The warm, sunny day in Estaires, Northern France in November 2014 was almost 100 years and a world removed from the France of 1916. The peace of the Estaires Cemetery was not interrupted by nearby artillery fire, the tramp of soldiers moving to the front or the roar of aircraft overhead.
Today Estaires is a small community with little of note for the traveller but it has an important connection to AFL umpiring. Estaires Communal Cemetery and Extension is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery and the final resting place of the only VFL/AFL umpire to die in either world war, Alexander Salton.
Recently the AFLUA took the opportunity to honour Salton by placing a specially minted medal recognising his service at his grave. Designed and engraved by former VFLUA member Col Newcombe the medal noted Salton’s VFLUA membership and date of death.
Salton was born in Richmond and played football for Richmond Football Club in 1887, long prior to their admission to the VFL. When he enlisted in the AIF on 6 August 1915 he was 44 years old. The following day he umpired his only Richmond match and a fortnight later his last VFL match before entering camp at Broadmeadows. Originally allocated to the 12th reinforcements of the 6th Battalion he left Australia aboard the HMAT Ceramic on 23 November 1915.
On arrival in Egypt he suffered from varicose veins leading to a month in hospital. This period coincided with the reorganisation of the AIF and when Salton was returned to duty he was transferred to the newly formed 60th Battalion. Another minor bout of varicose veins preceded his embarkation to France. As a result, rather than joining the full battalion, he was placed in the 15th Training Battalion and then at the 5th Divisional Base Depot after he arrived at Marseilles on 30 June 1916. This transfer meant that Salton was not present at the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July. That action resulted in the virtual destruction of the 60th Battalion. They suffered 757 casualties from a pre-action strength of 887.
On 29 August Salton eventually joined the battalion as reinforcement for the massive battle losses. Straight away he was in the front line in the Fromelles area. The hazards of trench warfare were ever present. Shrapnel and high-explosive shells, snipers and trench raids all occurred in the short time Salton survived.
Five days after arriving Salton was mortally wounded. Shot in the stomach, he was evacuated through the 14th Field Ambulance to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station at Estaires where he clung to life for six days before dying of his wounds on 10 September.
Salton was buried at Estaires Communal Cemetery in France. All that remained was returned to his wife: his two identity discs and metal pencil case. At least, that was, until many years later when Richmond Football Club historian, Rhett Bartlett, came across a gold locket inscribed ‘For Services Rendered. A. Salton. 1887’ in a Hawthorn antique shop. It had been presented at the club Annual General Meeting and remains a link to the only VFL umpire to have died in military service of his nation.
Service records of VFLUA members who enlisted in the 1914-18 war
|Service record link|