Round 6 – Richmond v Melbourne: The Men Who Stayed Behind




Anzac Eve with Tigers taking on the Demons and the very moving tribute to the members of our armed services both past and present. The main focus of the commemoration is directed at the men who went to war and especially those who lost their lives.


But what about the men who didn’t go?


At the outbreak of World War II, the Minister for Defence published a list of ‘reserved occupations’. These occupations belonged to the skilled workers whose vocations were essential to preserve public order and produce equipment and supplies for the war effort. The government encouraged voluntary enlistments, subject to restrictions on men who worked in certain industries. The proviso was that anyone could seek release from their reserved occupation if they felt a moral imperative to enlist.


This created a dilemma for many young men of military age. How could they best serve their country – by doing their jobs at home or by joining the armed services?


There was significant pressure applied to men to join up and do their bit. As former Richmond player Tom Allen recalls, “There was shame at the start. There were white feathers and that, you used to get that. Around Richmond, they’d point the finger. You were a disgrace”.


Both Richmond’s Jack Dyer and Melbourne’s Norm Smith were in reserved occupations. Dyer was a police constable stationed at Footscray in the Criminal Investigation Branch. Smith, described as “a brilliant engineer” by teammate and fellow worker Hugh McPherson, was employed at Millers Ropeworks in Brunswick. Millers provided rope for the ships of the Australian navy.


The choice between enlisting and staying home weighed heavily on both.


Dyer arranged for a personal meeting with Prime Minister John Curtin to ask for his advice. Curtin, a South Fremantle barracker and with a nephew playing for Fitzroy, urged him to remain with the police force.


It was a source of regret for Smith that he stayed on at Millers. Immediately after the war he admitted to the father of a recruit that it was “a very sorry part of my life that I didn’t go; like something’s missing”.


Both men had teammates who served in the armed forces. Dyer had Frank Bourke senior, George Smeaton, Jack Broadstock, Don ‘Mopsy’ Fraser and Bill Cosgrove, a fighter pilot who didn’t make it home. Melbourne had more enlistments than any other club. Smith knew Ted Cordner, Sid Ball, Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott, Gerry Daly, Ron Baggott, Dick Hingston, Wally Lock, Shane McGrath and Alby Rodda. Smith’s brother Len, who coached Richmond in 1964-65, joined the air force and endured Japanese air raids when stationed in Darwin. Smith was close friends with Ron Barassi senior, who was killed at Tobruk in 1941. He was present along with his wife Marjorie when Elza Barassi received the telegram to inform her of her husband’s death.


Men like Dyer and Smith served their country in a time of crisis, but in a different capacity to their contemporaries who fought in the battles. It’s fitting that we should acknowledge them too.


And so to the big Wednesday night clash between the Tigers and the Demons. Melbourne staggers on the edge of the precipice. If they lose tonight they’re one and five with a shot at the finals all but gone. Coach Goodwin rings the changes at the beginning of hostilities and these alterations appear to bear fruit. Tom McDonald back into defence on Lynch, Hibberd tagging Martin and Melksham into the midfield. Viney and Brayshaw provide plenty of drive. Oliver might have the worst haircut in the competition, but he knows how to locate and win the ball. The Demons nail their opportunities and lead by as much as 11 points during the first term.


But these Tigers are not solitary creatures. They hunt in predatory packs. They tackle, harass and force their opponents to dispose of the ball with indecent haste. Richmond threaten to blow the game open in the second quarter, but waste their chances. McIntosh, Baker and Riewoldt send shots out on the full.  Riewoldt misses another and so does Rioli. The Demons have no targets to aim at  in attack. Speculative kicks are picked off by Vlaustin, Houli, Grimes and Broad. Prestia and Lambert impose their authority in the midfield. The game evolves into an intense, physical struggle. Melbourne keep on scrapping but revert to a Paul Roos style retreat into their defence resulting in a dearth of scoring opportunities for both teams.


It’s the same story in the second half. The Tigers tighten the screws with industrial strength pressure and strain for the decisive goals that will surely end Melbourne’s resistance. Frustratingly, these goals fail to materialise. Eventually they break through. When Ellis accepts a handball from Prestia and converts from the edge of the square at the 11-minute mark of the last quarter, Richmond’s lead is out to 24 points and it’s obvious that the night’s work is done. The Demons fall away. Richmond supporters roar with savage delight when 18-year-old Sydney Stack irons out Demon skipper Jack Viney. It’s like the return of Byron Pickett. Viney is ushered into the rooms to have his shoulder attended to. Victorious members applaud wildly as Stack jogs to the interchange bench for a rest a few minutes later while Castagna lines up for his third. The rookie is clearly delighted by the reception he receives. It’s been quite a journey. From his troubled background, to being expelled from the WA development system through misconduct and being overlooked in the draft to being embraced by the Richmond faithful. We also rejoiced in his spectacular mark in the second quarter.


The Tigers score five goals to one in the final term and run out 43-point winners. News comes through that Riewoldt has injured his good right knee. More adversity, more chances for juniors to step up to the front line and take their places in the Richmond system.


I can scarcely imagine the despondency of the Melbourne fans. Touted as the club with the strongest list before the current season and installed as premiership favourites by many pundits, they face another season in an all too familiar wilderness.




Finding Jack Dyer by Tony Hardy

The Red Fox by Ben Collins



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  1. Your Tigers are showing a lot of heart and belief JG. Augurs well for finals if you can get some of your stars back on the park.
    The footballers in war issues you raise have always interested me with their moral ambiguities. As a committed coward I was grateful Gough abolished the Conscription Lottery a year before I turned 18. As an amateur historian I think WW2 is the only war with the Australian involvement that needed to be fought. But I enormously respect the sacrifice of those who served regardless of the merits of the cause.
    When I read that Don Bradman was excused service in WW2 for “poor eyesight” I didn’t know whether to admire his calculation or shun it. Money and influence could always buy a way out of the military draft in the US for the powerful. Trump and Bush Jnr are examples.
    Was fortunate to have lunch today with JTH and Collingwood 46-48 player Raymond Jones who was a gunner on HMAS Australia in WW2 – which saw more active service than any Australian ship. He said only 3 Collingwood players of his contemporaries enlisted. It was a complicated issue for working class men especially Catholics, as it was only 20 years after WW1 which many Irish Catholics had rightly (in my view) seen as an imperial trade war. Archbishop Mannix trenchantly opposed conscription for WW1.
    RJ told a fascinating story about Jack Dyer which goes to the respect you describe by reserve occupation men for serving soldiers. He mentioned seeing a Melbourne-Richmond wartime game (not sure which year) when Melbourne played RAAF fighter pilot and pre-war champion cricketer and footballer Bluey Truscott (killed in 1943). Truscott was clearly in no condition for football and was struggling to touch the ball. Dyer had the reputation as a tough and ruthless footballer. In the last quarter Dyer turned and kicked the ball for Truscott to goal – as a sign of respect.

  2. John Green says

    Thanks Peter. You raise some fascinating issues concerning the notion of war, duty and sacrifice; as well as the individuals who may have taken the easy way out. I’m aware of the circumstances of Bluey Truscott’s appearance for Melbourne against Richmond at Punt Road in 1942. A great story. Did you know that Truscott was the cousin of Jack Dyer’s wife, Sybil?

  3. John, re the first of these wars, the ‘Great Trade War’, as Archbishop Mannix so correctly described, it Australia had not one, but two, plebiscites about conscripting our young men to fight and die overseas.

    Despite enormous pressures Australia twice voted NO. The first AIF was the only fully volunteer army in this war.

    Sadly contemporary reports of this period don’t want to talk about this, as the focus is on the ‘pivotal’ role of war in making Australia. I had five members of my family serve overseas during this trade war. The four who returned were all severely scarred by their experiences.

    Those who didn’t chose to fight in this trade war were also courageous. Truly not courageous in the sense of braving shell and shot, but courageous in being able to see through the propaganda, and BS that was flying around. The wealthy always seemed to avoid the wars, the worker doesn’t. What did Brecht say about ‘ war being a worker at each end of a bayonet’.


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