With the centenary of ANZAC now under two years away a small number of Society officials have been appointed to a sub-committee to further investigate how football in Sydney did handle Australia’s entry into WWI. Already this has resulted in the emergence of some fascinating information.
At the time football consisted of two spheres in Sydney, the league, which consisted of half a dozen or so clubs and also a reserve grade, conducted by a separate association. Some school football was also played but with the onset of the war, this, for the most part, had petered out.
The North Shore club failed to nominate for the 1915 season and East Sydney struggled to get the numbers. By mid-season they had begun to forfeit games.
With young men signing up for overseas duty all sport suffered, particularly Australian football.
On the plus side, if there was one, many players from interstate passed through Sydney either for training or transportation to Gallipoli or the Middle East by boat. A number of these played in the competition.
Once there they began to write home. In one letter, South Sydney player, Cyril Hughes, wrote that he had landed at Gallipoli and been promoted and was “now in charge of a machine gun.” He went on to say that he had had some marvellous escapes and on one occasion a bullet had smashed his water bottle which was slung over his shoulder.
The Society has urged the AFL to play a greater role in supporting research and the documentation of those footballers who served in the Great War.
Later in the war, as replacement numbers from Australia began to fall, the government resorted to furtive methods to recruit men to the ranks even suggesting sportsmen, as seen in the attached poster, should sign up. There was at least one battalion called the Sportsmen’s Battalion which was formed from sportsmen from various codes and activities and sent off to the Western Front, some never to return.