Albany Anzac centenary: rugby star Tom 'Rusty' Richards was among the first to enlist and travel to World War I
Australian rugby union legend Tom 'Rusty' Richards was among the thousands of men who set sail from Albany on Western Australia's south in November 1914 to fight in World War I.
Described in a biography as "big, fast, versatile and opportunistic, with a natural brain for rugby" the handsome, six-foot player joined the army within a month of war being declared.
He joined so eagerly his service number was 25.
The war news on the 9th August prevented me doing any business at all, so I went and enlisted for the front. The authorities seemed so slow that I went down to Sydney by 'Wollowaka', arriving after a rough, seasick passage. I set about volunteering for the Light Horse but after waiting four days found they were full up - so Fritz Schwarz and I signed on with the Army Medical Corps and went into camp in Queen's Park. (August 26, 1914)
Private Richards had had a stellar career playing rugby for both the Wallabies and the British Lions and travelled the world playing the game before joining the 1st Field Ambulance.
For two months Richards trained in Sydney before he and his colleagues boarded the HMAT Euripides to make his way to Albany for departure with the rest of the fleet.
He was a prolific diary writer, penning about 1,000 words every day.
Writer Greg Growden presents some of the diary entries in his book about the rugby legend, Wallaby Warrior, giving us an insight into what that first convoy might have been like.
For example, the passage Richards wrote as he left Australia for the war was incredibly prophetic.
It was a mighty solemn procession. Thirty-five transports and a convoy all running in single file, and not a murmur, not a gunshot or whistle. No, not even a bugle call. (November 1, 1914)
The whole business seems almost unbelievable. Thirty-five ships laden with men and weapons, some 30,000 in number, including some of the country's very best men and most valuable assets. (November 1, 1914)
There is something wrong with the world. This is how we sailed out from Albany, in mournful procession, for a destination unknown, and enshrouded in mystery, making a course westerly. Church service was held at 11.30 when the Chaplain tried to justify the Allies' position and asked God for protection and deliverance. The irony of it all! What hypocrisy! Surely this great God, if he had the power to influence victory in any particular way, would also have the power to prevent it at the very first and before lives were sacrificed. (November 1, 1914)
He wrote frankly about life onboard the Euripides and described how the men were up early, their hammocks taken down and "odds and ends" tidied away by 6am.
The men were not allowed back below decks until 6pm and the lights were out at 9pm.
They men paraded every morning and afternoon on the small deck, marching double time and running in single file circles for exercise.
Once the ships left King George Sound, Albany, it took the Euripides a month to reach Egypt where she set anchor at Port Said.
Richards is known to have organised rugby matches among soldiers on the desert sands and stayed in Egypt for four months.
At 8pm last night I got order to be under way by 6am. Riding in Alexandria by motor 130 miles in four hours or a little less is very good going right enough, but there are no turns, curves or gradient along the track. Our boat the 'City of Benares' carries 600 men and some 300 horses, so we are in for a dirty, foul-smelling trip if they don't soon land us somewhere. (April 3, 1915)
His next stop was Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.
Tomorrow is the all-eventful day. We have our bully beef and biscuits with a full water bottle for two days or more. There is no water on the Gallipoli landing place at all. At 3.30am the first landing parties comprising battalions of the 1st Brigade will face the music, which will probably be poured out to them from the trenches only a few hundred yards from the open beach... At 8am the Engineers and the 1st Field Ambulance go ashore in small barges and rowing boats. Of course, our landing will be free from rifle fire but there are two huge forts 800ft high and back 2 1/2 miles with a clear range on to the landing place. The fleet which includes the 'Queen Elizabeth', 'London' and 'Prince of Wales' may hold these forts up and keep them busy. Let's hope! (April 24, 1915)
No bugle call to wake us this morning, but most of us were astir before the sun rose - a brilliant and pleasing red glow. It was just the same as sunset last night - a stage setting with the flashes and booming of the cannon to enliven matters.
From just before daylight as we approached Gallipoli, there was a wholesale roaring and spitting of big guns, our warships being particularly aggressive. The roar of guns did not bother me much but as we were landing on the torpedo boat 'Scourge' at 8.30am a shell came just over No 13 transport and stirred up the water to a height of 60 feet, within 150 yards of us. This brought home to me the grim reality of war, but to my surprise I wasn't troubled and took seven photos before landing over our knees in water from the rowing boats into which we were transferred from the 'Scourge'. As we were landing, a shrapnel shell burst 150 yards away and threw a shower of bullets into the water - rather a pretty display. Twenty minutes on, with stretcher at the ready, we were climbing the steep, rough hills looking for wounded. (April 25, 1915)
Richards did survive the war but its scars plagued his mind and body until his death.
He had been promoted to lieutenant in June 1917 and awarded the Military Cross after leading a bombing party near Bullecourt, in France.
Following injuries to his back and shoulders from bomb blasts, he eventually returned to Australia in 1919 where he continued with his passion for rugby, coaching a local side. He also wrote articles for The Sydney Mail.
In 1922 he married and had two children but his long absences from home as a travelling salesman led to the breakdown of his marriage.
He was described as morose, serious and standoffish after his experiences in war and illness took over his life.
I have no requests or regrets, and have well fortified myself so that I can still smile and play the whistle.
Tom 'Rusty' Richards
His back gave him ongoing problems and tests revealed he had tuberculosis, and had been affected by mustard gas.
"The gas I swallowed during the war is beating me down steadily," he wrote. He also contracted malaria while on a trip to New Guinea for the Sydney Mail.
He was given six months to live and doubled over and gasping for air, he begged his estranged wife Lillian to care for him in his final days.
The family moved to the Blue Mountains and later Queensland in the hope the locations would help him heal.
Richards died on September 25, 1935. He was surrounded by his family. Even to his final day, Richards wrote down his daily musings and feelings.
"Don't be sorry or sympathetic," he wrote.
"I have no requests or regrets, and have well fortified myself so that I can still smile and play the whistle."
The British and Irish Lions rugby team now competes for the Tom Richards Cup every 12 years.