Australians on the Western Front: Sport a balm for soldiers’ souls

GLORY: Australia’s winning King’s Cup team, July 1919. Picture: AWM D00725
GLORY: Australia’s winning King’s Cup team, July 1919. Picture: AWM D00725

Sport a balm for soldiers’ souls

Major Sydney Middleton, a pre-War Olympian in rowing and rugby, became organising secretary of the AIF Sports Control Board in January 1919.

Plucked from leading the 19th Battalion, Middleton was told to “get busy and keep a couple of hundred thousand home-hungry soldiers contented.”

According to Lieutenant G.H. Goddard, author of Soldiers and Sportsmen, sport replaced drill as an extensive program was played at inter-battalion, inter-brigade and inter-Corps level, and at the Paris Inter-Allied Games in June 1919.

Syd Middleton rowed in the Australian eight that won the King’s Cup at Henley Peace Regatta in July, and in the King’s Cup rugby tournament, Australia came third behind New Zealand and a British Army team, Mother Country.

TRIUMPHANT: The AIF cricket team in 1919 captained by future Test player Herbie Collins (middle row, third from left) with wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield (back row, right) who was buried alive by a shell explosion at Polygon Wood in 1917. Picture: AWM D00685

TRIUMPHANT: The AIF cricket team in 1919 captained by future Test player Herbie Collins (middle row, third from left) with wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield (back row, right) who was buried alive by a shell explosion at Polygon Wood in 1917. Picture: AWM D00685

Military Cross recipient Gerald Patterson (Dame Nellie Melba’s nephew) led Australia’s tennis team that won the Allied Armies Championship then lifted the Wimbledon singles title amid headlines ‘Wimbledon Taken Over by Invaders.’  

Sapper Harold Hardwick was heavyweight boxing champion at the Inter-Theatre of War Tournament while an Australian XI lost only four of 34 cricket matches with captain Herbie Collins scoring five centuries.