To any Australian family, sending a loved son, brother, father or any other close relative off to war is surely one of the most harrowing of experiences. In two World Wars, the Carlton Football Club family watched with pride as our sons served with valour in all parts of the globe. And we mourn still, for those who did not return to us.

The earliest recorded Carlton player to have served in war was Henry Crisfield, a policeman from the northern Victorian town of Rutherglen. Between 1899 and 1901, Henry travelled to South Africa, where British and Colonial troops were engaged in a bitter guerrilla war with the independent Dutch-Afrikaner settlers in what soon became known as the Boer War.

More than 600 Australian volunteers died in the fighting in that faraway place, before the sheer weight of numbers and superior equipment won the day for the British and Colonial forces. Happily, Henry survived his time with the Australian contingent, and returned home to play senior football with Carlton in 1902. In his five matches, he kicked three goals.

Despite Federation of the six colonies in 1901, Australia remained a staunchly loyal dominion of the British Empire throughout the first decade and a half of the 20th century. We swore allegiance to His Majesty the King at every opportunity, promptly stood for the British national anthem in theatres and sporting events - and flocked to the recruiting centres when Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914.

The five horrendous years of the First World War (1914 – 1918), cost Australia the lives of 61,720 soldiers, sailors and airmen, with more than twice that number wounded. For a fledgling nation, it was a cruel toll. The flower of a generation; the fittest, the strongest, the bravest and most brilliant were taken from us in the prime of their young lives.

Included in that awful casualty list were 115 young men who had played at least one game of VFL football, but would never again hear the roar of the crowd on a Saturday afternoon. Almost all of them now lie in foreign soil where they fell – many with no known grave.

Slouch Hat
Of the 44 Carlton players (or ex-players) who enlisted for service in World War 1, twelve did not come home or died from wounds. They were:

George Challis (25) 70 games, 16 goals (1915 Premiership player)
Harold Daniel (39) 11 games
Dave Gillespie (29) 5 games, 2 goals
Albert Gourlay (36) 6 games, 1 goal
Tom McCluskey (27) 4 games
Fen McDonald (24) 10 games, 4 goals
Stan McKenzie (25) 14 games, 6 goals
Charlie Oliver (44) 1 game, 1 goal
Alby Paterson (45) 1 game
Jim Pender (39) 15 games, 4 goals
Willie Rogers (25) 3 games
Alf Williamson (23) 11 games, 2 goals

All of these men had relatively short, yet remarkable lives, and each of them would have risked death or injury in the service of their King and country for differing reasons. For some, no doubt it was a sacred duty in defence of the Empire, for others, a promise of adventures in foreign lands. The reality, unfortunately, was vastly different.

Australia (and New Zealand’s) baptism of fire in the poorly-planned, costly and ultimately futile invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli was just a foretaste of the horrors to come. In the stalemate of the Western Front in northern France and Belgium throughout 1916 to 1918, hundreds of thousands of men from both sides died in ill-conceived attacks against well-organised defensive positions, covered by concentrations of modern artillery and massed machine guns. Like two punch-drunk fighters, the Allied and German armies stood toe to toe, blindly throwing punches and trying to bleed the other dry.

In August of 1918, the Allied forces, boosted by the belated entry of the United States into the war, absorbed one last German offensive, and at last began pushing the exhausted invaders back from whence they had come. Australian troops played a decisive role in the desperate battles of Hamel, Mont St Quentin, Peronne and ultimately, the Hindenburg Line on the borders of Germany itself, eventually forcing the German surrender on November 11, 1918. Australia had suffered 40,000 casualties on the Western Front alone, including no less than 5,533 killed or wounded in the first 24 hours of the attack on Fromelles in July, 1916.

Sadly, the horrific lessons of the ‘War to End all Wars,’ were not well learnt. Post-war economic sanctions against Germany, compounded by the world-wide deprivations of the 1928 great depression, plunged the country into crisis, and provided fertile ground for the rise of the ultra-nationalist Nazi movement. Under the charismatic leadership of Adolf Hitler, the Nazis swept to power throughout Germany in 1933 and immediately began a massive program of re-armament.

Hitler’s rise to power inspired his Italian counterpart, Benito Mussolini, and by 1938 Europe was on the brink of armed conflict again. When Germany invaded Poland on the 1st of September 1939 - and ignored an ultimatum to withdraw within 24 hours – the sons of the original Diggers found themselves at war with the same enemy as their fathers. And when Japan joined in, by attacking the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in December 1941, we were truly embroiled in a war that spanned the globe.

This time it would be a larger, more widespread and overall, even costlier war than the last. From 1940 to '45, Australia’s forces again served in every major theatre of operations, from the arctic of northern Russia, to the baking heat of sub-Saharan Africa and the steaming jungles of the south-west Pacific. And as always, the boys from Down Under did their country proud with their courage and resourcefulness under fire.

By the time that this second conflagration ended, with Europe in ruins and two of Japan’s cities devastated by atomic bombs, 39,366 Australians had been killed on active service and another 30,000 were prisoners. The VFL competition endured throughout, because it was regarded as good for morale, but at the height of the conflict barely a week went by when a match wasn’t preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of a fallen player.

In all, 137 Blues signed up for service in World War 2, of whom five gave their lives for their country. Those who fell this time were;

Wilf Atkinson (23) 1 game
Jim Knight (25) 15 games, 7 goals
Norm Le Brun (36) 5 games, 2 goals
Jim Park (32) 128 games, 5 goals. (1938 Premiership player)
Henry Thomson (37) 1 game

As had happened during the previous conflict, news of the death of these young men - who were not only loved by their immediate families, but likewise admired and respected by supporters of other teams – added to the widespread sorrow across Australia, and led to a determination to ensure that because ‘they gave up their tomorrow, so that we may have today’, their sacrifice must not be allowed to fade from our nation’s memory.

So as Anzac Day draws near again, we ask all Carlton supporters - and indeed all Australians – to spare a few minutes in contemplation of the fifteen special young men who wore the Old Dark Navy Blue into battle on the football field, before giving up their lives in the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Men like George Challis; a star wingman in our 1915 Premiership team, who was twice rejected for military service on medical grounds, but who persisted in his quest to serve his country at the cost of his life.

And Jim Pender, who enlisted aged 38, leaving behind a wife and two children. When his officer was caught in barbed wire during a raid, Jim refused to stay in the trenches. He went out on a lone rescue mission and found his man, only to be killed trying to free him.

A comprehensive list of all Blues to have enlisted during wartime, and the circumstances of the deaths of those we lost, can be found in detail here.

Since August 1945, when the Second World War ended with the unconditional Japanese surrender to the Allied nations, Australians have been called upon to take up arms again in smaller wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as regional conflicts in Malaysia and Indonesia. After serving extensively in Iraq, Australia's forces continue to be an integral part of United Nations peacekeeping efforts in East Timor, and the increasingly bloody war against insurgent Islamic fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Happily, Carlton Football Club has not had to mourn the loss of any more of our sons since the end of the Second World War. But that should not for one moment diminish the responsibility that we all hold as members and supporters, to honour for all time the memory of our fallen.

You who come after them – forget not their sacrifice.
Claim as your heritage a portion of their spirit.
And in peace or in war, take up their sword of service.
So shall the living and the dead be for all time
Joined in one brotherhood.