ANZAC hero Ted Larkins: The greatest sacrifice of all

Thursday, July 5, 2018

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 ‘His was the call that came from far away;

An Empire’s message flashing o’er the seas

The call to arms! The blood of chivalry

Pulsed quicker in his veins; he could not stay.’

Ted Larkin, a 1903 Wallaby, husband, father, policeman, journalist, the first secretary of the NSW Rugby League and earmarked by many as a future premier of his state, lay bleeding under the afternoon sun that bore down on the Gallipoli peninsula that first Anzac Day 100 years ago on Saturday.

The 35-year-old, who left the NSW Parliament as the sitting member for Willoughby because he couldn’t allow other men to do his fighting, waved away the stretcher bearers who wanted to cart him back to a first aid post to treat his wounds. His last recorded words were “there’s plenty worse than me out there”.

A few hundred metres away Larkin’s older brother Martin was spreadeagled and lifeless — yet another victim of a Turkish bullet and one of the 747 Australians who would fall on that fateful day.

Who knows what went through Ted Larkin’s mind as his life ebbed away amid the rifle fire and bayonet charges that raged around him.

It is most likely his thoughts were with his wife May and their two boys — one of whom, Teddy, was carried on Larkin’s shoulders while he was cheered at a torchlight procession by supporters who celebrated the Labor Party’s underdog snaring the Liberal stronghold of Willoughby in 1913.

As Ted Larkin lay bleeding, probably praying that he would somehow return to his family, the tough-as-granite rugby league forward Stan Carpenter, who had captained Newcastle in the 1908-09 NSWRL premierships, was up to his garters in blood and gore as a stretcher bearer.

The beach was already littered with corpses when Carpenter charged ashore with the third wave of Anzacs. Within 24 hours the forward who had played under Larkin’s administration and represented Australia, was recommended for the Victoria Cross after he braved murderous machine-gun fire to rescue four wounded Diggers who screamed for help from their bullet-riddled boat as it floundered in the sea.

Ted Larkin might have been thinking about Martin, aka “Paddy”, as he probably attempted to dress his own wounds. As one of the founders of the Newtown Pastime Club Paddy Larkin was a boxer who, The Referee sports newspaper noted, fought the likes of  “Otto” Cribb, Hock Keys, “Psycho” Hansen and  “Poet” McCoy — one of the best of his day.

Now, in the blink of an eye, the noble pugilist was gone.

As Ted Larkin lay dying, Blair Swannell, who represented his native England and then Australia in rugby, was pinned down by enemy fire as he and his troops prepared to assault the hill known as Baby 700. Swannell probably thought that, at 40, campaigning in the Dardanelles would add another tale to his litany of life adventures which included being a sailor, serving in the Boer War, fighting among the insurrectionists in Uruguay, hunting seals and playing rugby in France, South Africa, Germany, India and America.

Ever the mentor, he coached hockey and rugby; was the vice-president of the Sydney Swimming Club and he trained military cadets for their surf-lifesaving exams. Swannell’s last mortal act was to show his boys how to aim their rifles at an enemy who held the high ground.

As a footballer criticised by even his own teammates for his “give no quarter and expect none” approach it is possible  Swannell would have copped his fate as being part of the “game” when a Turkish sniper shot him  in the head.

Ted Larkin might have been thinking about his football career before it dawned on him his chances of survival were slim. He played rugby for St Joseph’s College at Hunters Hill before joining Newtown’s Endeavour club, who he captained in 1903, the year he was selected for NSW against Queensland and Australia against the All Blacks.

He was so committed to the game he turned out for NSW  the day after his wedding. However, Larkin never took himself too seriously and laughed loudly the morning he was on the beat and realised the “old grey-headed beggar” a fellow cop was referring to when he spoke about the match he watched over the weekend was, in fact, him.

As Ted Larkin started losing consciousness because of his blood loss, the friends of Lieutenant Rupert Balfe, a medical student, talented athlete and VFL player for University, were still coming to grips with his death, which occurred at 5.20am when a shell burst above his boat, raining shrapnel.

Balfe was one of six VFL players who died that first Anzac Day.  When the news finally reached Australia a friend from the University of Melbourne, Robert Menzies, who would become Australia’s 12th prime minister in 1939, wrote a poem to vent his anguish:

 “His was the call that came from far away;

An Empire’s message flashing o’er the seas

The call to arms! The blood of chivalry

Pulsed quicker in his veins; he could not stay.”

As Anzacs rushed past him Ted Larkin might have wished he was back in Sydney and being treated at the Royal North Shore Hospital where he served on the board.

He may have even shook his head in disbelief at the violence of his impending death because for four years he was a police officer who maintained law and order on Sydney’s streets before resigning in 1909 to assume the role as the NSWRL’s first full-time secretary.

While Dally Messenger drew the crowds as the professional code’s superstar, Larkin’s brilliance as an organiser straightened out a shambolic administration and he established rugby league as the city’s preferred code.

He pushed league, believing in “honest professionalism as against quasi-amateur football” and his being a devout Catholic and Labor politician helped convince Marist Brothers’ schools to adopt the code.  He devised a plan to have the Wallabies play the Kangaroos in a three-match series but it fell through because the rugby players feared they would be tainted as professional. He also drew up a blueprint in 1910 to take the game to the United States.

As Ted Larkin would have started to tremor from shock Alan Cordner, who played for Geelong and Collingwood, was fighting for his life after being cut off from his battalion six kilometres inland at Cape Helles. It took 12 months before the Red Cross confirmed he died that day.

Joe Pearce, who represented Melbourne in 152 games, perished long before his boat hit the sand; Claude Crowl, from St Kilda,  and Fen McDonald, who opposed Crowl the day he made his VFL debut against Carlton in 1911, gave all they had at the so-called birth of a nation. Yet another, Charlie Fincher, of South Melbourne, was doomed to an unmarked grave when he was shot dead in a boat hundreds of metres off Anzac Cove.

South Australian cricketer Charles Backman made it to the beach with the men of the 10th Battalion but no one knows what happened to him amid the confusion. While the sergeant’s dog tags were found, the body of the right-arm bowler wasn’t. Wisden notes in the one first-class match he played in 1911-12 Backman took 3-53 against the touring MCC with Plum Warner and Frank Woolley among his victims.

Ted Larkin couldn’t have imagined the outpouring of grief that followed his final desperate breath. Headlines proclaimed “Ted Larkin, a  fellow of infinite jest, brimful of fun”, and The Sydney Morning Herald war correspondent Charles Bean would describe him as “a man with a fine influence in his battalion”.

Poems immortalised his courage, political foes agreed he had the qualities to become premier.  St Joseph’s established a scholarship in his name.  A plaque was unveiled in the Legislative Assembly Chamber to commemorate him and George Frederick Braund,  the member for Armidale,  who also died at Gallipoli, and there were promises his family wouldn’t go without.

Poor Ted Larkin has no known grave. He was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory medal, although who knows what victory Larkin — a man with the world at his feet —  or the enemy who shot him actually saw while he bled to death on that cursed hillside. Follow LeagueHQ on TwitterPlay Ultimate LeagueGold Coast Titans’ Tom Kingston latest to answer military calling  

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