In years past, a well-known football personality opined that umpires seemed to come from Mars and return there after the game. Clearly nothing could be further from the truth. Umpires are husbands and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers — they are part of the general community and of the nation at large.

Never has this been more apparent than at times of national crisis and the two world wars that darkened Australia in the twentieth century. In both conflicts, umpires rallied to the call of empire and country and volunteered for service both overseas and locally. They fought in all theatres; they suffered privation; they were treated both well and appallingly by their own government and enemy alike. Most tragically, like so many other Australians, they didn’t all come home.

In 1914, the outbreak of hostilities coincided with the culmination of the football season. The rush to enlist in patriotic fervor saw the AIF formed and sailing overseas within nine months. Three former umpires sailed with this original contingent Henry Nugent (F), George Sandford (F) and Michael Minahan (G). Nugent’s story has been told elsewhere — he became umpiring’s most decorated soldier after being awarded a Military Cross for exceptional bravery in the Second battle of Gaza. So keen was he to serve, he later lied about his age to enlist in the militia during World War 2.

Mick Minahan was an enigma. His real name was Michael O’Gorman, but he played 29 VFL matches for South Melbourne and St Kilda and officiated as a goal umpire in another 172 VFL matches under his alias. Known as a larrikin, he served as a gunner in the artillery and was wounded while his battery was shelling Bapaume during a Somme offensive. He corresponded with then VFLUA Secretary, Syd Campton, on a number of occasions while recuperating.

“I had got together a collection of German souvenirs”, he wrote, “but when I was taken to hospital, the collection had to be discarded.” You could almost see the grin on his face when he added, “But I am going back to get some more!”

In a later letter he recalled, “The soldiers have a good deal of fun. One day behind the firing line they held a mock wedding. I played the part of a blushing bride and carried a huge bouquet made of poppies.”

The wave of enlistments that followed the Landing at ANZAC Cove in April 1915 saw the biggest rush from umpiring ranks to the ranks of the AIF. Category of umpire made little difference as field, boundary and goal alike enlisted.

Alexander Salton (G) was one of these. His VFL goal umpiring career had begun in 1915 and lasted eight games before he joined up and was eventually posted to the 60th Australian Infantry Battalion. Salton, a Richmond native, had played in the Tigers’ first season (1888), but his next two firsts brought little joy.

The Fifth Australian Division was the first formation to see offensive action in France. Private Salton’s 60th Battalion was part of this division and participated in the ill-fated Battle of Frommelles. This British planned and appallingly managed slaughter initiated the renowned ill-feeling between the AIF and British command. Arriving as a reinforcement for the 60ths extensive casualty list, Salton was shot in the stomach two days after his arrival in the front line. He died of his wounds and became the only umpire to be killed serving his country in either world war.

Football was never far from other correspondents’ thoughts.

Bill Hempel (F) wrote home that while he was now in France, he had umpired two games in Egypt. “One was between the Camel Corps and the Nestors. The Nestors won by six points. The Camel Corps had not been defeated for 3 years. Former University players, Captains DP Greenham and AG Corbet, showed out well during the match.”

Umpires served in many arms of the AIF. Private Richard Smithwick (B) was in the Engineers, Sandford and Nugent were in the Light Horse, and most of the others saw action in various Australian infantry battalions. In addition to Henry Nugent’s MC, Corporals Edward Watt (FB) and Reginald Treloar (FG, pictured above) were awarded Military Medals for bravery.

There was some doubt as to whether Reg and Edward Treloar who acted as field and boundary umpires in the VFL seniors before and just after the Great War were related. We now know they were not, but there is no doubt Reg went on to umpire 247 matches as a VFL goal umpire, including six Grand Finals. The war was never far away because Reg maintained an interesting connection with the AIF after the armistice; his actual brother John, was the first Commander of the Australian War Records Section and later the long-time director of the Australian War Memorial.

After the armistice, several returned soldiers became umpires. Perhaps the most notable were Geelong captain William Orchard (F) and, later Test cricket umpire and Footscray mayor, Andrew Barlow (FG).

Rolls of honour
Rolls of honour

When an uneasy European peace collapsed under the weight of German militarism, Australians again answered the call and, again, VFL umpires came forward without hesitation.Among the first to volunteer and see action was Lieutenant Donald Quartermain (F). Quartermain was a VFL umpire who saw much country football and was aspiring to make the seniors at the outbreak of war. He joined the 2nd AIF in June 1940 and sailed to the Middle East.As a member of the Provost Corps, Quartermain was part of the early successes in northern Africa against the Italians. He was also part of the Allied force that invaded Greece in an effort to resist a Nazi advance from the Balkans. A series of defeats at the hands of the Germans drove the Allied army from Greece in April 1941 and they retreated to a fortified Crete to protect the main strategic area of Egypt and the Suez Canal. In a bold coup-de-main, the Germans used paratroops to invade Crete and, after hard fighting, routed the Allies who evacuated the island, leaving behind more than 3000 Australians to fend for themselves.

Group portrait taken of three Victorian Football League footballers and an umpire, now members of the 6th Division, who have embarked on the troopship taking them to the Middle East.left to right: VX27449 Albert George Mowlam, umpire (umpired in the Victorian Football League from 1936 until his enlisment in 1940); H Forbes of Fitzroy; E Harris of Geelong; and VX41340 Alan George Fields of Fitzroy.  AWM 002485/04

Quartermain was one and he spent some time evading capture by hiding in caves and the mountains. Eventually though, he was captured and transported by ship and then cattle truck to a POW camp somewhere in northern Germany. Over the next four years, as POW No. 3500, he was moved from one camp to another (Oflag X C and Oflag VI B were two that we know of) he maintained his positive outlook. The VFLUA sent several Red Cross Comfort Parcels to him and received a postcard of thanks – one year after it was posted.

Liberation, courtesy of the United States Army, came in 1945, but not before Quartermain and his comrades had been marched across Germany in advance of the rampaging Red Army and, in the process, were strafed by Allied air forces that mistook them for a column of Wermacht troops. Quartermain celebrated VE day in Brussels where his plane was forced to land before running out of fuel, and eventually he was repatriated to Australia via England.

Returning to umpiring meant a return to the country competitions and the hard slog to get to the top ranks of the VFL. Marriage to Margaret, a growing family and a successful career outside of umpiring saw him leave the VFL at the end of 1946.

Quartermain found it difficult to send mail during his captivity but several former members kept up a lively correspondence with the association through Secretary, Lindsay Lancaster. In particular, Robert ‘Percy’ Moore (F) wrote regularly as he moved from India to Egypt and finally the South-West Pacific.

At one stage, while he was recovering from a shoulder injury – sustained falling off a captured Italian motorcycle – the call went out for a football umpire.

Moore wrote, “I offered my services and they were gladly accepted. The match was between a South Australian and a Victorian side. The day for the match arrived and I strolled to the ground. One of the South Australian chaps came over and asked if we were playing league or union rules. I was a bit puzzled as I had never heard of union rules. I had a look around and discovered that the ground was laid out for rugby!”

“I tried to back out but they would have none of it. After they had explained the main rules, I decided to give it a go. I lasted about fifteen minutes and, apart from almost being knocked over a couple of times, I did nothing at all. I walked off the ground as the game seemed to be proceeding adequately without an umpire.”

It transpired that Moore had gone to the wrong ground. The Australian football match had been postponed due to his absence and was played the next day.

Three umpires, George Smith (B), Harry Clayton (FG) and Vincent Baker (B), served in the Royal Australian Air Force. Edwin Boyes (F) was the only umpire to serve in the Royal Australian Navy. He was active on HMAS Swan and HMAS Perth.

Unlike the Great War, some umpires served in Australia and it was possible to obtain leave and return to Melbourne. On some occasions, they were even able to umpire.

George Smith joined the RAAF nine days after umpiring the 1940 VFL Preliminary Final, but managed to stay in Melbourne through 1941 and 1942 and continue to umpire. Posted outside Victoria for the next two years, in the middle of 1944 he returned on leave and was able to umpire the mid-season rounds. He resumed his umpiring career after discharge and completed 145 VFL matches.

Jack McMurray Jr (F) had a similar experience. It was 1941 when McMurray was appointed to his first senior VFL match — Round 4, Hawthorn versus Geelong at the Glenferrie Oval. He completed the season with a total of twelve matches and, in 1942, missed only one of the first 15 rounds before being granted a leave of absence. He joined the AIF on 30 November and left Melbourne, and umpiring, to serve with the Australian Army Service Corps and spent much of the next three years in New South Wales and New Guinea. He managed to keep his hand in by umpiring many games while in the Army and even made it back to Melbourne for a ‘cameo’ appearance at Victoria Park in 1944.

With the war finishing in September 1945, tens of thousands of the military forces were discharged and many former umpires rejoined the VFLUA to continue careers interrupted by hostilities. Ken Creighton (B), McMurray Jr and Tom Bride (FG) were three who had significant post-war careers.

Many other ex-servicemen put on the white at VFL level for the first time after the war.

Alan Arvidson (F) had served in the famous Catalina squadrons in the South West Pacific theatre and Signalmen Stan Tomlins (F) and Bill Graham (F) spent time overseas in the Pacific Islands.

Flying Officer Tom Rossiter flew in the Royal Air Force’s 57 Squadron. This was part of Bomber Command and Tom saw action flying raids in the European theatre of operations.

Michael ‘Leo’ Noone (F) initially joined the RAAF in September 1944, but one year later transferred to the AIF’s 29/46 Australian Infantry Battalion where he served until his discharge in February 1947.

No experience in the Second World War is more disturbing than that of Phil Stone (B) and his comrades. Stone joined the VFL as a boundary umpire in 1947 and amassed 194 matches in the next 13 seasons. But it was not until the 1990s that he was able to speak of one of his war time experiences.

The Australian, British and United States governments were concerned about the effects of mustard gas that could be used either by or against their troops. They wanted to know how the gas could best be used in the jungle and what its effects were on troops. To this end, they asked for volunteers without informing them of the details of the program.

Stone recalls, “At Proserpine in Queensland I was a volunteer in the 1st Aust. Field Coy as a Gas Guinea Pig for mustard gas and lewicite gas in their experimental trials. As it was highly classified information for 30 years, we were not allowed to speak of it.”

Those servicemen who volunteered were told they were required for Top Secret war work. They were asked to sign “Secrecy” agreements. Over a period of time, approximately 1,000 men, usually wearing minimal protection, were either exposed to mustard gas in a large stainless steel chamber, or were exposed by gas mortar shells being fired into open paddocks, or were exposed by tramping through jungle heavily bombed with mustard gas. Tests were also carried out to see how long it would take for a soldier involved in an arduous assault course to become unfit for duty when exposed to mustard gas. Mustard gas causes severe burns and is particularly effective on moist skin, meaning areas such as the neck, groin and armpits were especially susceptible.

Stone had discernible for the remainder of his life.

While no umpires served in Korea nor did any Korean service men become umpires two men who served in VietNam did become VFL umpires – Glenn James OAM (F) and Trevor Pescud (G).

Lest we forget

The AFLUA has compiled a series of Rolls of Honour

The Rolls of those members who enlisted may be viewed here.

The Rolls of those servicemen who later became VFL umpires may be viewed here.

If anyone knows of any former VFLUA/AFLUA who should be included, they should contact David Flegg, AFLUA Historian/Statistician,