The term hero gets bandied about far too frequently and undeservedly nowadays.
Hero, by definition, is someone of distinguished courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. Someone, who in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed an heroic act and is thus regarded as a model or idol.
Such features are not befitting many, if any, of today’s modern footballers. However Rugby League has produced some magnificent heroic men.
Unfortunately, these names will be unknown to almost everyone who reads this.
Spencer Walklate (St.George 1943 – 15 games)
Walklate showed great promise in his only season of First Grade. He joined the army as a Private in 1943. He quickly obtained the rank of Lance Corporal. He was selected as a member of an elite Special Operations Group of just eight men, Unit 'Z'. Their mission was to enter Muschu Island, off the coast of New Guinea, which was heavily occupied by Japanese forces, and confirm the location of two concealed naval guns. It is presumed that Walklate was found and executed by the Japanese soldiers on the island.
Neville Butler (North Sydney 1940, 1943 – 13 games)
Neville Butler represented NSW in one match in 1938 before moving to first grade with North Sydney in 1940. He was a well decorated airman who was involved in a number of key battles in Europe. He was declared Missing in Action after a massive air raid by German forces in 1944, before he was later declared dead.
Syd Christensen (Glebe 1928-29, Balmain 1930, 1933-37 – 68 games)
Christensen was 30 when he entered the Second World War. His career in Rugby League was lengthy without being rewarding. He managed an exhibition game as a guest player in the Queensland side against West Dubbo in 1930. He joined the Army in June 1940. He served briefly before being captured and held in the infamous Changi Prison. After his release he went missing before being declared Killed in Action in 1942.
Gordon Hart (St.George 1938-41 – 42 games)
Hart was a winger for St.George who managed to gain selection for NSW in 1940. He enlisted with the Army in 1940, however during his service he was able to gain special permission to leave his military camp to play for St.George in their debut premiership victory in 1941. Hart scored a try in what was to be his last match. He went on to obtain the rank of Captain in the 2/4 Commando Squadron and was awarded a Mention in Dispatches for Gallant and Distinguished services as well as for Conspicuous Bravery.
George Carstairs (St.George 1921-29 – 78 games)
Carstairs had served as a Private in the 1st battalion during the Great War. Upon his return to shore after the War was declared over, he turned to Rugby League, making his debut for St.George in their debut season in 1921. He is most famous in the Dragon’s annals as being their first Tryscorer in a premiership match. Carstairs was also the centre of what became known as the Earl Park Riot. He went on to play 2 tests on the Kangaroos 1921-22 Tour to England (as well as 17 tour matches). Upon his retirement from first grade, he moved to rural New South Wales before rejoining the Army. He rose to the rank of Lance Sergeant and was prematurely reported as Killed in Action while fighting in the Middle East; however he actually survived yet another war. He died in November 1966, on the same day as former Test hooker Arthur Folwell.
Frank Cheadle (Newtown 1908-10 – 16 games)
Cheadle was one of the few rebel Rugby Union players from Newtown who played against the New Zealand All-Golds in 1907, before turning professional in 1908. He played for Australia against New Zealand in 1908 before gaining selection on the 1908-09 Kangaroo Tour of England. He only played 7 games on the tour. He played his last test against New Zealand in 1909.
Cheadle then joined the Army in January 1915 and was sent to Egypt for training before serving at Gallipoli shortly after. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant within his first two months of service. He was wounded while fighting at Gallipoli. He was promoted to Lieutenant upon disembarking to Marseilles where he met his fate when killed while fighting in France in May 1916.
These men, ladies and gentlemen, are your heroes.