As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War l, it is worth reflecting that there is a foreign field, a small piece of France, that is forever Newtown and Chilwell.
It is grave of the club’s founding secretary, Adrian Ambrose Connor.
A.A. Connor, as his name appears in gold letters on the club’s honour boards, went to Chilwell Primary School and The Gordon.
When World War l broke out, despite being something of a pacifist, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces and was shipped off to France where was wounded at the fated Battle of Fromelle on July 19th, 1916.
He suffered severe injuries to the chest and head while fighting near the village of Fleurbaix and was admitted to 8 Field Ambulance and later conveyed by ambulance train to 8 Australian General Hospital at Calais.
He died as a result of his wounds on July 30th at the British General Hospital and was buried in Calais’s British Southern Cemetery.
He was 28.
As well as helping found Newtown and Chilwell Cricket Club, Connor was also prominent in athletics, not just in Geelong, but nationally as was noted in this obituary published by The Geelong Advertiser.
The Guild flag flew at half-mast yesterday, for the name of Adrian Connor, the well-known Marathon and long distance runner has been added to the long list of those who have given their all for King and Empire. “Mat” or “Mac” as his many friends called him, was one of the quiet workers.
If a word could describe him it would be such a one as “untiring.”
It is many years ago that Mat Connor was one of a group of lads who had banded themselves together just because they were boys, and wanted their energies directed in the gymnasium or other physical recreation.
Mac and his friends saw a vision of greater things for young men – the mental, physical and spiritual uplift that an Association or a Guild with a Hall of its own would mean to them and their fellows.
This ideal looked far away, but the tireless energy of the lad and his companions was consummated in the building and opening of the Guild Hall in Myers Street in 1908.
Mat Connor gave of his small earnings, and encouraged others to give, and so the Hall was built.
In that Guild Mat Connor learned to read and to speak in public.
His friends will remember the peculiar shake of his head as he talked in debate, and his apparent nervousness in speech making, but they will also remember the indomitable tireless will with which he cured himself of these defects, and became in turn committee-man, assistant secretary, treasurer and vice-president of the Guild he helped to make and which he loved.
In the Literary section, by sheer plodding and perseverance, he became a Gold Medallist; in the Gymnasium he was a worker and leader; in Bible Class he was a regular attendant and willing student.
In all these departments Mat was loved as no other man was by his fellow members.
But it was in the Harrier section of the Guild that the name of Mat Connor became a household word among the amateur athletes of Australia; whose records find an honourable position for his name.
His quiet work among the Guild Harriers will be long remembered by many boys now grown to manhood.
It was Connor who encouraged the novice.
It was Connor who would set the pace and yet keep his eye on the tired straggler.
It was Connor who by numerous acts of unselfishness brought many a youngster out of his shell and developed the man within him.
He did not lay himself out to achieve social success.
He was not a seeker after popularity, nor did he court notoriety.
He was essentially a student always seeking to improve himself. The mainspring of his life was the desire to help others, cost what it would, and the number is not few who can testify to his generous spirit and unselfish attitude. No man ever heard him speak ill of another.
To know him was to love him, and his memory will inspire and spur his friends to do higher and nobler things.
When the call for military service came, Connor, the man of peace, the hater of strife, offered his services to his country, and those who knew the circumstances surrounding his enlistment, marvelled at this nature.
Now Mat has run his race. He ran it patiently, doggedly, this life race in which he was so interested.
And the Great Judge or Umpire will write in the book of life against the name of Adrian Connor just these words, – “WELL RUN MAT.
As well as he ran, and he competed all over Australia and might have also run internationally but for the war, it seems that A.A. Connor was not much of a cricketer, the records of the time including quite a few ducks.
Sadly for his family, Connor wasn’t the only one killed in World War 1, as this article published in 1917 attests:
THREE NOBLE BROTHERS
While many people are enjoying the privileges of a free country too little attention is given by some to the heroic deeds of those who are helping to keep it so, and when a father has lost three sons in the war, as Mr George Connor has done, it should make a few of our eligible men rise to the occasion and do their bit also.
John George Conner, the eldest, enlisted at Geelong in July, 1915, and trained at Seymour and Geelong.
He left Australia in January, 1916, took part in the fighting at Bapaume and Bullecourt, and was killed in action at Bullecourt on May 12, 1917.
Prior to enlisting he was a landscape gardener. He was an active member of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, Loyal Geelong Lodge, and the cricket club, and was also treasurer of the Gardeners’ Union during its existence in Geelong.
Adrian, the second son, enlisted with his elder brother, and sailed at the same time. He was wounded in the battle of Pozieres, and died on July 31, 1916.
He was in the employ of a well-known Geelong firm of timber merchants and saw millers.
A good all-round athlete, he particularly distinguished himself as a long distance cross-country runner, and was accepted to represent this country in the Marathon races at Athens, when the Balkans war broke out and stopped the Games.
He was an enthusiastic church, Sunday school, and temperance worker.
The third son, Henry Malvern, after having been previously rejected, was accepted in March, 1916, and sailed on May 5 as a member of the machine gun section.
After some training in England he passed the examination for corporal. Fighting at Bapaume on March 24, he received wounds in the head, and died shortly afterwards without having recovered consciousness.
He was formerly engaged in clerical work, was an expert shorthand writer, and was for some time on the “Geelong Advertiser.” He was-well known as a singer, and was a member of All Saints Church choir, Geelong.
When the going gets tough during pre-season training, or in the heat of games this summer, something to remember perhaps.