Like the other sectors of the armed forces, the Australian navy required a huge recruitment and training program to get the requisite manpower for the tasks they faced during WWII. Apart from transportation and logistics they also had to be ready for combat, especially after Japan entered the war.
There were many Rugby League players from NSW that served in the Navy in various capacities. North Sydney’s Frank Collins and Sid Buffett, Newtown centre Lin McLean and his brother Kevin McLean, who played with Easts, were among the best known at the time but a few others would rise to the top in the years after the war.
A young Brian Bevan (pictured above) was just beginning to make people sit up and take notice when he was mobilized and spent most of the next three years at sea. By the time he returned he had already been spotted by England where he spent most of his career playing for Warrington.
Pat Devery had been a schoolteacher before the war but became a radio assistant in the RAN and caught the eye of officials when playing in Brisbane. Recruited to Balmain, he starred in their 1944 premiership and played in the 1946 Ashes series before joining Huddersfield where he built a wonderful reputation.
Ferris Ashton was a young firebrand from Bondi who served in the last few years of the war as a teenager before returning to star for Easts and Australia.
But for every triumph there were also tragedies.
Vince Edwards had played a handful of matches with North Sydney in their premiership year of 1922 and then joined the fledgling RAN as a fulltime sailor in the 1920s, so he was a veteran when WWII commenced. He was aboard HMAS Perth when it was sunk by the Japanese in March 1942 and was killed in action.
Former Sydney University hooker Isidor Sender was working as a doctor with the rank of Major aboard the Hospital Ship Centaur when it was torpedoed and sunk near Brisbane in May 1943. He perished, as did Charles McKay, another former hooker with Sydney University and Balmain.
Lest we forget.