For the first time in almost 90 years since the guns fell silent to signal the end of The Great War, the Carlton Football Club has learned that another of its sons made the supreme sacrifice in the defence of his country.
William Martin “Willie” Rogers
, a defender from Wonthaggi who played three matches for the Blues back in 1913, lost his life on the battlefields of France on September 22, 1918.
Willie was just 22 years and nine months when he enlisted back in February 1916. After his arrival in France, he took part in some of the most desperate battles of the whole conflict. He was wounded, but returned to duty where his bravery and leadership was recognised by his promotion to acting Sergeant.
The circumstances of Willie’s return to active service are cruel. Surviving descendants believe that after he sustained wounds to the foot in France in October 1917, Willie was to have been ferried from England on the next Australia-bound ship.
But he never made it up the gangway. Instead he convalesced abroad and in early 1918 returned to the battlefield. There - tragically, just three weeks before the Armistice was signed - and with victory in sight, he was cut down by a burst of machine gun fire. Critically injured, he was evacuated to a field hospital, only to pass away without regaining consciousness.
William Martin Rogers, one of forty-four Blues who enlisted for active service, was among eleven who were killed in the service of their country.
The ten other Carlton players (or ex-players) to be lost in World War 1 were:
• George Challis
(25) 70 games, 16 goals (1915 Premiership player)
• Harold Daniel
, 39. 11 games.
• Dave Gillespie
(29) five games, two goals
• Tommy Hughes
(26) six games, one goal
• Tom McCluskey
(27) four games
• Fen McDonald
(24) 10 games, four goals
• Stan McKenzie
(25) 14 games, six goals
• Charlie Oliver
(44) 1 game, one goal
• Jim Pender
(39) 15 games, four goals
• Alf Williamson
(23) 11 games, two goals
Remarkably, Willie’s story had remained untold because of a simple typing error. Until November 2007, he was listed in official football records as William “H” Rogers – and no Australians with that name and initial served in the Great War.
It was only when AFL historian Stephen Rodgers dug more deeply that he discovered the mistake. He and Carlton historian Stephen Williamson then teamed up, and thanks to their diligence, together with the support of Willie’s surviving nieces and nephews and The Blueseum’s Warren Tapner, here at last is Willie Rogers’ story.
Willie’s parents John and Mary Rogers originally hailed from inner-western Melbourne. Together they raised six children – Joanna, John junior, Ellen, William, Mary and Catherine – the first two of whom were born in Flemington where the father worked as a butcher.
A niece of Willie’s, Erin Forbes, said that the family was “desperately poor” and had no choice other than to relocate to Gippsland’s Bass-Woolamai region – a little over 110 kilometres south-east of Melbourne - to where John found work at a local sawmill.
But in 1909, in a terrible twist of fate, John was killed when a tree fell on him, leaving Mary widowed and six children including Willie (then 16 years of age) without a father.
John junior and Willie Rogers grew into strapping country lads who worked as labourers in the sawmills that dotted the shores of Westernport Bay in the first decade of the 20th century. Each Saturday in winter, they chased a kick on the football fields of the booming local competition.