Informant saw Joe Pearce killed

Informant saw Joe Pearce killed

By Jill Fenwick

Arthur Mueller “Joe” Pearce enlisted to fight in the Great War on August 17, 1914.

He was the eighth man from Essendon to sign up and the first VFL footballer to volunteer for the war. He had played 152 games for the Melbourne Football Club from 1904 to 1913, and in a game where players had fixed places on the ground, he had kicked five goals. The Argus newspaper nominated him as “a full back and one of the best kicks ever.”

Recruiting began on August 11, 1914. Three-thousand-six-hundred men were accepted to fight by nightfall, mainly because they had previous military experience, probably in a school cadet corps like Joe Pearce or in the Citizens Military Force. By the end of that year, 52,461 had enlisted and were in training.

There was never to be another tragedy like World War I. Of the 330,000 Australians who enlisted, more than 70,000 died, and countless others were wounded. Most enlisted in the spirit of patriotism, having learned about the glories of being part of the British Empire.

They would have seen themselves as independent Australian Britons, with the war providing a baptism of fire that would see Australia emerge as a heroic nation covered in glory. It would also be the great adventure of their lives, off with their mates to see the world.

Joe Pearce was a single man, born in Bendigo, aged 29, five-feet 11-inches in height and weighing 170lbs. A devoted member of Holy Trinity Church East Melbourne, he was Church Treasurer, Sunday School Superintendent, Secretary of the Church of England Men’s Society, and a choir member. He lived at 138 Gipps St, East Melbourne and was a professional clerk.


“I have thought this thing over, and I have considered it in every way. I am strong, healthy and athletic, and I think I ought to go, and if I don’t come back, well, it won’t much matter,” Mr Pearce said.


He was placed in D Company, 7th Battalion, No. 418 and made Lance-Corporal. After training, the soldiers boarded the A20 Hororata to join the rest of the Australian fleet sailing to Egypt. They made camp below the Pyramids and the Sphynx. After further training, the 7th Battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. “Pompey” Elliott, left Cairo by train for Alexandria. The troops boarded SS Galeka, which would take them to shore at Gaba Tepe on April 25, 1915. Mr Pearce never made it to the beach.

His service record states, “While making for the fisherman’s hut … to take place in the landing at Gallipoli on April 25, Mr Pearce was killed by machine-gun fire or rifle fire. He was buried with 20 or 30 others on the beach. Informant saw him killed.”

Professor Geoffrey Blainey has identified Joe Pearce as the first VFL footballer to die at Gallipoli. His sister, Ethel, placed an advertisement in The Argus In Memoriam column for 40 years, as did his old friend from Bendigo, William Farrington Hastings.

A plaque honouring his memory, installed at Holy Trinity by his devoted family, reads, “The whistle blows, the referee calls ‘Time!’ The players drop their futile pantomime.” •

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