Between the Crosses: Gunnedah kicks goals for the World War I effort

Gunnedah Patriotic Footballers: Raised money for the World War I war effort.
Gunnedah Patriotic Footballers: Raised money for the World War I war effort.

The Germans launched their Third Spring Offensive in late May 1918.

General Ludendorff’s plan began brilliantly and the French were caught completely by surprise on the Aillette River. Just a few short days after that, on June 5, the Germans stood on the bank of the Marne River only 100km from Paris – but because of their success they had overextended their supply lines.

They therefore had to wait for supplies to catch up, giving the French Army, and their American Allies, opportunity to plug the hole in the line.

In these days of stress and seriousness and sorrow, able-bodied men, whether married or single – whether broad or narrow-minded – can be better employed than tearing all round the country far and wide...

It was during this desperate rear-guard action that the Americans first distinguished themselves in World War 1, meeting the Germans at Château-Thierry on June 3. The Daily Observer of June 7 noted: “The American machine gunners played a part … on the river bank … The accuracy of their fire … brought the enemy to standstill.”

This was on top of the fine work American soldiers had also completed the previous week at Cantigny. Later, during late June, the Americans would receive their worst casualties of their Great War experience to date – with nearly 2000 deaths at Belleau Wood. The Yanks had arrived – whether they would make the difference was yet to be determined.

On the home front though, it wasn’t American value that was being discussed. It was the integrity and worth of the Gunnedah Patriotic Footballers going out week after week, town after town, and playing football to raise money for the war effort. In papers of the day it became quite an argument – as to whether people paying to attend football matches, with funds going toward the war effort, was in fact patriotic.

One local citizen wrote in the Manilla Express of June 20, 1918 that: “In these days of stress and seriousness and sorrow, able-bodied men, whether married or single – whether broad or narrow-minded – can be better employed than tearing all round the country far and wide – in expensive motor cars for football fun.” They should in fact, “band together and erect houses for widows … or plough up acres for a crop for patriotic purposes”.

The fierce debate didn’t stop people turning out in support. Perhaps they were sick of hearing about people dying and wanted to see young men fully alive? Certainly, there would be many more young men come home and take up rugby than otherwise would have, with the Americans now finally and decisively a part of the “great game” in the Western Front.

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