A History of Rugby in Victoria

researched & written by Ron Grainger

LOST LADS OF 1914

East Melbourne RFC ('Table Talk' newspaper, 6 August 1914)

East Melbourne RFC (‘Table Talk’ newspaper, 6 August 1914)

Two days after WWI was declared (4/8/1914) this photo above appeared of the ‘East Melbourne Rugby Football Team’ in the Victorian newspaper Table Talk.

Frustratingly for us a century on the picture has no other caption and no commentary elsewhere in the newspaper that day or any other, and while there were several match reports in other papers, only that in the Winner of 12 August 1914 gives us a few names of team members:

Once again East Melbourne were seen to advantage and pretty work between Sellers, Russell, Lee and Featherstone culminated in Egan landing a try.

Looking back at this time in Rugby Union in Victoria: The Early Years:we know Easts played Souths at Middle Park ground to bring down the curtain on the season:

In the last match of the competition on 8 August South went down to East 14-8 but still took possession of the [Dewar] Shield by virtue of points gained during their run of wins earlier in the season.

By the time of that last match Australia had entered the war and by early September 1914 newspapers in all States were carrying stories of Rugby players volunteering to join the colours and followed those soon after with the first reports of a seemingly endless stream of casualties.

Alas, without the names of the East Melbourne players and officials appearing in this long-forgotten photograph, it is not possible to identify those who went to War, who fell in battle at Gallipoli or on the ‘Western Front’, or who returned to feature in the eventual post war rebuilding of Rugby in Victoria.

The capital’s Rugby players had been at the forefront of Victoria’s volunteers when war was declared in August 1914. The interests of the game were rightly put aside for the duration.

We know from a letter to the Referee (7 June 1916) and ARU research that the whole East Melbourne team enlisted, including fourteen of whom saw active service at Gallipoli.

Several of of the East Melbourne men were killed in the Dardanelles campaign, and others fell in battles elsewhere.

Reviving the code after the Armistice was no easy task, and it was not until 1926 that Rugby was again back on its feet in Melbourne.

Sadly, the East Melbourne Club was not among those who returned to the field.

Research & content Ron Grainger

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This entry was posted on October 5, 2014 by in History.