As we approach the 100th commemoration of the end of World War I, we take a look back at the impact of war on track and field during the war years and recognise some athletes and administrators who fought for our nation.
When Australia joined the First World War on 4 August 1914, athletics was flourishing across the nation. But it would not be long before this picture changed as war became the greater game.
Athletics Australia extend our most sincere thanks to the men and women who have and still serve Australia through military service. Your contribution has not and will not be forgotten. Lest We Forget.
Through the war years there was constant debate about the continuation of sport. Shortly after Australia joined the war the newspapers of the day noted the mood towards sport’s continuation.
“The recent outbreak of war sees the suspension of many sporting events. There is mixed views on the continuation. Some feel it was our patriotic duty to divert all energy towards the war effort, while others believed sport at a local level would boost the morale of the Australian public.”
In January 1914, Melbourne hosted the national track and field championships. The next edition was due in January 1916, but on 5 August 1915 with Australia’s involvement in the war already one year old, the 1916 Australian championships were cancelled. The 1918 titles were also suspended, but competition resumed in January 1920. Cross Country championships took a long break with no titles between 1912 and 1921.
It was a similar situation in the states. Victoria suspended titles between 1915 and 1920. NSW stopped after 1916 and until 1921. South Australian between 1913 and 1919, however Queensland did continue competition during the period. Western Australia and Tasmania also ceased operations. Upon resumption most states and sporting organisations had chosen to cancel open competition, while school and junior competition continued. Athletics clubs and organisations reported between 60% and 80% of members joining ‘the colours’. At a NSW Sports Club meeting in February 1920 Edward Marks read a letter from the West Australian Athletics Association which stated that 95% of its members had enlisted in the Great War and nearly all of them had been either killed or wounded. WA was reforming clubs with junior members.
Western Suburbs Athletics Club (NSW) - During the war years the club continued to exist but was not very active owing to the enlistment of a great number of members. The club’s honorary secretary Bede McCarthy and Treasurer E.R. Ferris, enlisted and travelled to Europe in 1916. After the war the club was re-established on 21 May 1919. McCarthy had served as a driver in the 26th Battery, while tragically Ferris was killed on the western front.
Essendon and East Melbourne Harriers (Vic) - “Up to 11th July 1914, when all fixtures were abandoned, there were record attendances averaging over 31, and all looked forward to a very successful year, but at this stage, the war clouds were gathering rapidly and when the Mother Country declared war against Germany, it cast a gloom over all outdoor sport and the attendance became less and less as the season advanced”. By 1916, 37 members had enlisted and three were killed. Club championships were named after members killed in the Great War. The 7 mile was called the H. L .Beeson after the pre-war captain and the 5 mile was named after H. L. Fynmore, a St. Thomas secretary. Both were killed at Gallipoli. A 100 yard handicap was introduced to the memory of L. Williamson.
East Sydney Athletics Club (NSW) - Membership which reached a peak of 80 in 1910, dropped to just 13 in 1916. 131 members of the club enlisted in the war, with 23 losing their life. One of the most famous was Alan Scott a leading high jumper who landed in Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and died in Belgium in 1917. Injured in the war was 1912 Olympian Joe Lynch.
SOME BIOGRAPHIES OF ATHLETES AND ADMINISTRATORS IN THE GREAT WAR
Claude Ross (Vic, Malvern Harriers)
Claude Ross was one of only three 1912 Olympians to have died in World War I.
A travelling engineer, Victorian Claude Ross had competed in athletics throughout the world. At the 1912 Olympics he competed in the heats of the 400 metres. On 17 August 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Field Artillery and served in Gallipoli. In 1916 he proceeded to France where he was selected for a commission with the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC). This required a discharge from the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in March 1917.
A 2nd Lieutenant, he was killed in action in France on 19 August 1917.
Wilfred Kent-Hughes (Vic)
Wilfred Kent-Hughes was a remarkable athlete, scholar, politician, sports administrator and war hero.
A Melbourne Grammar student he was accepted as a Rhodes Scholar in 1914, but didn’t take up study until after WWI.
He enlisted in August 1914 and landed in Gallipoli on April 25 and was wounded during that campaign. He remained in the war until 1918, reaching the rank of major, was mentioned in despatches four times and received the Military Cross in 1917.
He commenced his studies at Oxford in 1919. After never appearing in the national athletics rankings, suddenly in July 1920 ran an Australian 400m hurdles record and six weeks later was running for Australia in the 1920 Olympics where he made the 400m hurdles semi-final. His times were five seconds faster than any other Australian that year and he was nationally ranked in the 440 yards and 880 yards. He appeared again in the 1921 and 1922 rankings then disappeared.
After graduating from Oxford and marrying a wealthy American heiress in 1923, he returned to Australia where after a few years he entered politics in 1927. While a serving member of Parliament, he enlisted in WWII in 1940 becoming a colonel. He spent time about three years in prisoner of war camps in Asia, including Singapore’s Changi Prison where he was beaten and half starved.
After the war he returned to politics and then became the chairman of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Committee where he broke with tradition to charge for television footage of the games and followed a suggestion of 17-year-old John Ian Wing for athletes of all nations to parade together at the end of the games. He was knighted in 1957 and remained in parliament until his death in 1970.
Herbert Humphreys Hunter (Vic, Bendigo)
Australian 100 yards record holder in the early 1900s, Bendigo’s Herbert Humphreys Hunter, died at Gallipoli.
At the 1904 National Championship, Hunter was involved in a dramatic run-off for the 100 yards title, which he won against a great NSW athlete Nigel Barker. Two years earlier Hunter had run 9.8 to equal the Australian record, a time which stood until 1930.
Hunter, a dentist, enlisted in the war and was given command of D Company of the 7th Battalion. He arrived at Galliipoli on 25 April 1915 and two weeks later on 8 May 1915 the 7th Battalion were given orders to attack the Turkish front line in the second battle of Krithia.
Hunter, "being an exceptionally fast runner", was at the forefront of operations. A special correspondent for the Melbourne Argus recorded the manner of Captain Hunter's death, writing: “...in some marvellous way he was not hit by a Turkish bullet until late in the morning, although men were killed all about him. He received a flesh wound in the heel, however, when the battle was at its height, he was taken behind the firing line to have the injury cleaned and bandaged. While he was lying on the ground a bullet struck him in the head and he died in a few seconds.”
Bendigo athletics official, Peter Barrett, who has researched Hunter’s career, has organised a commemoration in Bendigo on May 9 to remember Hunter.
George Parke (NSW, South Sydney & Western Suburbs)
George Percy Samuel Parke was one of NSW athletics pioneer officials, along with Richard Coombes, E.S.Marks and W.B.Alexander. Parke, a modest sprinter, who would occasions compete and officiate at the same meet, he was a leading field official and administrator. During his 50 years service to the sport, he was a member of South Sydney and Western Suburbs and served as President and Secretary of NSW athletics. He was a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald writing on athletics and boxing.
He enlisted for the war on 11 September 1915 and was immediately involved in sports, noted the Arrow Newspaper: “The organiser of boxing tournaments at Sydney Stadium that made big profits for his athletics club. As soon as he went into camp at Liverpool, they ran him in as organiser of their sports and he made the same success there.”
On the 15 January 1916 he departed for Europe with the 45th Infantry Battalion. In August, while in France, he was wounded in action. He rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant and was discharged in 1919. He was awarded the British War Medal, Victory Medal and 1914-15 Star. After attending the Vancouver Commonwealth Games in 1954, he and his wife visited France.
He died in January 1956, aged 71 years old.
Allan Humphrey Scott (NSW, East Sydney)
Sydney high jumper, Allan Scott, was a Gallipoli hero.
He arrived in Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and left with the last group in December. He received awards for gallantry, a section of the peninsula was named after him and he was wounded. He was a great tactician in future battles in Europe before being killed in 1917.
He joined East Sydney Athletics Club and aged just 16, in 1908, he placed second in the national high jump championship. While still a teenager in 1911 he equalled the Australian open record with a leap of six feet (1.83m). He became the first NSW athlete over six feet and set a NSW record which would last 14 years.
He enlisted in the AIF on 28 August 1914 and departed Australia in October as captain of the 4th Battalion. He landed at ANZAC Cove soon after dawn on 25 April 1915 and Scott's Point, the farthest spot reached on the day of the landing, was named after him. A few months later he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order award, described by the Government Gazette: 'For conspicuous gallantry in the attack on Lone Pine, Gallipoli Peninsula, on 6th-7th August, 1915. He held on to a very exposed position, until all the wounded had been removed. Later, after a heavy bombing attack in superior force had compelled him to retire, he led a bayonet charge which retook and held the position in face of the enemy's machine gun fire. This position was of great importance, as linking up the positions captured on either flank.”
During the evacuation of ANZAC Cove in December he was in command of the last thirty men of the battalion to leave the trenches. In 1916 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and continued to devise brilliant tactical plans in a number of conflicts in France, Italy and Belgium.
On 1 October he and a British officer, to whom he was explaining the defence of Polygon Wood, were shot dead by a sniper whose location, though known to Intelligence, had not been passed on to Scott. He was a highly decorated officer.
Fred Flowers (NSW, Redfern Harriers)
Fred Flowers was a leading Australian distance runner prior to World War I. He was a painter from Kensington in Sydney and was registered with Redfern Harriers.
He placed third in the 1912 Australian Cross Country Championship and contested one of the first marathons ever held in Australia in 1909, placing seventh in the national championship. But his better distance was 880 yards and the mile. He led the national mile rankings in 1910 and for five consecutive years (1911 to 1914) won a medal in the NSW mile championships. He won the 1912/13 NSW 800m championships in 2:00.4, the fastest time in the event by three seconds.
On 24 August 1914 he enlisted for the war and departed Australia on 20 October 1914. He served in the 1st Field Ambulance, Army Medical Corps. On 18 September 1917 he was killed in action, aged 28, and was buried in The Huts Cemetery, Belgium.
William Alan Stewart (Tas)
William Alan Stewart was one of the best Australian sprinters just prior to WWI.
Born in Tasmania in 1889 he studied medicine at The London Hospital from 1908. Missing selection in the GBR team for the 1912 Olympics, he opted to represent Australasia in the 100m and 200m where he progressed to the semi-finals.
In August 1914, just days after the outbreak of war, his Rugby Union team was advised to join the war. He resigned from his hospital work and signed as a private in the 14th Battalion, The London Regiment.
In 1917 he returned to Australia and commenced medical work in Melbourne Before his death in 1958 he bequeath his estate to the University of Melbourne to establish scholarships.
Brian Colden Antill Pockley (NSW, Sydney University)
Brian Pockley was a leading NSW athlete between 1908 and 1911. In his final year at the Shore school he won the GPS athletics 100, 220, 440, 880, hurdles, long jump and high jump
At Sydney University he gained a double Blue for football and athletics in his first year and during his university years, he excelled particularly in long jump, recording a best of 6.68m in 2010 to rank third in Australia. He competed for Sydney University athletics club, was the club treasurer while studying medicine at the university.
When war broke out in 1914, he was a medical practioner at Sydney Hospital. He applied for a commission in the AIF and was appointed captain in the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF). He departed Australia for German New Guinea (later PNG) on 19 August 1914. He was part of the first landing Kabakaul on 11 September 1914. During the advance towards a German wireless station, they were met with a volley of fire with several men were wounded. Pockley rushed forward to attend to them, and ordered one of the men (Able Seaman William Williams) back to the ship for attention. A stretcher-bearer said, "We'll never get through, Sir". Pockley took off his jacket with its Red Cross brassard on the sleeve, laid it over the wounded man, and said, "This will get you through".
Pockley was immediately shot at close range. Williams and Pockley died that afternoon and Pockley was noted as the first Australian Officer to die in World War I.
John Aminde (Vic)
John Aminde was a talented sprinter who competed in the 1906 130 yard Easter Stawell Gift. Running off 10 yards he placed fifth in the famous race.
In August 1914 he enlisted in the AIF and Private John Bernard Conrad Aminde was sent with his 6th Battalion unit to Egypt on board the HMAT Hororata. After a few months training he was sent to Gallipoli arriving as part of the second wave of landing on 25 April 1915. Under fire, they advance from the beach in an advance on Bolton’s Ridge. He was killed between the landing and the advance, however the exact details of his death are not known and confused.
After initially reported as missing he was confirmed killed in action on the 25th. There are over 900 Commonwealth servicemen buried at Embarkation Pier Cemetery, including more than 660 who, like John, remain unidentified.
Joseph Lynch (NSW, East Sydney)
Joseph Lynch was born on 22 April 1878 in Sydney. He was a man who loved athletics and the theatre, two passions that would take him around the world. Running for the East Sydney club, he was a talented distance running athlete who ranged from 440 yards to the marathon. From about 1905 he was regularly ranked in the top few in the Australian rankings. He was selected in the Australasian team for the 1908 London Olympic Games where he ran the 1500m, 5 mile and marathon. He won national medals and NSW titles during the period 1905 to 1910.
He was also an actor which saw him performing in Australia and the United States, and he eventually returned to the London stages after the Olympics.
He joined the AIF in 1914 at the age of 36. He served with the 4th Reinforcement of the 1st Australian Infantry Battalion. He landed in Gallipoli on 26 May 1915. On August 6, his unit took part in a terrible battle at Lone Pine. After a month leave in September, he returned to Gallipoli for the last two months of the campaign, during which time he was promoted to Lance Corporal. He saw more action in Flanders and in July 1916 was wounded in Somme.He returned to Sydney after the war and never really returned to the sport of athletics. Living a simple life in Sydney, he continued his involvement with the theatre until he was killed in the street by a vehicle in March 1952, aged 74.
Harry Lovell Fynmore (Vic, Essendon)
Secretary of Essendon Athletics club, Harry Fynmore enlisted in the war in June 1915 and joined the 24th Battalion and later served with the 6th Battalion. He was wounded in France in 1916 and later killed in action in France in June 1918.
Ernest Hutcheon (Qld)
Ernest Henry Hutcheon, a barrister, competed in the standing high jump at the London 1908 Olympics. In December 1916 he enlisted in the war and became a Lieutenant Colonel before the war's end. He was badly hurt in a gas attack during the war, which he never fully recovered from. In 1920 he made his Queensland cricket debut. He died in 1937, aged 47.
Thomas Sinton Hewitt (Vic, Malvern Harriers Athletic Club)
While in his early twenties, Thomas Sinton Hewitt was a modest marathoner before the war, but would go onto to be easily Australia’s best in the early 1920’s. Hewitt enlisted in the war in September 1915, but before he departed for the Eueope in May 1916, in the Broadmeadows camp in Victoria, he assisted great Olympic swimmer and later Melbourne Lord Mayor, Frank Beaurepaire organise sporting entertainment for the troops.
While in France with the 39th Battalion, Hewitt, a professional theatrical manager, was made a stage manager of the‘Thee Coo-ees’ a troupe of pierrots formed from various Australian units. When the war ended, he departed London on 1 November 1919 for the six week journey back to Australia. He was discharged in February and six months later he was back in Europe competing in the marathon in the 1920 Olympics, where swimmer Frank Beaurepaire was a team mate.
Harvey Sutton (Vic, Melbourne HH)
Medical practioner Harvey Sutton was an outstanding middle distance runner who won three national titles and ran for Melbourne HH club. In 1902 he led the national 880 yard rankings by a staggering five seconds. Over the next few years he was regularly the national rankings leader over 880 yards and the mile. In 1908 he competed for Australia in the 800m at the Olympic Games, where he placed third in his heat. He set an Australian 880 yards and 800 metres records, the latter lasting for 28 years. Sutton studied medicine at the Uni of Melbourne and then was awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 1905.
As a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, from March 1916 Sutton served with the Australian Imperial Force in Egypt, Sinai, Palestine and Syria. He co-commanded No.7 Sanitary Section, ANZAC Mounted Division, and ANZAC Field Laboratory. After marrying in London in 1917, he returned to Egypt in January 1918 and worked in many hospitals, also surviving the sinking of the hospital ship, Aragon. He was twice mentioned in dispatches (1918 and 1920) and appointed an O.B.E. in 1919.
Upon return to Australia in 1919, he joined the NSW Department of Public Instruction as principal medical officer. He continued to publish articles and books and lecture in medicine until he retired in 1947. He died in Sydney in 1963.
For extended biographies, images of the many athletes and administrators, please download the document below.
Image: Collage of images of Australian athletes who served in World War I – clock-wise from the left – Brian Pockley, Fred Flowers, Joseph Lynch, William Allan Scott, Wilfred Kent Hughes, Allan Humphrey Scott and Claude Ross.
Credits: Paul Jenes, Fletcher McEwen, Peter Hamilton, Brendan Lynch, Bruce Coe, Andrew Reid, Dr Kate Ariotti, Ian Williams, Peter Barrett, Australian War Memorial and National Archive, Athletics Australia