‘They played together, served together, died together’: 2018 rugby schoolboys reflect on war

‘They played together, served together, died together’: 2018 rugby schoolboys reflect on war

Updated November 10, 2018 11:20:16

For many teenagers completing their school education this week, the next few years of their lives could not play out more differently to those who finished about 100 years ago.

Members of Brisbane Grammar School’s (BGS) 2018 first rugby XV will graduate and many will head to university, while their counterparts of 1911 had 15 members serve in World War I — very soon after leaving school.

Four of them lost their lives and many returned as changed men.

From school to soldiers

Sydney Ford, Francis Bridgman, Norman Whitaker and Eric Doyle put their all into their sporting prowess at BGS.

From rowing, cricket, rugby, athletics and even shooting, the young men left it all out on the field.

In 1915, all four enlisted in the war effort.

BGS school historian Chris Price said in the early days of the war the school was buzzing with pride.

“The school magazines talked about the war in every edition and there was a lot of hope and positivity early on, in fact a lot of pride in what the boys were doing,” Mr Price said.

“Everybody knew somebody who was going off to war so it was a pretty exciting time, but things changed pretty quickly.

“By about 1916 I think the losses started to take their toll so the writings were still prolific but there was a much more sombre tone.”

Mr Price said more than 1,000 former students enlisted in the war effort, especially those involved in sporting pursuits.

“It goes with the territory — those kind of blokes were super keen to get over,” he said.

“They felt a sense of camaraderie in their teams, and it’s incredible the number of teams that almost went over en masse together. They were on the same boats even.”

“They played together, they served together and unfortunately some of them lost their lives together.”

Bridgman left Australia as a sergeant in the 9th Battalion, serving in Egypt and France and later attached to the 49th Battalion.

He was wounded at the battle of Pozieres, where Ford was killed in action and thousands of other Australians lost their lives.

Student Dennis Waight, a forward in BGS’s 2018 first XV said he found he had similar interests to Bridgman, and believed he would have made the same decision to enlist with teammates.

“These boys committed to a sports team so they would have had that trust factor,” Dennis said.

“The ability to trust those around you to have your back would have been a very important part of the war.

“[Bridgman] was a school athlete, first XV … and just to think that in my position now, within two years going and fighting a war, I couldn’t imagine that.”

‘We’re not that different’

Doyle represented the school in cricket and in rugby, and competed with the Empire shooting team.

After enlisting in England, he was later promoted to lieutenant and served in France, Mesopotamia and Belgium, before being killed in Flanders in July 1917.

Student Nicholas Grice, BGS’s 2018 first XV hooker, said 100 years on from the armistice, he was thankful for the service of the old boys of the school.

“We’re not that different — we all played rugby together, except we’re privileged enough not to have to go over and pay that sacrifice,” Nicholas said.

“Knowing what we know now, definitely it would be a scary experience, even knowing the percentage of people who lost their lives.

“With your mates though, and thinking about serving your country, those boys would have thought about that.

“A lot of us would weigh that up and we’d probably make a similar decision, no matter how scary it is.”

Topics: world-war-1, history, community-and-society, human-interest, people, anzac-day, brisbane-4000, qld, australia

First posted November 10, 2018 10:56:28

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