Sportsmen for the Front Line

At the tail end of the suggested themes from Sepia Saturday this week was “posters”. And so I’ll start my ramble this week with a poster.

Poster WW1 b

When recruiting for the Australian Imperial Forces during the First World War  a theme was often used to appeal to certain members of the public.  And this time in 1917 it was the sportsmen who were targeted.  As the war progressed taking part in sport became frowned on so why shouldn’t one thousand of these fit and healthy young men go and help the soldiers at the front.  The promise was that they would be kept together from the day they enlisted until the day they came home again, at least for those able to come home.

The theme usually included a well known person as an added attraction.  This time it was Albert Jacka VC, the first Australian to win this honour in this conflict for his bravery at Gallipoli.    In the poster he is surrounded by men taking part in a variety of sports.

It was said that one of the reasons he was such a good soldier, and had such a fighting attitude, was that he had been a boxer before the war. The campaign to enlist sportsmen was fuelled by a strong belief that by playing sport young men developed specific skills and qualities that could be used on the battlefield –     The Age, March 10th, 1917

The Sportsmen’s Thousand Band played  regularly at recruiting rallies around the state,  In towns large and small the band members were billeted by local residents and then the local newspaper would report on the number of recruits.  One such visit on August 10th 1917 was to Castlemaine, which was later  to be the town where I grew up and  the visit was reported the next day in the Bendigo Advertiser.

Last night the Town Hall was packed on the occasion of the recruiting rally.   Stirring addresses were delivered by Mr. D. Mackinnon, Ex-Senator St. Leger. Lieutenant Bolton and Miss Martyn. The Mayor   (Cr. Cornish) presided and introduced the speakers, while the splendid band of the Sportsmen’s Thousand rendered valuable aid. Vocal items were contributed by Miss   Marjorie Eadie and Miss Macoboy, of Bendigo, the meeting was marked by great  enthusiasm.

This is the band .  They had only just been presented with their new instruments in July, according to  The Broadmeadows Camp Sentry. a weekly news publication  for the servicemen training at the Broadmeadows camp.

Sportsmen's Thousand AIF Band

Sportsmen’s Thousand AIF Band

It was this Sportsmen’s Thousand band photo on a postcard which brought me to the poster which introduced this post.  Some time ago  a friend in Geelong  allowed me to copy his postcard  which he had because  his grandfather was a member of the Band.  And there he is, H.E. Monk,  the big chap, seated second from the left.

By October 12th 1917 the soldiers were ready for a lunch time march through the city of Melbourne followed by lunch at the YMCA in St Kilda Rd.  A few days later  a detachment of them  were photographed marching along Alexandra Avenue as reported in “The Winner” on October 17th, 1917.

Sp thous Alexandra Pde March The Winner Oct 17 1917The Winner was a small sporting paper, published weekly. Then on November 14th it  showed some of the “boys”  on board  on their way to England.  This was the winning Tug of War team.   Boys of the Sp Thous 1917

The Australian TV mini-series “Anzacs” in 1985 gave us a fictional taste of how a recruiting rally may have been conducted

And perhaps for more posters, or carting coal , or horses and carts or anything vaguely connected with the afore-mentioned, then go to this week’s Sepia Saturday .


11 thoughts on “Sportsmen for the Front Line

  1. Lorraine (Boobook)

    I’ve never heard of the Sportsmen’s Thousand! (Sigh. I have so much to learn about this amazing world.) A most interesting post, B.


  2. jofeath

    Last weekend we visited the National Library in Canberra and saw more posters there relating to their WW1 exhibition. The advertising was so invidious, making it all sound so enticing, and casting aspersions on anyone who didn’t agree. Would the bandsmen have been able to take their instruments with them? They could hardly have played them on the battlefield.


  3. hmchargue

    My father enlisted in the Canadian army because the recruitment posters led him ( a farm boy from Ontario) to believe he would be experiencing something like boy’s scouts camp and a cruise. The “sportsman” angle is interesting. I saw one Canadian poster which showed hockey players having fun in the foreground (how can you do this?) and soldiers slogging through mud in the background (while your fellow Canadians are doing this?).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mike Brubaker

    A great story and super photos. The band is quite the contrast with the small German band in my post this weekend. By coincidence I’ve been reading a book this week about the changes that WW1 brought about in the world, entitled The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century by David Reynolds. The chapter today was about the ANZAC contributions and how the experience of the war is remembered differently in Australia and New Zealand than in Britain. A volunteer army was considered to be more loyal and effective than conscripted soldiers, but sadly the way that units were organized from the same place caused casualty rates to be very high for some towns. I did not know for instance that New Zealand’s loss of young men was at much higher proportion than other Commonwealth nations.

    Liked by 1 person


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