We march for our (team) mates

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GARY HASLER is the president of the North Fremantle Football Club, whose young members marching in this year’s Anzac Parade caught the eye of Chook reader R Johnston (Herald letters, May 4, 2013). In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED Mr Hasler (although we suspect some ghost-writing from Magpies tragic Baden Pratt) explains the club’s very special connection to Anzac Day.

Thank you R Johnson (“War not a game”) for asking why our Colts (aged 17, 18, 19, 20) take part in the annual Fremantle Anzac Day parade.

Our young men walk behind a banner containing the names of North Fremantle footballers killed in World War I (11), World War II (12) and Vietnam (one). They learn of our two young footballers fighting in Afghanistan today, of Joe Corkhill who’d fought in the Boer War and who returned to Australia in 1902 to play 131 games for North Fremantle.


This year they were told of the life of William Thomas “Billy” Maddern (MM), his ambitions, his circumstances, his being mentioned in despatches as worthy of a Military Medal (later awarded), and of the tragedy that resulted in never meeting his daughter, Evelyn, born after he’d left Australia. They understand that Billy’s football fitness resulted in him being used as a runner at The Windmill, Pozieres; of his being wounded three times as he ran messages across an area so sown with Australian dead that war historian CEW Bean described it as, “walking across parts of the ground near Pozieres Windmill is like trying to walk across honeycomb. . . the dead lay sometimes in batches of 10 or 12 together, especially in the 28th”.

Billy Maddern was in the 2/28th Battalion and died on his 26th birthday. Eight teammates are buried in France or are named on a memorial because their bodies were never found. Two other North Fremantle footballers died at Gallipoli. No football club in Australia lost more footballers than North Fremantle in World War I, though both South Fremantle and East Fremantle footballers were also killed.

All credit to the Fremantle Dockers for holding an annual Len Hall game.

Our North Fremantle Colts have paid their own way to visit every gravesite or memorial of our players killed at both the Western Front or at Gallipoli; we have held memorial services at each site with a Colt leading the service; we have laid wreaths, recited the Ode, played the Last Post and, yes, had readings from The Bible to honour their names. There is sadness, anger at the folly, knowledge it could have been them in another time, a resolve to honour our fallen footballers and tell their story.

This year 43 of our Colts took part in Anzac Day ceremonies, exactly the same number of footballers from North Fremantle who’d volunteered to enlist for World War I, where 11 were killed and 32 badly wounded.

There is no “mateship” compulsion for our Colts to march, the players make their own decision. Our club honours our fallen footballers every year. We place a wreath on the Fremantle Monument during the Dawn Service, attend the Bicton-Palmyra RSL’s wreath-laying ceremony at the Fallen Soldiers Monument in North Fremantle, and take part in the Anzac Day parade, invited by the Fremantle city council.

While some people in Fremantle may not be aware of the reasons for our football club marching, the family of Billy Maddern is appreciative. “Billy Maddern would have been amazed to think his old team would come to pay him a visit,” they wrote, “their stories truly deserve the telling and for all of us who have the incredible privilege of growing up freely in this great country, it seems to me we have a duty to pass them on to the next generations”.

“Someone has to bear witness to the loss of so many fathers, brothers, sons and long-lost grandfathers.”

These footballers were part of our football family. They fought for our freedom, and won. Their sacrifice allows people today many freedoms, such as freely writing letters to the Herald, to share their views without fear or favour. We respect that because we welcome the freedom to respond. Our club will continue to honour our fallen footballers.

Lest We Forget

PS: The North Fremantle Football Club published a book, Hell for Leather: The Forgotten Footballers of North Fremantle, detailing football and war. If R Johnson cares to contact the club at PO Box 35 North Fremantle we will be happy to issue a free copy.

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