Ahead of our ANZAC Round clash against the Hurricanes on Sunday April 26, our QRU Archivists have found a number of Queensland players from the early 1900s who served in WWI.
From the backyards of Australia, they enlisted coast to coast
From the farmlands of New Zealand, they came forth to take their post
And from fields of rugby rivalry, they set aside their qualms
To unite on fields of battle… they were brothers joined in arms
In blood, they carved the treaty of their everlasting bond
A species known as ANZAC… now with pride, their ghosts respond
On both sides of the Tasman – take a moment now to pause
Sporting dreams were put on hold – they rallied for the cause
Men like Vernon Cameron! Eric Francis! Arthur Cripps!
With sheer determination, their commitment came to grips
‘Straight of limb and eyes aglow’… the book of legend states
And their effort stopped at nothing for their country… for their mates
Who was Sydney Cumes you ask? The answer will resound
Syd signed up for duty on the streets outside this ground!
The Great War called them forward, their allegiance bravely put
We rise for big Bill Swenson and we stand for Lenny Foote!
And we elevate Viv Cooper for his gallantry as well
The medals on his heart define a tale we have to tell
From trenches on the Western Front to shores of Anzac Cove
We honour ‘Rusty’ Richards and the selfless way he strove
He won the Cross for Valour – feel the shiver, take it in
In the name of Bluey Thompson! For the sake of Hughie Flynn!
They saved the lives of others showing courage to the bone
And tragically, in doing so, it cost young Hugh his own…
These men played for Queensland – others ran out for the Canes
Their company departed…but their quality remains
Loyalty uncompromised, the flag of mateship flew
They were hard and they were humble…and they loved their rugby too
What revives our ANZACs when the bugle has its way?
They represent the freedom that we celebrate today
They grace this opportunity, this moment now at hand
Their sacrifice lends spirit to the children of our lands
They played the game with passion, for enjoyment and release
They will never be forgotten…may they proudly rest in peace
Rupert McCall, 2015
Flanker Vivian Cooper was a gifted athlete and born leader. These attributes aided his sporting success for Past Grammar Rugby Club as well as in two games for Queensland. A specialist flanker, Cooper strength was his discipline and gumption.
Although the Great War put an end to Cooper’s rugby days, it launched one of our states most illustrious military careers. HMAT Shropshire took the former number 7 From Brisbane in August 1915 to Egypt with his 26th Infantry battalion. After serving at Gallipoli, Cooper was sent to the Western Front. His actions throughout the hellish trench warfare earned him three serious wounds, a promotion to Captain, British War Medal, a 1914-1915 Star, a Distinguished Service Order and, at request of the King, a Military Cross.
His list of accolades stemmed from the following recommendations made by his commanding officers between 1916 and the end of the War:
Distinguished Service Order
“For conspicuous gallantry in action. He repulsed a strong enemy counter attack, and, when his battalion was relieved, remained in the position. When the enemy attacked he opened fire on them from a point which he had selected, killing large numbers. Ninety one prisoners were taken by his battalion, twenty surrendering personally to Lieutenant Cooper.”
“During an attack east of Mount St. Quentin, on 2nd September 1918, the ground over which this Officers’ company advance was defended by a large number of machine guns. On two occasions, with a small compliment of men, he rushed the machine gun posts and killed the crews. He enveloped many other positions and reduced them. His splendid example so inspired his men that their advance continued against tremendous odds, and on his sector alone, 30 enemy machine guns were counted and a large number of enemy dead.”
Captain Vivian Cooper’s crowning achievement was his 1919 Victory Medal. Despite consistent disregard for his own wellbeing, and moments of incomprehensible bravery, Cooper survived the war and returned a hero. The physical and mental abilities which served him so well in his brief rugby career became invaluable assets to his regiment, and ultimately his nation.
Born the same year as Queensland Rugby, 1882, at Vegetable Creek to two British immigrants during the Gold Rush, Richard’s love of rugby began when the touring New South Wales side visited his home at Charters Towers. Nicknamed ‘Rusty’ the tall, broad flanker went on to represent Queensland, Transvaal, Bristol, Toulouse, British & Irish Lions as well as the Wallabies and Australia at the 1908 Olympics in London, all before enlisting in the AIF in 1914. As an already accomplished athlete, with a Olympic gold medal among his many Rugby trophies, Richard’s military career could only have been excellent.
On the 25th of April 1915, Rusty landed at Gallipoli. Serving as a stretcher bearer, he took only 6 weeks to be commended for ‘conspicuous acts of gallantry.’ Upon the withdrawal from the Turkish peninsular, Rusty was shipped to the deadly Western Front, where he was commissioned Second Lieutenant before joining the 1st Infantry Battalion. During the Battle of Arras in France he led a nineteen-man bombing party and earned himself a Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”.
His devotion became only more assured when he was twice evacuated to London with serious injury from bomb blasts, returning each time to the cold wet trenches of central France.
The outstanding military career capped of a remarkable sporting one, and, returning home safely in 1919, Thomas Rusty Richards has since been inducted into the Wallabies Hall of fame, and remains one of the greatest Queensland players.
Syndey Cumes’ performance at flanker for his Brisbane Club, Valleys made him one of the first to be selected for Queensland in 1914 series against New South Wales. This competition was disbanded, as Sydney, along with approximately five-thousand other Rugby players from across Australia left to fight in the First World War.
Enlisting at the age of 24, on the Soudan Estate where Suncorp Stadium now sits, Cumes’ remarkable physical ability and leadership skills served him well throughout North Africa and Europe with the 5th Light horse Regiment. Returning home safely as a decorated Officer, Sydney decided his days of fighting were over, and did not return to what could have been a stirling Rugby career.
Representing his state in four hard-fought matches against our southern rivals before bravely giving four years to fight German Imperialism, the service Officer Sydney Oliver Cumes will never be forgotten or diminished.
Bluey Thompson became a stalwart for his home state of Queensland between 1909 and 1914. After the war he became the only Rugby and War Veteran to return to the field and continue playing for Brothers and Queensland. A versatile forward, Bluey played position 1, 2, 3 and 6 with aplomb. His ruthlessly calm demeanour made him an unshakeable defender and a respected member of the Army Medical Corps. Thompson’s twelve Queensland Caps, a remarkable feat for the time, were made over a decade between his debut in 1909 and his reluctant finale in 1919, before the QRU disbanded. If not for the Great War, and the consequential hardship suffered by Queensland Rugby, Toowoomba’s own John “Bluey” Thompson could have been our state’s most prolific forward.
Bluey’s relentless protection of his Queensland teammates against the consistently larger New South Wales pack translated well into his military career, caring for and rescuing countless brothers across Europe during his medical service.
His Attestation reads, “I will resist His Majesty’s enemies and cause His Majesty’s peace to be kept and maintained; and I will in all matters appertaining to my service faithfully discharge my duty according to law. So Help Me, God.” He had his 30th birthday serving on the Western Front and returned home safely having fulfilled his oath admirably. His faithful service to Queensland Rugby, as well as his selfless loyalty to Australia and Britain earn him a special place in the history of our game and state.
Arthur’s one game for Queensland was a dramatic 25-11 win over New South Wales in 1901. As well as excelling at rugby, Cripps was a renowned boxer. By 1909 he had been the Queensland Amateur Middleweight Champion and held the title of Australasian ‘Light-Heavyweight’ Champion.
In 1917, after seeing so many of his mates enlist and serve, Cripps decided to do the same. Leaving a wife and three children behind, his tour saw him in various posts across Europe. Aside from being hospitalised once for exhaustion, Cripps record is one of strength and endurance. He returned safely home in 1919. With his slouch hat, rugby boots and boxing gloves hung up, Cripps returned to farming. A drawn out battle with cancer finally took the great man aged 55. He now rests in South Brisbane Cemetery.
Educated at Ipswich Grammar, Leonard Foote was one of six sons of John Foote of Cribb & Foote Department Stores. While the eldest brother went on to be a partner in the business, the others were able to study and make their own careers. After receiving a university scholarship, Leonard began an engineering degree at the University of Queensland. Between his enrolment and his enlistment in 1915, he would represent his state three times in Rugby Union. The highlight of his rugby career is a game-changing try against the touring New Zealand Maoris in 1913.
He spent six long months with the 3rd Field Ambulance Brigade at Gallipoli, treating those who fought at Lone Pine and The Nek amongst others. After the defeat he travelled to Egypt and eventually England to train as an officer. The ensuing combat career was very short. In late 1917, during an attack on Broodseinde Ridge in Belgium, he received a grievous gunshot wound to the chest. Although severe, he was well taken care of in a field hospital and, after an extended stay at a convalescence house, was discharged and returned to Brisbane and became a anaesthetist at the military hospital, married and had four children.
Between being named prefect at Ipswich Grammar School in 1913 and being honoured as Queensland’s oldest living international during the QRU’s Centenary celebrations in 1982, Eric Francis achieved a great deal. A member of an athletically gifted family, Eric played Rugby and Cricket with equal skill and devotion. For a time he even held the state record for the 440 yard race with a time of 50.1 seconds.
Aged 19 Francis took the field for the University of Queensland at fullback, behind older brother Stan in the centres. His first appearance for QLD earned him a spot ahead of skipper Jimmy Flynn in a dour, wet game against New South Wales in 1914. He was soon selected on the wing for a test against the All Blacks. This match saw the tourists being beaten 5-0 in appalling conditions. With his skills proven, Eric Francis was set to become a renowned rugby stalwart.
The Great War put an end to such aspirations. In July 1915 Francis enlisted in the 15th Infantry battalion and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. After serving admirably and graduating as Flight Officer, Francis returned to Australia and picked up his sporting career. With the QRU in post-war hibernation, his attentions turned to cricket. He was selected as 12th man for Queensland. Eric survived to witness the Golden Era of Queensland Rugby, at age 88, attended it’s centenary. His legacy was further enhanced as his Grandson John Roe attained 107 games for Queensland, many of them as captain.
The versatile Brothers forward, who cemented his spot in Queensland’s 1910 squad and played in a rare win against New South Wales in Sydney, enlisted to fight in January 1916. Just as the War had ended his extensive rugby career His service was cut short by injury.In 1918 while fighting in France Swenson, having only recently been discharged from hospital with sickness, was seriously injured. He was transferred to a facility in England to recover and eventually returned home to Sandgate. Swenson was awarded the Victory and British War Medal for his service. Although only in his mid-twenties upon repatriation, he was unable to continue his passion of rugby. Even though both were dramatically compromised, Swenson’s rugby and military careers are a testament to the man’s dedication and resistance.
Brother to Queensland Hall of Famers Jimmy Flynn, Hugh led a committed and fruitful rugby career. He represented Queensland between 1911 and 1913. His brother having already established himself as a Queensland Rugby hero was only once able to play for his state alongside his younger, though far taller brother. The game was, however, particularly memorable. On Tour in Sydney, the QLD team put on four tries to edge New South Wales by a single point. A year later the War had begun and Hugh, age 24, decided to enlist.
Serving with the 3rd Field Ambulance division, Hugh excelled at his duties. In France, mid-1916 he bravely continued to sweep the fields for injured soldiers even under heavy artillery fire. For this action was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry. After a brief sabbatical in England, Hugh returned to the trenches. After only a few months he was killed. His service was spent unarmed, selflessly aiding those who were wounded. After almost two years of risking his life for this purpose, it was taken.
The Flynn family continued to play a major role in Queensland Rugby with his brother Jimmy becoming a state and national selector. The service of the younger Flynn will never diminish or be forgotten.
Vernon Cameron was among Australia’s first soldiers. Having lied about his age, he served in the Boer War with the first battalions to represent Australia as a federated nation. Between the Boer defeat in 1902 and the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, Cameron married, had two healthy children and excelled at rugby. He played club rugby for Souths and represented Queensland on the wing two times during 1911. In early June 1916, aged 34, Cameron enlisted to once again fight for Australia. He left his family home in Sandgate to serve with the 2nd Light Horse. He served in the deserts across North Africa until being discharged in early 1918 with severe arthritis. His years of fighting and training, both with the AIF and the QRU had caught up to the now 36 year old. He returned to his family and Australia later the same year.
25 JUNE 2019