What it means to be 'Australian' is no easy thing to define - but two strong factors in our national identity are sport and war. Sport has always been part of the Australian experience of war. Armies have long thought sport helps to increase fitness, build friendships, and cement allegiance to a unit.These are some of the sporting gems from the Australian War Memorial's extensive collection.

An appeal from the Dardanelles: will they never come? by Hannan, Jim State Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Mason, Firth & McCutcheon, Pty. Ltd and 1915Australian War Memorial

Will they never come?

This recruiting poster produced in Victoria was used as a means of shaming young men into enlisting by juxtaposing the image of an Australian soldier standing guard over his dead mate with a photograph of a Victorian Football League (VFL) match.

The poster was adapted by artist Jim Hannan from a British poster titled 'Will they never come?' The photograph of the sports ground in the Australian version is of the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

Enlist in the Sportsmens' 1000 (1917)Australian War Memorial

Play THE Game

Albert Jacka VC was used as a role model for a huge campaign to enlist sportsmen into the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1917.

Jacka achieved instant fame back home when he became the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War. His physical prowess and skills as a boxer were central to Jacka's legendary status.

Studio portrait of the rugby league team known as the 'Mudlarks'. by Unknown and 1916Australian War Memorial

The Mudlarks

At the height of the First World War, Australia’s 4th Machine Gun Company formed a Rugby League team. It went by the same name the unit did - the 'Mudlarks', an Australian bird and a wry comment on war in the trenches. The team's jerseys were adorned with a black-and-white silhouette of a mudlark.

Mudlarks rugby league jerseyAustralian War Memorial

'Mudlarks' Rugby League jersey

Lance Corporal Richard Overy, a plumber from Haberfield in Sydney, enlisted in the 13th Battalion, AIF, in September 1914 and served on Gallipoli as a machine-gunner.

He went on to serve in France, transferring in March 1916 to the 4th Machine Gun Company where he joined the Mudlarks Rugby League team.

When Overy returned home injured in January 1918, he packed his jersey away. Mud from his last game still clings to the fabric.

Rugby football used by Australian troops in matches played in 1917.Australian War Memorial

Leather Rugby football from the First World War

Games of all football codes were a popular pastime during the First World War. This Rugby ball was used in matches played during the Sinai–Palestine campaign of 1917.


“Bluey” Truscott, footballer and ace

“Bluey” Truscott DFC became one of Australia’s best-known fighter pilots. But before that, he had been a popular sporting figure who played in Melbourne Football Club’s winning Grand Final sides in 1939 and 1940.

In this photo from 1942, American soldiers are showing an interest in the Australian game of football and chatting with Squadron Leader Truscott.

Truscott was never a great flyer in a technical sense, but he was aggressive and accurate with his shooting. The combination of the iconic Spitfire and Truscott the sportsman, flying deadly aerial duels against German Messerschmitts, provided good copy in Australian newspapers. Interest increased as his personal score of destroyed enemy aircraft rose. The final tally was at least 15.

On his return to Australia after service with the RAAF, Bluey captained his old team.

Members of two Rugby Union teams are enjoying a beer and food at a combined celebration after a match in Japan. (1952-11-02) by Hobson, Phillip OliverAustralian War Memorial

Rugby Union during the Korean War

Around 16,000 Australians served in Japan after the Second World War. Here we see members of two opposing Rugby Union teams – one Japanese, the other most likely made up of members of British Commonwealth Forces Korea (BCFK) – enjoying a beer, after a match in November 1952.

Brownlow Medal : Corporal L A 'Peter' Chitty, 2/2 Australian Motor Ambulance ConvoyAustralian War Memorial

Changi Brownlow

15,000 Australian soldiers were taken prisoner when Singapore fell in February 1942.

The first match of the Changi Football League, the Australian Rules competition for prisoners at Changi prisoner-of-war camp, took place in August 1942. The league was made up of seven teams, named after Victorian Football League clubs, and played three matches a week.

Peter Chitty was awarded the 1943 Changi Brownlow Medal as the season’s best and fairest player. Before the war, he played several league games for St Kilda. Chitty survived the war and was later awarded the British Empire Medal for his outstanding conduct and devotion to fellow prisoners on the Burma-Thailand Railway.

Hand made cricket ball : Changi Prisoner of War CampAustralian War Memorial

POW Cricket

Cricket was popular in the Changi prisoner-of-war camp, and the Australian vs. England “Ashes” rivalry allowed tensions existing between soldiers to be played out in a controlled, orderly fashion. The first of the Changi Tests took place on 26 April 1942. The final Test in Changi was played on Christmas Day 1944, shortly before sport was banned by the Japanese.

This image is of a hand made cricket ball with solid centre. The ball has been wrapped with black cotton twine and secured with thick white cotton stitches.

A game of cricket was played on Shell Green to distract the Turks from the departure of allied troops. (1915-12-17) by Bean, Charles Edwin Woodrow (C E W)Australian War Memorial

Shell Green

On 17 December 1915, amid the horror and tension of World War I, a cricket match was played between Australian soldiers at Gallipoli.

“We had a game of cricket on Shell Green on Sunday,” a brigadier explained to his wife, “just to let them see we were quite unconcerned … and when shells whistled by we pretended to field them.”

Here we see Major George Macarthur-Onslow of the 7th Light Horse Regiment, dismissed during the Shell Green cricket match.

Group portrait of the Stalag 383 prisoners of war (POWs) - Australian cricket team 1943Australian War Memorial

The “Australian” Cricket Team, Stalag 383

Group portrait of Australian POWs at Stalag 383 wearing pale shirts and cricket caps.

"First Test match between Aussie and New Zealand,” wrote Lieutenant Bill Foxwell in his diary at the start of the 'Ersatz Ashes' Tests - played between Australian, New Zealand and British prisoners in Germany’s Stalag 383 in October 1943.


Cricket and the Australian Army Medical Women's Service

This “AWAS Officers v. Other Ranks” match was played at Fawkner Park, South Yarra, on 23 January 1944. Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Best is stumped by Corporal J. Scott.

WRAN athletic team by Herald NewspaperAustralian War Memorial

Athletics and the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service

Group portrait of members of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) athletic team taken in Gippsland, Victoria in 1943.

The WRANS was formed in April 1941 as a result of a shortage of telegraphists in the Royal Australian Navy.

Image missing

Pilot and all-rounder

Keith Miller played state cricket for Victoria before flying Mosquito fighter planes over Germany during the Second World War.

He proved a dazzling batsman in the 1945 victory cricket test matches between a combined Australian Services XI and an English national side at the end of the war.

One time Australian cricket captain, Bill Brown said of Keith, "He was the best all-rounder I came in contact with. He could bat, bowl, field, and he could fly and aeroplane."

Baria, South Vietnam. June 1971. Strong defensive play was a feature of a soccer game between a combined 1st Australian Logistic Support Group (1ALSG) side and the Vietnamese provincial side, Sector. (1971) by Ford, John AlfredAustralian War Memorial

Soccer in Vietnam

On 17 June 1971, a combined 1st Australian Logistic Support Group (1ALSG) side played the Vietnamese provincial side, Sector, at Ba Ria in South Vietnam.

Here, Corporal Roy Stubbs of No. 2 Advanced Ordnance Depot takes a high ball on his chest before clearing it from the 1ALSG defence.

The game ended in a one-all draw.

Go-cart racing, Department of Army, From the collection of: Australian War Memorial
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Go-cart racing at 1st Australian Task Force Base in Nui Dat, Vietnam

The carts are built by the Diggers from salvaged engines and scrap metal, and race meetings are organised on a dirt track near the perimeter wire as often as operational requirements allow.

In the lead cart is Craftsman Darryl "Jack" Horner, 22, from Brooklyn Park, South Australia. In the second cart is Corporal Bob Malone, 22, from Red Hill, Victoria. Both soldiers are from the 106th Field Workshop.

Lieutenant Stevenson guides Hue, a Vietnamese boy, in getting a feel of a cricket bat - even if it is only a strip of plywood., Thurgar, Kevin Denham, From the collection of: Australian War Memorial
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Makeshift cricket in Vietnam

This bat may only be a piece of plywood, and there’s barbed wire on the boundary, but cricket is still cricket.

Taken in Da Nang, Quang Nam province, South Vietnam, November 1967, this photograph shows Lieutenant Stevenson with young batsman Hue, whose Viet Cong parents had been killed 3 months earlier.

Tarin Kot Gym Strong Man Competition by Stephen DupontAustralian War Memorial

Strong Man competition in Afghanistan

Members of 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), taking part in the Tarin Kot Gym Strong Man Competition in 2012.

Invictus Medal belonging to Sapper Curtis McGrath, From the collection of: Australian War Memorial
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Invictus Games

The Invictus Games is an international event for wounded armed services personnel.

This is the Gold medal won by Sapper Curtis McGrath for Indoor Rowing at the 2016 Orlando Invictus Games. McGrath also won Gold in the Men's KL2 Canoe Sprint event at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016.

This medal is on loan to the Australian War Memorial from Curtis McGrath.

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