The Geelong Football Club would like to acknowledge the 13 former players that made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I and World War II.
World War I 1914 – 1918
James Aitkin came from northwest country Victoria. He played football, tennis and cricket while at Melbourne Grammar. He joined Geelong in 1903 and on June 13 was named in the centre for the Pivotonians Round 8 match against St. Kilda. It was the only senior game he played. He enlisted aged 32 and sailed for Egypt in June, 1915. After four days in Egypt he was sent to Gallipoli with the 5th Battalion, 6th Reinforcement. He was killed on 8 August 1915 and is buried at Shrapnel Valley Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey.
John Bell was born in 1886. He was a star student, prefect, and athlete at Geelong Grammar, representing the school at football, cricket and rowing. After leaving school he went to work at Dalgety's and joined the Geelong Football Club. He made his VFL debut in Round 8 against Collingwood. Bell played four games in 1906, and then left football to concentrate on polo. In 1908 he played another 13 games for Geelong. He died in France of wounds (tended by his sister who was serving as a nurse) after crashing his plane as a captain in the Australian Flying Corps. He is buried at the Tincourt New British Cemetery, France.
Alan Cordner, born in Hamilton, Victoria in 1890, played just three games with Geelong before moving to Collingwood where he played an additional 20 games. He is credited with being the first VFL footballer to enlist in the expeditionary forces. It is also possible that he was the first AFL senior footballer killed at Gallipoli, as he died during the April 25, 1915 landing. His body was never recovered and his name is engraved at the Lone Pine Memorial, Gallipoli.
Joe Crowl, was born in 1883. His family relocated from Melbourne to Geelong during his school years. He worked for Dalgety's as a stock agent and played many sports including football. He joined Geelong in 1906 and played four games. He enlisted with the rank of Lieutenant in the Australian 8th Light Horse Regiment and took part in the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Crowl was killed two months later at Walker's Ridge. He was active in a variety of community activities and when news of his death reached Geelong, flags were flown at half-mast as a mark of both sympathy and respect. A staff officer wrote: "Captain Crowl was a perfect soldier, a splendid officer. He died as he would have wished, doing his duty".
Les James, born in 1890, came from a family of eight. Three of the boys, Les, Fred and Syd, all played for Geelong at various times. Fred played two games for Geelong in 1908 while Syd played four games in 1919. Les played a total of 72 games as a rover/winger starting his career in the opening round match of 1909. He was reportedly a "fine team player with plenty of dash and an ability to read the play". He enlisted and was posted overseas just nine months after the birth of his youngest child. He was killed by a German "whiz-bang" bomb at Passchendaele, Belgium in 1917. Les James has no known grave and is commemorated at the Menin Gate, Ypres.
Bill Landy was born in 1897 in Geelong. A slightly built forward (just 166 cm and 59kg) he played two VFL games for Geelong. Debuting in the forward pocket against South Melbourne at Corio Oval in August 1915, he then played against Fitzroy. He needed his widowed mother's permission to enlist, and at age 18 he left for training in Egypt as a Private in the Expeditionary Force. He was listed as "missing in action" on July 19, 1916 after the Germans raided a trench and "blew up or buried" the whole of the Geelong Company to which Landy belonged. He has no known grave and is commemorated at VC Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles, France.
Arthur McKenzie was born in Bendigo in 1879. At Geelong Grammar his sporting abilities – in athletics, football and cricket – were quickly recognised. He played with Geelong in the centre (half forward and half back) in the final four games of the 1898 season and often played two games on consecutive days for Geelong VFL and for Geelong Grammar. He left Australia to fight in the Boer War and saw active service in South Africa. In 1915 he enlisted as a Private in the South African army and was one of General Louis Botha's famous 300 who captured German South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1915. McKenzie was then deployed to France and was killed in action at Delville Wood on July 18, 1916. He is commemorated at the Thiepval Memorial, France.
Ted McLean was born in 1893 in Geelong. In 1912 he played two games for Geelong, making his debut against Collingwood in Round 15. He enlisted in 1914 and took part in the fighting at Gallipoli. He was killed at Shrapnel Valley on 29 May 1915 and is buried in the Shrapnel Valley Cemetery. Due to fatigue and stress soldiers were sometimes confused about exact dates when sending messages home. This explains why Ted sent a quick postcard to his family advising that all was well, but dated 23 June 1915 – three weeks after he had been killed. His distressed family thought there had been a mistake in the original telegram advising of his death. After lengthy investigation it was confirmed that he had, indeed, been lost in action at the Dardanelles.
Joe Slater attended Geelong College, where he distinguished himself as a sportsman for his football, cricket and athletics ability. Slater usually played as a defender, and occasionally in the midfield or forward, but was named as a half back flanker in Geelong's official 'Team of the Century'. He twice represented Victoria at interstate football and played his last game for Geelong at the MCG in 1914. Slater enlisted as a Lieutenant in the Australian Citizen Forces and fought at Gallipoli, then served in France on the Western Front. He was mentioned in dispatches twice for "distinguished and gallant service" and was killed in action at Bullecourt in France in 1917. Slater has no known grave – his name is commemorated on Villiers Bretonneau Memorial, France.
It was reported that news of Slater's death precipitated overwhelming grief in Geelong and fans on their way to a match at Corio Oval turned back, after word passed from mouth to mouth of their hero being reported 'killed in action'. This tribute appeared in the Sporting Judge: “The Pivotonian died a soldier's death somewhere in France. At the zenith of his career Slater had no peer as a half-back and a fairer player never stepped afield. Peace to his ashes".
Here's how to pay your respects this ANZAC day.— Geelong Cats (@GeelongCats) April 22, 2020
World War II 1939 – 1945
Clyde Helmer was born in Mooroopna in 1916. He and his brother, Neil, both showed early talent, and his cousin, Fred Hawking, played for Geelong (102 games between 1932-1938 and 1941). Clyde joined the reserves in 1937 and was promoted to the senior side in Round 7. In 1938 he topped the Cats' goal-kicking and continued to perform strongly through 1939, 1940 and 1941. While Geelong was in recess during 1942 he attended a bomb disposal course at Wagga, NSW. He was posted to New Guinea and was killed in 1945 at Aitapi, near Lae while attempting to defuse a bomb. Helmer's nephew (Neil's son) John went on to play 50 games for Geelong, and the Mooroopna Football Club's best and fairest trophy is known as the Helmer trophy.
Jim Knight, born in 1918 in Geelong, was known as a fitness fanatic and keen cricketer. He showed a natural talent for football and was noted for his stamina as a rover. He played in Geelong's Reserves 1938 Premiership and made his senior debut the following season. He won the Club's Best and Fairest in 1941. When Geelong left the competition due to wartime travel restrictions Knight moved to Carlton, playing part of the 1942 season while waiting to be accepted into the RAAF. The RAAF flew him from his base at Lavington, NSW, to Melbourne so he could play in services matches. In 1943 he was sent to New Guinea to fly American-built Boston bombers. His plane, fully laden with bombs and petrol, exploded in a ball of flames as the result of an accident on take-off. As a mark of respect Carlton presented Geelong with the Jim Knight Trophy which was given to the Geelong Best and Fairest winner for many years. He is buried at Bomana War Cemetery, near Port Moresby.
Ralph Lancaster was born in Geelong in 1918 and was educated at Geelong College where he distinguished himself as a rover in the team which won the College's first Associated Public Schools Premiership in 1925. He made his debut for Geelong in the opening round of the 1929 season against North Melbourne. After playing 44 games for Geelong between 1925 and 1935 he moved to the Newtown and Chilwell Football Club where he became captain-coach. He served 18 months in the Middle East before being deployed to the 9th Anti-Aircraft Battery in New Guinea where he died as the result of injuries sustained after a munitions accident. He is buried at the Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby.
Jack Lynch, born in 1918, was the second of 12 children. After his mother died the family was divided and Jack went to live with an aunt and uncle and was educated at Christian Brothers' College, Geelong, where he showed outstanding football skills. He was recruited by Geelong from the Marnock Vale Club and made his senior debut in 1939. In 1941 he left Geelong for VFA Club Preston. The move was made without a clearance which resulted in a three-year VFL suspension, but his skills were such that he became an immediate VFA star, kicking more than 100 goals in his first season at full forward. Lynch intended to return to Geelong after his suspension but joined an Army unit preparing to defend northern Australian from an anticipated Japanese invasion. He was killed in a Jeep accident at Charters Towers in September 1944 and is buried at Woombye Cemetery in Queensland.
Lest We Forget
The information within this article was provided by Col Hutchinson and Sharron Dickman.