John Beilby grew up listening to and reading stories of the ANZAC’s and their feats during both World Wars.
The knowledge and interest developed over this time now sees John create his own story representing the country as he will pull on an Australian guernsey for this year’s ANZAC Cup in Villers-Bretonneux.
With a long family history in the Australian military from two Great-Great Uncles who served in the First World War and his Granddad who trained as a fighter in the RAAF, to his Dad who served in the RAAF as an electrical fitter, this will be an unforgettable experience for John.
“I’ve never excelled in a subject matter or sport which would allow me to represent my country. However, to be given the opportunity to represent Australia, on ANZAC Day, commemorating the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux would be amazing. A once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said.
He’ll not only represent Australia, but also his family. His two Great-Great Uncles who fought in the First World War were Herbert and Arthur Bruce. Neither was the tall young bronzed Aussies often depicted, with Herbert being 5’6” and Arthur 5’3” tall. Herbert enlisted aged 29 in February 1915 and Arthur enlisted aged 32 in December 1915, on his second attempt.
Herbert joined the 17thBattalion and was wounded at Gallipoli just before the evacuation. He recovered in time to continue further fighting on the Western Front but was injured two more times in 1916 then at the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917. Herbert survived his wounds and the war, returning to Australia in April 1919. He again enlisted in the Special Transport Service on 8 August 1919. The role of the Special Transport Service was to escort prisoners of war and internees. This he did, travelling to London and returning to Australia in December 1919 before his final discharge in March 1920.
Unfortunately, Arthur never returned to Australia as a result of dying from gas wounds. He had joined the 53rdBattalion after the infamous Battle of Fromelles before serving at Villers-Bretonneux on the 18thof April 1918 when the German’s dropped 20,000 gas shells. The gas attack was a prelude to the German’s planned offensive against Villers Bretonneux. Despite being evacuated and the best efforts by the 3rdAustralian General Hospital in Rouen, he passed away on the 24thof April 1918 and is now buried in the St Sever Cemetery in Rouen.
During April, a week before the game, John will be joined by his dad and twin brother as they will get to spend some time together driving around the region to see where some important battles took place such as Hamel, Amiens, Fromelles and Pozieres, and to pay tribute to his Great-Great Uncles.
“I am really looking forward to seeing the Sir John Monash Memorial and the town of VB. Having read Peter Fitzsimmons’ book “Victory at Villers Bretonneux”, it will be great to see the lay of the land and understand how the battle unfolded,” John said.
John’s interest in learning more about the history of the Australian military on the Western Front will certainly add to his experience when pulling on the Australian colours.
Combine that with his passion for football, and this is going to be quite a special experience for the Port Adelaide fan.
Since he was in Year 10, John has played football nearly every season, first in South Australia with Adelaide University Football Club then with the Albert Park Falcons when he moved to Melbourne.
Having moved to England last year in June, John would have loved to have played but felt it was too late to join with the season finishing in August.
He has recently been training with the Wimbledon Hawks and is looking forward to playing with Australians from the various AFL London and European clubs.
“Seriously excited. I’ve signed up to the gym as I need to get fitter! I don’t know what I am more excited about, seeing the place of the Western Front and its memorials or playing for Australia. Probably both on par,” he said.
With John’s interest in Australian military history that has stemmed through generations of family, on top of his passion to play the sport for his country, John is rightfully excited to be involved and witness the events connected with the ANZAC Cup in Villers-Bretonneux.
To also play, and travel around the region with his dad and brother, will be a truly special experience for John who is understandably looking forward to this special event.