Almanac Footy History: A tribute to those Geelong players who were killed in wars


Dedicated to all of our ANZACS.


It is impossible to put into words how grateful we, as proud Australians and New Zealanders are for the sacrifices you made for our freedom. Your bravery will be celebrated forever, our eternal heroes.


Football was a safe place. Funnily enough, it was a place where people escaped to. They escaped the hatred, the fighting, the fear of the unknown of war. It was 2 hours a week to feel something, other than consternation. Football was their freedom.


Football was an escape for those who lived through war. It was a way that family, friends, even strangers found peace within the pickets fences that held their 2 hours of exuberance.


Throughout the Boer War, WW1 and WW2, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, hundreds of football players; true heroes, risked their lives to fight for our country, with many not returning home.


One of those heroes was Joe Henry Slater.


May 3rd, 2017, will mark 100 years since he was killed-in-action at Second Bullecourt, France 1917.


Joe Slater was a Geelong champion who fought in WW1 over 100 years ago.


Born November 29, 1888 in Ballarat to Henry and Diana (nee Reynolds), his family moved to Geelong when he was a young boy.


Slater attended Geelong College from 1902 to 1905. He built a fine reputation as a strong athlete, and played 1st XVIII Football in his last two years of school.


He was picked up by Geelong in 1906 as a 17 year old, and played on the half back flank.


Slater was a strong mark overhead, with fantastic pace and efficient use of space. His versatility allowed him to move forward and across the centre, but his true ability lay as a defender.


He kicked 17 goals in his 108 game career, and represented the VFL twice. He was noted as one of the best players of his time.


Duty then called, and in 1909, Slater had been appointed Lieutenant in the Senior Cadet Battalion in Geelong. Six years later, in May 1915, he was sent to Gallipoli. Slater served and survived two years on the frontline in Gallipoli. His Battalion was then transferred to France.


While in France, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. In late 1916 he was appointed commander of a bombing school, taking control of a full bombing division. During this time, he was killed-in-action on the 3rd of May, 1917, in Bullecourt, France.


News of Slater’s death spread quickly through Geelong fans by word of mouth, on their way to a match at Corio Oval. Overwhelming grief filled the country town, at the loss of their home grown hero.


But more important than the loss of a footballer, was the loss of a family member.


It wasn’t just Slater’s immediate family who felt the grief, but everyone who watched him play and lived his football moments with him. They were HIS family too.


In 2001, Joe Henry Slater was selected on the half back flank in the Geelong Cats Team of the Century. This proves how much of an impact he had on the club during his time and how he is in our minds today.


Football can never be compared to war. War is the biggest sacrifice you can make as a person. It’s a harsh fear and extreme loneliness you face.


War is the trust put into your comrades and the risks taken to protect YOUR country.


War is the sacrifice to leave your family, friends and the life you have always known, to do something to defend OTHERS. It’s literally putting your life on the line.


Football is not even close to war. Football is a freedom we are gifted with. It’s a game where we can voice our opinions and emotions freely. It’s a game where we get so entranced by the moment that we forget about the world around us. Football is our escape, from war, from things that don’t always make sense.


The least we can do, as free Australians, is make sure that our soldiers’ heroism and bravery lives on through the way we live our lives.


In memory of our Geelong footballers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.


Your spirit lives on… down at Kardinia Park.


Joseph ‘Alan’ Cordner: April 25, 1915, Gallipoli

Edward McLean: May 1915, Gallipoli

Joe Crowl: June 1915, Gallipoli

James Aitken: August 1915, Gallipoli

Bill Landy: July 1916, France

Arthur McKenzie: July 1916, France

Joe Slater: May 1917, France

Les James: October 1917, Belgium

John Bell: December 1917, Western Front

Ralph Lancaster: August 1942, New Guinea

Jim Knight: October 1943, Milne Bay

Clyde Hellmer: April 1945, New Guinea

Jack Lynch: September 1944, Charter Towers


*A total of 182 Geelong players served their country from the Boer War to the Vietnam War.


About Anna Pavlou

Anna 'Pav' Pavlou is a current student and a born and bred Melburnian who has a passion for sport and sharing people's stories. She is an intern journalist for AFL VICTORIA and writes for The Roar, the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA Media), the Mongrel Punt and is a Melbourne Cricket Club contributor. She also appears on North West FM 98.9 radio show. Most winter weekends you'll find her down at the Ross Gregory Oval in St Kilda, supporting Power House FC, who play in Division 2 in the VAFA. She works as the Division 2 writer for the VAFA. She completed work experience with 3AW Radio and has been published in The Age as well as with Carlton FC and Geelong Cats. Check out her website below for more sport pieces!


  1. Interesting Anna. May is also the centenary of the death my grand uncle Frank Conrick.He was killed in France on the 23rd of May 1917. He lies in the Australian military cemetery in Bapaume. Frank Conrick, like Joe Henry Slater was one of the 60,000 + Australians killed in this ‘great trade war’; all of whom were volunteers.

    As we recall the horrors of 1914-18 we can proudly say the Australian people voted not just once, but twice, to oppose conscription for overseas service during this horrible conflict.

    Lest we forget.


  2. Thanks Anna.

    The effect of this war is still with us. The more you read, the more that will become evident.

    When I read pieces like yours I think of the families, at the time.

    So sad.

  3. Whilst we’re on the topic there’s an interesting conference this Saturday, May 20. “The 1916-17 Anti-Conscription Campaigns- Impacts and Legacies”. Speakers include Barry Jones, Stuart Macintyre and Carolyn Rasmussen.

    It’s being held @ Siteworks in Brunswick, with tickets available from for $20-00.

    I highly recommend the day.


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