Book Review: Norwood Men Who Served 1914-18

 Bernard Whimpress NORWOOD MEN cover

Norwood Men Who Served 1914-1918

Researcher/compiler: Michael Coligan

Norwood Football Club History Group, 2015

$29.95 pb, 140 pp.

(Available from club, merchandise online at www.norwoodfc.com.au)

Memorialising war is as much about forgetting as remembering. In this and the next few years we will no doubt see many sporting clubs (among other bodies and communities) producing histories making connections with members who served in the armed forces in the First World War. I am ambivalent about this because there is a danger of merely glorifying such service. It depends on how it is handled.

Norwood Men Who Served 1914-1918 researched and compiled by Michael Coligan shows admirable restraint and balance in acknowledging the 81 players and one official who took part in the conflict. Broken into fifteen short chapters the book deals with the outbreak of war, early enlistments, Australian football played overseas, a surprise wedding, the 1915 season of the South Austalian Football League and the Patriotic League that followed, Norwood players who served and died at Gallipoli and other campaigns, the medallists, those who served as a chaplain and as doctors, the welcome home, those who played either side of the war and those who made their debuts on their return.

Philip de Quetteville Robin, a thirty year-old bank teller who had been educated at St Peter’s College, was the first South Australian league footballer to die at Gallipoli on 28 April 1915. A decorated player with 76 appearances for Norwood and seven for his state, Robin is the subject of two lengthy entries: the first of his surprising marriage in the field to Nellie Irene Honeywill on 17 January followed by a brief honeymoon in Cairo; and the second on his scouting expedition to Scrubby Knoll with Arthur Blackburn giving them a sight of the narrow  Dardanelles Strait. Evidence is taken from the Adelaide Observer’s report of the marriage and from Andrew Faulkner’s splendid 2008 biography Arthur Blackurn VC but there is a sting in the tail. Of the 11 signatories to a dinner menu celebrating the wedding at the Grand Continental Hotel five died in the war. Of the Australians who fought at Gallipoli and the 8141 who died there over eight months none who survived got closer to their objective than privates Robin and Blackburn on the first day of the landing.

A starting point for this book was the discovery of a Welcome Home Social program in the Norwood Football Club’s archives. The program from 4 December 1919 listed the surnames and initials of 63 league and reserves players including 13 who had been killed. Further research by members of the NFC History Group – a real team effort – identified a further 18 players and one official including one additional player killed in action. While the Rev. Charles ‘Redwing’ Perry (posthumously awarded the 1915 Magarey Medal in 1998) was accorded a chapter to himself as a chaplain, and doctors (Sir) D’Arcy Cowan and Dean Dawson another chapter, all servicemen receive at least one full page recognition. This democratic approach strikes an ideal tone and is reinforce by current Norwood president Paul Di Iulio in his foreword:

Norwood Men Who Served details the service and playing record of every clubman who served. Many of these men were club champions, leading goalkickers, State representatives, some only played one or two games, one was an official and many played for the Norwood B team. No Norwood player in this book is more important than any other …

The book in A4 format is exquisitely produced and designed. There are several excellent photographs from the war zones as well as two superb pictures of Charles Perry marking at Adelaide Oval in 1920, and Tom Hart in the action at Norwood Oval in 1922. Each player page features an Australian Imperial Force logo at the top and where available the service records are accompanied by photographs of the player in military and football uniforms. Where these are unavailable a slouch hat and club guernsey is substituted.

One of the strengths of Norwood Men is that certain unsavoury details of service records are admitted. Thus we learn that George Goodale forfeited two days pay for ‘inattention on harness cleaning on parade’; that Lawrence McNamara was court martialled for wrongly using a house, the property of the 33rd Battalion, given a 40 day sentence and was docked eight weeks pay – he must have trashed the joint; and that Arthur Green was docked seven days’ pay for being in Ypres, Belgium without a gas respirator in March 1919 although by then the war had been over nearly four months.

Ten players won military decorations. Malcolm ‘Mick’ Bonnar who won both a Military Cross and Military Medal wrote in his diary of his investiture by King George V and quoted the monarch saying: ‘You’re doing pretty well with decorations’ … I glanced at the King’s breast and murmured ‘You’re not doing too badly yourself sir’ … the King replied, ‘On your way, cobber.’ It’s an exchange we would like to think occurred. Hurtle Walker won a Distinguished Conduct Medal and a Military Medal and Bar. Entering the war as a cellarman he returned to the wine industry rising to become a partner and manager of Australian Sparkling Wines, a course followed by his son Norman, a Norwood and state ruckman in the 1950s, and grandson Nick who took the tradition of winemaking and playing for Norwood into a third generation.

Naturally there are sad stories and among those who returned perhaps that of Charles Gibbs is the worst. Wounded by gun-shot to the chest and back in France in April 1917 he was shipped back to Australia at the end of that year. Unable to cope with his condition he attempted suicide in January 1918 by cutting his throat and was discharged medically unfit in March 1918 on a war pension of £3 per fortnight. Subsequently he was admitted to Parkside Mental Hospital suffering from a ‘chronic mental disorder’ and died there, aged fifty-one, in 1939.

A special highlight of the book is the eight page section of colour plates presenting rare items from both the players and club archives including a South Australian recruiting poster, an invitation to a smoke social in 1914 for players going to the front, a race meeting program in Cairo in 1915, a Norwood guernsey, player and membership badges, football honours won by men who served, campaign medals awarded to Norwood players, and the Welcome Home social program of 1919.

Norwood Men Who Served is the second book published by the Norwood Football Club History Group and enormous credit is due to that body as well as to Michael Coligan for his coordinating role and major research. All proceeds go towards the preservation of the Norwood Football Club Archive Collection.

© Bernard Whimpress

April 2015

About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) who has just written his 40th book. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Among his most recent books are George Giffen: A Biography, The Towns: 100 Years of Glory 1919-2018, Joe Darling: Cricketer, Farmer, Politician and Family Man (with Graeme Ryan) and The MCC Official Ashes Treasures (5th edition).

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says

    Looks like an interesting read, Bernard. I’m really impressed by the work of the Norwood History Group. Their website is a fantastic mine of information for Norwood nerds like me.

  2. bernard whimpress says

    I’m sure you’ll enjoy the book Dave.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Bernard greatly appreciated , the book has been meticulously researched
    for Vic people , Santo at Melbourne Sports books is stocking the book , any else who is interested in buying a copy Please text me 0414678815 and I will call you back and organise

  4. Gday Bernard,im a 46yrs young SANFL fan (Glenelg and North Adelaide are my teams.).Mate i”m a former soldier of Aust Heritage.Over the years i have read the “battalion histories”(as well as private diaries) as these were events that shaped my relatives who were also nurses who returned an suppressed pain the rest of their lives.I always suspected the Clubs attempted to include or keep check on their boys. Also have bought the History books of the SANFL Clubs.Books likes this not only provide an insight but also “healing”,for those who can discern the genetic trauma of war that is often inherited by the following generations.Lastly ,these books contribute to a growing awareness of the importance of these and other sporting clubs in the body social.Mate , Kudos to your good self and ill make sure il grabba copy,Good on you cobber,Kev S

  5. Rabid Dog says

    Not a Norwood supporter, but admire the effort (and sacrifice). Well done. Much better than MONGFAW, Hey Book?!

  6. Grand stuff from Michael and the Norwood FC Historical Group. Thanks for sharing it with us Bernard. War and Depression was much of what shaped us and made us what we were; and still sometimes are at our best.
    Along similar lines the prodigious WA author Baden Pratt, who recently released the Life and Times of George Grjlusich (grand read) wrote “Hell for Leather: the forgotten footballers of North Fremantle” in 2008. My good friend Neil Cotton lent me his copy of this beautifully presented book a few months back. It records the trip that 32 current North Fremantle Magpies made to the Western Front graves and battle sites, and records the lives and footy careers of the 11 club members who died there.
    NFFC are a very successful club in the WA Amateur League these days. What I didn’t realise until I read the book, was that they and Midland Junction were fully fledged members of the WAFL until WW1.
    While 11 players died, many more were injured, along with the loss of trainers, coaches, supporters etc. Both clubs were struggling to field teams in 1919, and rather than time and understanding the other clubs ganged up and suspended them – never to return.
    North Fremantle in those days was a tight knit working class community of dock and factory workers. The war and their football club’s banishment cut the heart out of the community – “the Kaiser cut us down and the WAFL finished us off”.
    I’ll borrow the book again and write the story up in the Almanac for the Anzac centenary.

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