It was 1916, and Europe has tragically immersed in World War I. The Australian soldiers were at an all-time low in their morale. The war claimed many Aussie “Diggers” in France near the town of Fromelles during what is considered as the bloodiest battle which Australia had. In the aftermath of this battle, the Australian Imperial Force gathered in London to prepare themselves before joining forces again with the Western Front. From this very dire situation, a glorious moment in history was born.
Playing Australian Football on Foreign Soil
During this dark period, the former Premier of Western Australia was the commander of the Australian forces based in the United Kingdom. The 46-year old Brigadier-General Sir Newton Moore came up with a brilliant plan to lift the spirits within the group. He was convinced that an exhibition game of their favourite local sport will give his men hope and courage again to persevere. As contributing feel-good factor to this event, all the proceeds which they would generate from this game would be donated to the Red Cross, which was delivering the much needed medical assistance on the battlefield.
After the plans were approved by General John Monash, the game was organized by the world record-holder in swimming, Lieutenant Frank Beaurepaire. The entire organization process took three months to complete and 28 October 1916 was the date set for the first organized game of Australian Football to be played on foreign soil ever. The face-off between the Combined Training Units and the Third Division took place in West Kensington near the Queen’s Club.
Training Soldiers into Excellence
The preparations for the event included some severe training sessions before the teams were picked. The aim was to get teams at least together, which will make decent representatives for their state. Decent teams were indeed what they ended up with. At least twelve of the players in this pioneering game had already represented their states in the past. In the Third Division, they had a bucket load of talent backing up captain Bruce Sloss who was a South Melbourne star in full right. On the competing side, they had the Norwood champion, Charlie “Redwing” Perry as their captain with as much talent and skill making up his team.
This pioneering game in history received significant coverage in a newspaper from all over the world. Through a massive PR campaign, the crowd drawn is being estimated at thousands. The event had the interest of the royal family and especially the Prince of Wales had a keen interest in the game. He sent a gilt-edged invitation to the event to his third cousin Manuel II, the former King of Portugal.
The event managed to raise £1000 which is valued today around $153 000 and the entire amount was donated to the Red Cross branches in Britain and France. Even more important is that the Australian soldiers had a great improvement in morale. Together these two teams managed to create a happy moment in wartime history.