Since Rugby League reflects the nation and the overall story of the Second World War, it’s no surprise that there were several players included in the lists of those who were captured and became Prisoners of War.
Those captured in North Africa, Greece and Crete were held in Germany and Italy and included Albert Ridgway and Dave McErlane (both from North Sydney), former Glebe and Balmain five eighth Lionel Matchett, Balmain’s Lou Hird, Major Leo Reddy (a former Sydney University lock forward), South Sydney’s Joe Jacobs and many from rural NSW such as John “Ike” Williams from Waratah Mayfield, Griffith’s Arthur Webb and the much-travelled Sid Malcolm.
Remarkably, there are reports of rugby league matches being staged in some of these camps and there was an interstate fixture played at Stalag 383 in 1943!
If being a POW in Europe was no fun, it was even less so as a guest of Emperor Hirohito, and many of the troops incarcerated in Asia suffered horribly.
They included Newtown hooker Jim Kelly, Harry Flower, George Holder and Wally McIntyre (St George), Jack Pidcock and Edward Derkeene (Balmain), Jack Beaver and Cecil Jeffreys (Newcastle). They made it home, however debilitated they may have been.
Poor Jack Lennox (pictured above) wasn’t so fortunate. Lennox had played at Sydney University while doing his teaching degree, and then starred with St George and South Sydney over five seasons. He was teaching at Cessnock and was both a star player and revered junior coach when the war broke out and he enlisted. He was one of the thousands captured when Singapore fell in 1942 and died in 1943 when working on the infamous Thai-Burma railway.
His name was perpetuated in the Jack Lennox Cup which is now awarded to the school with the best overall record in the High Schools Division of the annual NSWRL All Schools Knock Out.
Lest we forget.