Gallipoli
- Arthur Verge (Sydney Uni)– 8 September 1915, Gallipoli
- George Pugh (Newtown) – 5 September 1916, Belgium
- Herbert Jones (Newcastle) – 4 November 1916, France
- Clarence Wallach (Easts) – 22 April 1918, France
- Bryan Hughes (Nth Sydney) – 6 August 1918, France
- William Tasker (Newtown) – 9 August 1918, France
And for the Kiwis, their 13 All Black WW1 losses were (including the 4 from the Sydney test):
- James Alexander Steenson Baird – 7 June 1917 in France (probably at Messines)
- Robert Stanley Black – 21 September 1916 at the Somme
- Henry Dewar – 9 August 1915 at Gallipoli
- Ernest Henry Dodd – 11 September 1918 at Havrincourt
- Albert Joseph ‘Doolan’ Downing – 8 August 1915 at Gallipoli
- David Gallaher – 4 October 1917 at Passchendaele
- Eric Tristram Harper – 30 April 1918 in Palestine
- James McNeece – 21 June 1917 at Rouen
- Alexander James Ridland – 5 November 1918 in France
- George Maurice Victor Sellars – 7 June 1917 at Messines
- Reginald Taylor – 20 June 1917 at Messines
- Hubert Sydney Turtill – 9 April 1918 in France
- Frank Reginald Wilson -19 September 1916 at the Somme.
Each of those men have their own story.
But for a bit of colour, perhaps one of the more dogged among them was Corporal William ‘Twit’ Tasker.
Often referred to in the Sydney papers of the day as ‘brilliant’, the Condobolin born, Newington College graduate and Newtown rugby captain was first selected for the Wallabies in 1912 but didn’t make his debut in a full test until 1913. However, he did manage the somewhat dubious ‘honour’ of being the first Wallaby tourist ever sent off during a match for some unrecorded act of infamy during play against an ‘American Selection’ on the North American Tour of 1912. Thus it was hardly surprising when the gutsy fly-half enlisted at the outbreak of the war.
Enlisting as a gunner in the 12th Field Artillery Brigade, 13th Battalion, he was part of the original landings at Anzac Cove, hitting the sand around dusk on 25 April 1915. He was seriously wounded at Quinn’s Post some weeks later (apparently he took over a dozen shards of shrapnel to the legs) and was subsequently invalided home and discharged.
However not to be left out, he attempted to re-volunteer multiple times. But he kept being recognised and was so consistently rejected. Yet somehow, by means fair or foul but either way unrecorded, he did finally manage to snare a spot in 116th Howitzer Battery and embarked aboard HMAT A60 Aeneas on 30 September 1916 and made it to action in France. According to all reports he was injured another 4 times in France over the next near 2yrs, including at least one serious gassing, before finally ‘copping his knock’ at Harbonnieres during the Battle of Amiens. From reports, he took another load of shrapnel while working his gun, but this time to the belly and groin, from counter-fire while his battery was engaged and he bled out at his post. It was 9 August 1918. It was just three months before the armistice. He was 26 years old.
So anyway, there it is. Have a good day, cobbers. Go to a service. Buy a Legacy badge. Spin some pennies. Enjoy a snag on some bread with a squirt of tommy sauce and spare of thought for all who have, all who do and all who will serve.
Lest we forget.