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Bill Pettit

Career : 1901
Debut : Round 1, 1901 vs Fitzroy, aged 23 years, 205 days
Carlton Player No. 103
Games : 15
Goals : 0
Last Game : Round 17, 1901 vs South Melbourne, aged 23 years, 317 days
Height : 168 cm (5 ft. 6 in.)
Weight : 73 kg (11 stone, 7 lbs.)
DOB : 11 October, 1877
DOD : 9 November, 1939


In 2015, more than a century after a young Bill Pettit played the last of his 15 senior games for the Navy Blues, his obituary (originally published in The Advocate newspaper in November, 1939) was located via an online newspaper archive. Those few hundred words proved invaluable, because further research uncovered much about Bill that was previously unknown – including his war service in France during World War 1.

William Henry Pettit’s story began when he was born in Carlton in October, 1877. By 1901 he was playing excellent football for inner-suburban club West Richmond when he was recruited by Carlton, and he made his senior debut in the opening round of the new century against Fitzroy at the Brunswick St. Oval. The Blues fielded six new recruits that afternoon, and were beaten by six goals. Bill must have shown some pluck across half-back, because from then on he played in all but two of Carlton’s 17 games for the year. However, after the Blues wound up second-last with just two wins, Pettit left Carlton to join Port Melbourne in the VFA. He spent at least three seasons with the Borough, playing 65 matches and serving as vice-captain.

By 1914, when World War 1 erupted in Europe, Bill was already a long-serving member of the Army Militia, and despite his age (33*) was regarded as a prize recruit. Just one of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who volunteered for active service, Bill enlisted in July, 1915 – and it was then that a simple clerical error resulted in his war service being overlooked by Carlton for the best part of a century. The Army recorded Bill’s surname as Pettitt – not Pettit – a fact that wasn’t realised until April 2015, when it was discovered by Carlton historian Stephen Williamson.

In February, 1916, Bill joined the 15th Australian Field Ambulance, attached to the 60th Battalion fighting on the Western Front. Between bouts in hospital with persistent bronchitis, Bill survived for almost 12 months before his luck ran out and he was seriously wounded by an exploding artillery shell in January, 1917. After six months of treatment he was repatriated home in July of that year, to be discharged as medically unfit for further service.

In the years after the war, Bill renewed his involvement in football as an umpire in the Bendigo Football League while working at the Victorian Railways Workshops. Later, he joined the Water Commission, spending the last 18 years of his working life as a water bailiff at the nearby Crusoe Reservoir. On November 9, 1939 - shortly after the even more costly World War II had begun, Bill died suddenly at the age of 58* - possibly from the lingering effects of his military service. He left behind a wife and five sons. *He had put his age down by 4 years and was actually 62 when he died and 37 when he enlisted.

Footnotes

Pettit’s obituary from The Advocate newspaper of November, 1939 can be found in Bill’s image gallery.

An article published sometime after World War 1 in the journal of the 12th Australian Light Horse Regiment featured an image of a boxing kangaroo named Bill Pettit. At first this seemed curious, because 12 ALH was raised in and around Liverpool, NSW in 1915, before fighting with distinction throughout the Middle East. Yet the caption to the photograph mentioned Bill's association with Carlton, and seemed to allude to a successful boxing career. The mystery was eventually solved when it was discovered that Pettit had actually spent a considerable part of his life on a relatives’ property at Spring Creek, East of Glen Innes. It was there, sometime prior to his enlistment in the AIF, that he briefly joined 12 ALH – having served initially with the Victorian-based 3 ALH. When Bill transferred to his new unit, his family at Spring Creek presented 12 ALH’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Percy Abbott, with the tame young kangaroo that became the Regiments’ mascot, and was named after its donor.

The image of Bill Pettit the mascot can also be found in Bill's image gallery.

The Age, May 21, 1903 (p9) reported that W. Pettit was granted a permit to transfer from Carlton to Port Melbourne.

In the 1911 Peninsula Association Grand Final, a player named Pettit scored the goal that put Frankston in front in the last quarter in the game against Hastings. Frankston held on to win by 4 points. (Mornington Standard - Sept. 16, 1911, p3). Same player?

Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for Bill Pettit | Pettit's Blueseum Image Gallery

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