It's estimated that around 750 soldiers from Australia and New Zealand died on the 25th April 1915, the day that they landed at Anzac Cove.
Like many young Australians, most of the soldiers loved to play AFL and the world of professional sport provided a wealth of fit men for service.
As Australians paused for a minutes’ silence on Wednesday to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War (1914–18), The Huffington Post Australia would like to take a look at some of the professional Aussie Rules players who lost their lives.
Here’s a snapshot of tragic stories, provided by Findmypast, about the AFL players who never made it home.
Charlie Fincher. Picture War Memorial
Charlie Fincher, 23, was one of Essendon’s star players. The club showered him with gifts when he signed up to fight as a volunteer. He reportedly told people, “if I’m not playing against the Germans next season, I’ll be found in the uniform of the same old red and black". Sadly, Fincher was killed on the beach, just moments after the troops landed.
In his last letter home to his mother he wrote: "Don't worry about me; I think too much of my country and parents to become a waster; I want to do my share of the fighting and yours, too; I intend to do my best for King and Country".
Rupert Balfe. Picture War Memorial
Rupert Balfe, 25, played for Brunswick before serving as Second Lieutenant of the 6th Battalion of the First Australian Imperial Force. He was killed on the beaches of Anzac Cove, on the first day of the landing.
One of his officers wrote highly of him: "I have not been able to find any details of his death, but I hear he was seen with a handful of men surrounded by a large body of Turks, and fighting desperately with bayonets till all were killed. Whether this is true or not, it is just as I would have expected him to fight, with no thought of surrender, and game to the last."
Balfe was also close friends with future Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who was so touched by Balfe’s death, he wrote a poem for him, which concluded with the lines: "Sleep, gallant soul! Though gone thy living breath, thou liv'st for aye, for thou has conquered death!"
Alan Cordner. Picture War Memorial
Alan Cordner had enjoyed a career playing for both Geelong and Collingwood, and was said to have played one final match for Collingwood on the day before he enlisted. He was reportedly shot while retreating back to Australian lines yet his body was never found. One of Cordner’s superiors wrote:
"The casualty (Cordner), the informant, and two or three others got separated from their own men ... they were in the firing line about two miles from the beach. The informant was next to the casualty when he was shot. He tried to make the casualty speak and shook him, but could not move him from where he was."
Fen McDonald. Picture War Memorial
Claude Crowl and Fenley McDonald both made their Victorian Football League debuts in the same match, playing for opposing teams; Crowl for St Kilda and McDonald for Carlton. The men regularly trained together and left Melbourne on the same day (although on separate ships).
Crowl was described in the Great Southern Advocate as "a fine sample of Australian manhood". McDonald was the youngest in a family of eight children. In official records, he answered many of his questions with a flurry of question marks. The question "Are you married?" was met with a firm "No!"
As neither Crowl nor McDonald’s bodies were ever found, it’s not known exactly when or where they were killed. Many soldiers were buried where they fell. McDonald’s devastated father wrote countless letters, trying to discover the whereabouts of his son’s body.
Arthur Pearce. Picture War Memorial
Arthur ‘Joe’ Pearce, 30, was a well-known player for Melbourne and is believed to be one of the first men killed at Gallipoli. He was tragically shot even before his boat had reached the land. According to Findmypast records, Pearce is remembered as having a very strong sense of right and wrong, refusing payment, even just expenses, for his sporting appearances.
Shortly before he left for war, Pearce wrote: “I have thought this thing over, and I have considered it every way. I am young, strong, healthy, athletic, and I think I ought to go, and if I don't come back, well, it won't matter too much".
AFL Anzacs, lest we forget.