CHANGI BROWNLOW & AUSTRALIAN RULES 1942-43

AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL & THE CHANGI BROWNLOW – 8TH DIVISION AIF WW2

 

Sporting interests and competitions began with soccer and cricket followed by rugby, basketball, volleyball, golf, even swimming, etc and finally Australian rules football which of course excluded the British who greatly outnumbered Australian POWs at Changi. It was an opportunity for the Australians to show that they were more rugged and agile than their British counterparts.
With most of the sporting codes already underway at Changi, 8th Division Australian Rules ‘heavies’ knew they could not afford any mishaps or slapdash events with 36 disgruntled,  incarcerated and possibly out of control young men trampling the footy field, with a chance of all-in brawls both on and off the fields (which happened back ‘home’) Their greatest concern was an all-out brawl occurring with guards intervening with weapons.
Four prisoners with top sporting experience got together – 1933 Brownlow Medallist Wilfred ‘Chicken’ Smallhorn, Ben Barnett (former Test cricketer), Pte ‘Les’ Green 2/9th Field Ambulance and Roy Charles Fox , 13th AGH and footballer Peter Chitty was a consultant.  The men knew Australian Rules to be a fierce contact sport with each state playing at different levels – Victorians players rugged in muddy conditions and Western Australians played fast on dry fields.  Rules would have to be modified and enforced.

 

Below:  ‘Chicken’ Shorthorn – 1933 Brownow Medallist. Played for Fitzroy.  Please read further about his career.

Above:  Former Test Cricketer Ben Barnett at Changi. Barnett was a wicket keeper and left-handed batsman.   He was prominent in organising Cricket Test Matches and advised the 8th Div. Australian Rules Committee.

Please read further about Barnett’s cricket career

More than 600 men registered interest and teams were formed with the names of Melbourne clubs – Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong, St Kilda, Melbourne & Richmond would come from the hospitals. The rest from Selarang.  Each team would have 30 players with 20 men in reserve making total of 200 registered players with each team fielding 18 players with one reserve.
Three matches were to be played every week on Wednesdays and Saturdays with two games being played on one of the days.  Being a former British Military Barracks there were only cricket and rugby fields. The Australians had to work hard to create a ‘footy’ oval which they carved out of area of no man’s land between Selarang and the Roberts hospital. The goals and points posts were made from rubber trees.  They made their football from balls purchased from Chinese traders, modified with old boot leather and used wild boar bladders.  The game required footballs which would respond to being bounced on the run and umpires bouncing the balls.  For the uniforms they commissioned a local Singapore seamstress to sew 250 pairs of shorts and tops in the six team colours.
The matches were played and taken very seriously and in consideration of the conditions, the standard of play was to be commended.  It was run like the VFL with umpires given control and charges reported and heard by an independent three-man tribunal.  There were rules for player ‘transfers’ from club to club – payment and inducements were usually food.

Above Lou Daily in his Geelong uniform.

2/4th soldier Lou Daley would play for Geelong and keen to win the season.  With a few other Geelong players they approached Peter Chitty to transfer from the hospital teams of Melbourne or Richmond to Geelong.  It took some time the change Chitty’s stand – three bowls of rice and the offer to Captain the team which meant Lou Daley had to stand down.
This was Changi style Aussie Rules.
The first match on Sat 15 August 1942 between Essendon and Carlton drew a crowd of 3,000 men which included amputees and sick from the hospital.   The Japanese increased the number of guards because the game was outside the perimeter and set up a machine gun.  ‘Chicken’ Smallhorn was the umpire and would need to keep a tight rein on the game.  A Carlton player was concussed in the first minute of the game and had to be carried off.
It was a hard fought, close match which Carlton won. At the end of the game bets were settled – the bookies had been busy.
Two footy match days per week assisted in establishing a routine in the camp and it gave the players a focus. Champions Peter Chitty and Lou Daley instilled into teams the importance of team work.  This team work and selflessness was not lost on the spectators in their day to day routines as POWs and  misery of prison life and ever increasing diseases.
Geelong with players Chitty and Daley made their first appearance playing Melbourne on Wed 19th August when the crowd was estimated to be 5,000.  Chitty who had been in strict training for weeks was outstanding and would have earned himself three Brownlow points.
The Grand Final between Carlton and Richmond was held on Wednesday 17 Oct 1942  attended by a large and noisy crowd including the usual hecklers with the majority of bets on Carlton.  The level of seriousness of this game was recorded by the reporter for Australian rules, Corp. Alexander Cyril Arthurson, 13th AGH –  in his account of the game he reported it ‘was played like a battle with considerable aggression from both sides with co-ordinated attacks resulting in aggressive counterattacks with players using all their physical strength’.
The lead changed several times until Richmond finally won 10-9-69 to Carlton’s 6-8-44.
This Grand Final had been played with the level of aggression and tenacity the Australian troops had been unable to use in battle because their commanders ordered retreat after retreat when facing Japanese attempts to outflank them.   Australians felt they had no real chance to prove their worth during the battles – perhaps proving if they had been better led they would have been better fighting men.
With the game proving so popular amongst the POWs, games continued on after the Grand Final.  It was vital in keeping up morale.  But on 19 Jan 1943 footy was banned because of the alarming number of injuries.  The level of rough play resulted in Australian Rules joining rugby union and rugby league being banned by the Hospital authorities for the level of violent play.
The POW diet was having a huge effect on the men’s physical condition and bones. The lack of nutrition was depleting muscle strength, with bones less protected and more brittle.
Chitty with his rare make -up was one of the few players who did not sustain injury or lose weight.  He was running every evening.
Below: Corporal Peter Allen Chitty.  Please read further about his football career

 

Australian officers discussed the physical issue with all football codes.  Rugby and soccer had stopped, Australian Rules went on but finished by end of 42 long before the end of season was planned.  Geelong was undefeated with one more win than Richmond and was announced the premiership winner in an anticlimax.
The Football Association had an emergency meeting acknowledging the competition was over and unresolved.  They emerged with a proposal to play two ‘representative’ games in January 1943 to end Australian Rules at Changi forever.  After long deliberation, the Australian officers agreed to their proposal.  There would be a 15 man-a-side game between AGH staff and Selarang POWs on Friday 22 January.  Two days later the biggest game of the season played between Victoria and ‘The Rest of Australia’ ie players from every other state and territory.
Every fit player who wanted to play the last match registered with the Changi Australian Football Association.  Two panels sat down all day on 15 Jan 1943 to make selections.
Chitty was selected as captain of Victoria and Lou Daley who had played for Geelong in the VFL and Subiaco was made skipper of The Rest.
Chitty who remained super-fit played in both final games.  He paced himself well with Selarang team against AGH team in front of 5,000 spectators.  AGH team won 9-5-59 against Selarang 8-8-56.  It was the first Changi Rules game Chitty wasn’t named amongst the best players.
On the evening of 23 January 1943 Smallhorn and Fox counted the Brownlow votes in a barracks room behind closed doors.  Lou Daley polled well and consistently with 13 votes and Chitty with 24 votes was the clear winner of the Changi Brownlow Medal.  Smallhorn soon after fell ill and was hospitalised. Staff advised him not to be running around in the heat the following day to umpire the big game.  Fox himself had not felt the greatest after the first game.  Both men had run long distances up and down the footy field.  Fox would have to stand in for Smallhorn.
Sunday 24 January saw a slight breeze arrive an hour before the match started, but not nearly enough to provide relief to the thousands of spectators who began to show.  A band played a welcome to spectators and bookies worked their way through the crowd shouting out their odds, picking up bets on the winning team and winners of Best and Fairest of the match, The Little (Bore Hole) trophy, the Best and Fairest for Victoria, the Doug McQueen Trophy.  There were also wagers on who would kick the first and last goals.  The big money was on The Brownlow and the bookies were sweating. The gambling currency included clothes, daily rice rations, money, wallets and watches.
Smallhorn defied the doctors, took painkillers and turned up for the match dressed in white.  He walked out onto the hard surface flanked by the boundary and goal umpires to a cheering crowd.
The Victorians wore dark blue tops with white ’V’ and white trousers and ‘The Rest ‘ wore white singlets with red ‘V’.
Daley captained ‘The Rest’ and the team included several 2/4th men:

Above:  Cliff Spackman

Cliff Spackman – formerly Goldields, Western Australia

Joe Pearce – Swan Districts

Below:  Joe Pearce – former Swan Districts Footballer. Pearce was one of only a handful of sportsmen able to return to top competition following his POW incarceration.  Please read further about Joe Pearce’s career with Swan Districts

Possibly:
Clarke – Country League, WA
The game between the two teams was intense with the lead seasawing until finally the Victorians won, 14-9-93 against ‘The Rest’ 10-5-65.
The Doug McQueen Trophy for Best and Fairest for Victoria donated by Lt. Douglas McDonald McQueen 2/29th Btn former Victorian Football Association player for Coburg (he was also player in the Victorian team)
Awarded to 26 year old Warrant Officer 2nd Class John Thomas ‘Jack’ Haig, 2/29th Btn
The Little (Bore Hole) Trophy donated by Corporal J. Little, Australian Army Corps for Best and Fairest player for ‘The Rest – Awarded to Lou Dailey.
This was the last Australian Rules match played at Changi.  Many of the POWs were about to be sent from Singapore on work parties.  Their health and stamina would never be the same whilst they were POWs. By far Australian Rules was the most popular sport amongst the Australian POWs.   It was a means of asserting their masculinity and their nationalism.