World War I started one hundred years ago this week and we should not let the opportunity pass without paying homage to those Sydney footballers who served.
I am guessing here that most football and other sporting competitions around the nation will permit the day to roll by without so much of a murmur or thought about any of their number who enlisted for WWI, those perhaps who were killed or returned maimed, resulting in their inability to continue to play.
In 1914 Sydney had six clubs: Newtown, Sydney, South Sydney North Sydney (Shore), East Sydney and Paddington. Only one is left today.
When the war was announced, with the time difference, the ball was being bounced on the Sydney Cricket Ground for the first game, in the third All-States National Carnival.
Ralph Robertson, the very well respected 32 year old Sydney footballer in the first decade of the last century, captained NSW. It was his 35th appearance for the NSW and/or Sydney since 1903. He had captained the state in the two previous national carnivals, 1908 in Melbourne and 1911 in Adelaide and was a product of St Kilda FC in 1899-1900.
He played in four of the five games for NSW in August 1914 then enlisted, citing his previous experience in the Militia as a criteria for early enrolment. He was joined by fellow state team member Teddy McFadden and later Tom Watson from the North Sydney Club. They all sailed to New Guinea with the little known or recognized, Australian Naval and Military Expedition Force. This was not a big contingent but their involvement with the then German New Guinea, helped in the capture of the province. The trio were back in Australia by February 1915.
All three eventually went to Europe. Robertson resigned from the Australian force to take up a commission in the British Army. He later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and was killed in a training accident in 1917 when the plane he was flying collided with another over Egypt.
Tom Watson went on to Gallipoli where he was killed in August 1915.
Teddy McFadden (pictured), a former South Sydney player, signed on with the 1st AIF in April 1915 and his involvement proved to be a whole different kettle of fish than the former two.
He was posted overseas in June 1915. Right from the start he found himself in strife, receiving unit punishment for menial indiscretions.
He changed Corps and was promoted and demoted finally finishing up in the VD Hospital at Bulford, England where he was placed on the Syphilis Register in May, 1917. He remained there for over 3 months until eventually deserting from the army only to pop up again and living in Darlinghurst, a suburbs of Sydney, in 1922. He wasn’t the only WWI serviceman to suffer from this virtually incurable disease. Many Australians suffered the same fate.
Because of his desertion, he was cut-off from any Government assistance and tagged an Illegal Absentee and officially discharged from the army in 1920.
They were not keen to have anything to do with Teddy. He was not awarded any medals, apart from a service medal for his involvement in the New Guinea campaign, not Europe.
He married in 1926 then slipped into obscurity.
There were others too, most returned but some never stepped a foot back into Australia again. A minority, like Jacky Furlong, a Newtown player, who returned with a missing thumb and Les Mitchell, an East Sydney player who was wounded by shrapnel. Both played again in Sydney, Furlong at 29 and Mitchell, 26.
And yet there were others: Jim McInnes, a Sydney FC player who died of measles or Edward Dennis Hickey, former Newtown captain coach, then Sydney player, who was invalided back to Australia with arthritis. Several others who played again, like many of their era, just slipped into anonymity.
To honour the time and those who served, the History Society is producing a book on the effect World War I had on Sydney football. It has an anticipated release date immediately prior to Anzac Day, 1915.
This publication is not a book of empty, pathetic rhetoric. It is about real people and real events. Young men who played football in Sydney and in other parts of Australia who served in what was called the Great War. Also though, it is about footballing events in Sydney before, during and after the conflict. This book will comprise part of the country’s official Centenary of ANZAC as a lasting legacy to the period and those who served.
If you are interested in football history, this limited production book is a MUST for your collection. There is a progress link on the front page of this website.