The anxious look of a ruckman – the true story of ‘Bub’ Smith

Lest We Forget


For Anzac Day, here is a story about a footballer you probably have never heard of but who had a second chance at life and used it for the game.


Stan ‘Bub’ Smith played most of his footy before he enlisted but the best photograph of him was taken after the war in a match against Port Adelaide at Thebarton Oval.



Courtesy State Library of SA



The picture was likely taken in July 1947. It captures the ruckman kicking on the run and the look on his face suggests it is touch-and-go whether the ball is going to reach its target. It wouldn’t surprise the champion of that era Bob Hank who described Smith to David Burtenshaw in the club history book Best of Both Worlds.

‘Bub was a great bloke. He was big but you always had to be careful because he’d handball it to you when you weren’t looking. He didn’t want to kick the ball much.’


It is a reasonable reflection of his 58-game career that straddled the broken years of the Second World War. He was a worker, not a star.


He enlisted on a Saturday night in June 1940 after having played in a draw against West Adelaide on Adelaide Oval earlier in the day. Smith served with the 2/48 Battalion which, according to the Australian War Memorial, was the highest decorated unit of the war. They formed up at the Wayville Showgrounds which had been commandeered by the military – having booted Westies out to play their games back in the city.


Smith trained alongside his West Torrens vice-captain Don Waite who had enlisted the week before he did. They shipped out of Fremantle in November, spent Christmas in the Middle East and by April were at Tobruk. Four months later Waite was killed. Smith was shot in the neck with the bullet lodging in his throat near his jugular vein.


It was Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop who saved his life. His medical treatment was such that Smith continued through the war serving in New Guinea and Borneo before being discharged in November 1945.


He played his first game back with West Torrens in July 1946. He wasn’t first choice with Don Prior emerging as the number one big man. Over the next few seasons, Smith was used sporadically with the only mention of his play being in a newspaper report after a game against South Adelaide in 1947 saying he ‘rucked intelligently’. He was the last man picked for the 1948 Grand Final and sat on the bench watching Norwood run away with the premiership. It was his final game of football.


Smith had every reason to be sour on life and football, but he acted against the darkness and embraced the light the game could provide. He started on the Social Committee, then Management and became, at various stages, Treasurer and Secretary. He looked after the Past Players and then ran the Eagles Club where he was a magnet for ex-team and army mates.


His wit was dry and an outburst of laughter rare, but he drew people to the club and after matches on Saturday nights the place was brimming. Supporters of the day suggest Smith had a loose compliance with the licensing laws controlling when he was supposed to lock the place up.


In 1951, the SANFL celebrated its jubilee season by scheduling league matches around the state at country ovals. West Torrens drew Port Adelaide at Mount Gambier and so Smith was part of a carload of club officials that headed to the South-East.


Late on Friday afternoon, their vehicle crashed trying to overtake another car near Naracoorte. The accident killed a former state and Torrens player Ern Hine and injured five others. Smith was thrown from the wreck and spent weeks in hospital recovering from head injuries and a fractured pelvis.


He moved stiffly afterward but didn’t lose his determination. He always pushed for the game to be spread for kids. As Adelaide developed after the war, he was part of a group that got the Gepps Cross juniors started in weed-infested paddocks on the northern edge of the city. Among league footballers the club produced were the Sachse brothers, David Cearns, Barry Bamford, Martin Pike and Brenton Phillips.


He retired in 1980. The Woodville-West Torrens Eagles created the ‘Bub’ Smith Program in 1989 to provide young talented footballers from regional areas the chance to play for the club at Under 15 level each year.


Stan ‘Bub’ Smith died in 1998 at the age of 79.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a freelance journo in SA. His scribblings include "The Summer of Barry", "Chappell's Last Stand" and the biography of Neil Sachse.


  1. Kevin Lewis says

    A terrific bloke ,a giant of a man with a great story.
    Loved it when West Torrens Cricket Club was at Thebarton Oval.Bub managed the Eagles Club ,spent many a players tea in the Eagles Club and after game drinks.Bub looked after the cricketer’s so well.

  2. Michael Rehn says

    Unsung heroes are the real lifeblood of any sporting club, and it is great to see them recognized and applauded for their deeds !!!

  3. Fabulous story thanks Michael. Really well told. As Michael Rehn suggests, a Club can never have too many stalwarts like Bub.

  4. Graeme Adams says

    Does anyone out there know what number he wore in the 1948 Grand Final? He’s not listed in the budget.

    Interesting article.

  5. Michael Redden says

    My father Jack was in the 2/48th with Bub & I grew up a staunch Eagles fan – loved Fred Bills , Glen Pill , Lindsay Head , Reggie Gibson , Tracy Braidwood ,Brian Mulvihill among many others . Bub often took me into the rooms to get autographs & one highlight was meeting John Birt before the drawn first semi against Westies in 1969 .
    Bub came to the farm often & I listened with great interest to stories of their exploits in the Middle East & New Guinea , mostly funny stories & they rarely mentioned anything of actual warfare .Great to see this story at ANZAC ,they gave so much for us , cheers , Mick Redden

  6. Lin Fielke says

    I was invited to Torrens from Yankalilla in 1967 to play U19s and later managed to play league footy. I stayed with the Smith family for 4 weeks until the club found me permanent board by Thebby Oval. They took this country kid under their wings as part of their family during that tme. I have and will always appreciate their kindness and generosity.

  7. Chris Daley says

    Great story. Thanks.

  8. Lee Harradine says

    Lovely story. My father was in the same battalion, the 2/48th.

  9. Graham Cornes says

    Terrific story. Met him when I played a trial game for Torrens in 1967. And if my memory serves me correctly he travelled on state trips as a club delegate. Wish I had known more of him and his history. Like so many of those old soldiers, they just got on with their lives without any need for fanfare or gratification.

  10. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Another ripper Mike – thanks again.

    PS – I think I recognise the lovely lady in the photo of the War Memorial.

  11. Paul Marks says

    Growing up as a die-hard Torrens fan the name Bub Smith was massive around the Club. However, I never knew this fabulous story about Bub’s history with Torrens and his war service, so well written by Michael Sexton. I also note the comments written here by the great Mick Redden. It now makes perfect sense why Mick was an ornament of the game who everyone loved…………he grew up idolizing the West Torrens Football Club! Pity you never played for us, Mick.

  12. GLEN PILL says

    Great player & official for WTFC , shared many beers in his company, remember hearing the sory re Rats of Tobruk( this one is still alive!) Certainly enjoyed life after 2 near death experiences, will always remember exit from Motor Club in Sydney, big belly flop to footpath from top step , complained we did not catch him!!, 1st to recommend Seaview Claret,

  13. Clint Giles says

    Another great article!
    My father was also in the 2nd 48th battalion with Bubba Smith. Bubba and ‘Diver’ Derrick (the most decorated Australian soldier in WW2), were great mates apparently and did night missions together in North Africa. Both very brave men.
    When I was at the West Torrens club Bubba ran the Eagles Club and he was a legend. He was a giant of a man and in those days he had put on a bit of weight so he was a very imposing figure. It would always make me smile when he would address my father, with was a big man himself as “young Noel,” (I was not used to people calling my dad young – but on reflection he would have been a young lad in the war to Bubba as dad had been underage when he enlisted). He certainly had the respect of everyone at the club.
    I wish I had spent more time talking to the great man in my time there when I had the opportunity.!
    Lest we forget!

  14. bernard whimpress says

    A brilliant profile, Mike. Terrific to see a lesser-light getting a guernsey and love that phrase about ‘loose compliance with licensing laws’.

  15. Remember Bub at the club, I didn’t know this background only that he played, I found him a very nice person and was always surrounded by people telling stories I suppose, would always say gidday with a nod and a wink, you got the impression he was the king there as people would gravitate to him x

  16. Wonderful tribute to an “unknown soldier”. Thanks Mike. I knew nothing of Bub, despite growing up on the mound at Thebby in the 60’s. So many great names mentioned in the thread by Mike Redden in particular. Reggie Gibson was brother of my childhood hero Bobby Gibson. No Torrens player was more reliable than Bobby when times were tough – as they often were. Inspired me to dig through the boxes for my autograph book and photos from the early 60’s. Will scan and post with some memories. Thanks to all who contributed. Relights a flame I felt had died.

  17. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Mike superb as always and it’s certainly struck a chord on some,SA footy face book pages in particular
    West Torrens thank you

  18. Bernard Smith says

    A great article, Bub is my father so maybe a little bias. Luckily I was told of it by a friend. A nice Anzac Day touch. I had never seen the photograph and the story rekindled some long forgotten memories. I enjoyed reading the comments, Jack Redden and Bub were great mates, Diver Derrick’s photo is on the front page of dad’s photo album which contains many pictures of his time in the army especially from Palestine.
    The West Torrens Football Club was a huge part of his life.
    Well written Michael thanks.

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