|Joseph Balfe and Brunswick Football Club, 1908. Leader.|
A Keen Footballer
Rupert was a keen Australian Rules footballer, playing for Brunswick Football Club before moving the the VFL's University Football Club, playing in the 1909 and 1911 seasons.
He played in the 1908 VFA Grand Final, where Brunswick played against Footscray. Joseph was joined by two other Balfe's in the Brunswick team. The Final was played at the MCG, regarded as a coup for the VFA as this was the ground used by the VFL. The attendance earned the VFA over 1,000 pounds. Footscray would defeat Rupert's Brunswick by 24 points in front of 40,000 fans.
The Final was played on Monday, August 31, 1908, a public holiday during American Fleet Week. US Rear-Admiral Sperry’s fleet had sailed up Port Phillip Bay on Saturday August 29, 1908. The long weekend included races, an international boxing tournament at South Melbourne Football ground and the Royal Melbourne Show.
Rupert enlisted on 15 August 1914. He reported his over 4 years service wityh the Melbourne University Regiment, serving fifteen months as an officer. He applied for a commission and was appointed a Second Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion, AIF. He was 24 years and 5 months old. His Anzac service would ensure that he would not reach 26 years old.
|Lieutenant Joseph Rupert Balfe. AWM|
The 6th Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the AIF during the First World War. Like the 5th, 7th and 8th Battalions, it was recruited from Victoria and, together with these battalions, formed the 2nd Brigade. The battalion was raised within a fortnight of the declaration of war in August 1914 and embarked just two months later.
|Second Lieutenant Rupert Balfe, September 1914. AWM|
Rupert sailed from Port Melbourne aboard the Hororata. After a brief stop in Albany, Western Australia, the battalion proceeded to Egypt, arriving on 2 December 1914.
The Battalion made its way to the great Anzac Camp at Mena, where they trained and were reformed. Here in Egypt Rupert was promoted to Lieutenant. Rupert purchased 6 photographs of his Company at Mena. one of them is reproduced below. On the back, he wrote:
"The new "A Coy" [Company] in "close columns of Platoons in fours turned to a flank". I am on the extreme right of the front rank ie. nearest to you. I've got funny colored (sic) putties [puttees] on. Riddell is the next officer in the same line. Peter is in front turning round and in front again is Capt Hamilton. The Great Pyramid is on the left Cheops. Kephiew [Khufu] on the right. Most of the alabaster is gone. The tip that is still on can be seen."
|Lieutenant Joseph Rupert Balfe and A Company, 6th Battalion, Mena Camp, January 1915. AWM|
|Rupert (standing right) with other 6th Battalion officers, Mena Camp, April 1915. AWM|
They had then marched 19 kilometers to Cairo and had caught the train for Alexandria, arriving next morning.
They had boarded ships immediately and had sailed for Lemnos.
Rupert and the 6th Battalion stayed for two weeks on Lemnos, where they prepared for the landings. He would have practiced disembarking and maybe landed on the Island to conduct route marches and various practice drills to prepare them for the coming landings. As an officer, Rupert may have ventured to Mudros or one of the other villages surrounding Lemnos' large Mudros Bay where his and other Allied ships were moored.
|Joseph and the 6th Battalion aboard the Galeka. Lemnos, 1915. AWM|
Rupert sailed for Anzac Cove aboard the Galeka. Along with his Battalion, Rupert took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915, as part of the second wave.
Rupert's comrade - Private Craig - wrote of the landing in a later letter:
"One night about 12 we sailed from where we were, about 4am I heard a gun burst over my head, so went down below - wasn't taking any risks. We had breakfast and then started to disembark.
"There were about four destroyers firing on the Turks, Queen Elizabeth, the London and don't know what the other two were. A Company was the first to land then B and C. I was looking out of the port hole and could see about a million Turks on the beach and cliffs banging away at our boys for all they were worth.
"We had to climb down the ship rope ladder into our boat. There were about 10 boats and 25 men in each boat. A tug took us within 100 yards of the beach and we had to row the rest of the way. The shrapnel was bursting all round us, also machine guns, rifle shot.
"We lost a lot of men before we landed, but our boat got ashore safely. The Naval Officer in our boat - a big fat chap - when a shrapnel burst within a yard of us laughed and said "Oh never mind them, the beggars couldn't hit a hay stack.
"I believe the first lot to arrive fixed bayonets in the water and did not wait for any orders but simply charged the Turks. Some of them dropped the guns and cried for mercy, which they didn't get, and the rest went for their lives to the trenches.
"Well we landed. We marched about 100 yards and then took a rest and then word came to go up into the firing line at once. We threw our packs away and then got on with the game. The country was so rough and scrubby that you couldn't see where you were going and the shrapnel was bursting all round us and the bullets were so thick that we thought they were bees buzzing about us ..."It was during this period, just after the landing, that Joseph was killed.
North Fitzroy's Sergeant Collins of the 6th Battalion - who had sailed with Rupert on the Hororata from Port Melbourne - later reported that as they reached the beach a bursting artillery shell killed Rupert instantly. Sadly the Naval Officer's optimism had not protected Rupert.
He was buried at Shrapnel Gully, his grave marked with a wooden cross.
|Joseph's grave would be here at Shrapnel Gully Cemetery, July 1915. AWM|
|Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli. Photo Jim Claven 2015|
|Lieutenant Joseph Rupert Balfe's name listed (on left) amongst the 6th Battalion missing, Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli. Photo Jim Claven 2015|
Other AFL Players who have died in war
This post was prompted by a recent edition of the AFL's Record (Round 5, 22-25 August 2016) which contains a list of all AFL players who served and who were killed in war.
This list includes the three Anzac's killed during the Greek campaign of 1941 or over Greece during WW2 - Lance Bombardier John (Jack) Montague Drake killed at Brallos Pass, Bombardier Leo (Gus) Young killed at sea during the battle for Crete, and Pilot Officer Beresford Stanley "Beres" Reilly killed over Crete.
Thanks to our Committee's Deb Stewart for providing a copy of the AFL Record magazine.
To download this list, click here.
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee