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SLATER, Joseph Henry (1888-1917) +

SLATER, Joseph Henry (1888-1917)

Soldier and champion football player 'Joe' Slater was killed in action during World War I.

Joseph Henry Slater was born at Ballarat on 29 November, 1888, the son of Henry and Diana nee Reynolds; his family shifted to Geelong when he was a boy. Educated as a day student at Geelong College from 1902 to 1905, he quickly won himself a reputation as a fine athlete and footballer, playing in the 1st Football XVIII in his last two years at School. 'Joe' Slater went on to become a champion footballer with the Geelong Football Club in the VFL, and in 2001 was chosen in the Geelong Football Club 'Team of the Century' as a half back flanker. He was also inducted into the 'Cats' Hall of Fame'. Champion cricketer, runner and footballer, 'Joe' played 108 games for Geelong between 1906 and 1914.

'Joe' Slater (War Service 1914-1918).

'Joe' Slater (War Service 1914-1918).

In April, 1909 the School magazine, 'Pegasus' had noted that he had been appointed a lieutenant on probation in the newly formed Senior Cadet Battalion in Geelong. A Lieutenant in the Citizen Forces, he left Australia for Gallipoli in May 1915. He survived two years of frontline service on Gallipoli and in France. Promoted to the rank of Captain in France, he was Mentioned in Despatches by Sir Douglas Haig on 13 November 1916 and appointed commander of a bombing school before taking command of an entire division of bombers. He was killed in action at Second Bullecourt on 3rd May 1917.

Pte F Hancock, (himself later killed in action at Ville-sur-Ancre), reported to the Red Cross Information Bureau the circumstances of Joe Slater's death: ‘He was killed at Bullecourt on May 3rd. He was wounded previously and was taken into a shell hole and relieved of his equipment. He started for the D/S and on the way back he was killed by MG fire through the body. I saw him fall and examined his body. He had a big hole right through the body. I went out next night to try to find his body with some other men but we could not find anything except one of his boots. He was OC, D Company.'

Pte George Bryant (of Essex, England, and Miller's Point, NSW) reported: ‘I was in the same Company as (the) deceased. He was hit by a 'whizz-bang' in the chest and killed instantly at Bullecourt on May 2nd (sic) 1917. I was there at the time and witnessed the occurrence, I was also wounded. Description: very stout, about 14 stone, about 5'10" in height, played football for 22nd Bn. Came from Geelong, Victoria.‘

Jim Main and David Allen wrote of his death in Fallen: The Ultimate Heroes: 'News of Slater's death precipitated overwhelming grief in Geelong and fans on their way to a match at Corio Oval turned back after word passed from mouth to mouth of their hero being reported 'killed in action'. Geelong players the following week wore black crepe armbands for a match against Richmond.

A further tribute appeared in the Sporting Judge, 'News of the death of Capt. Joe Slater, a great player in the Geelong colours for many years, was received with general regret in football circles last week. The Pivotonian died a soldier's death somewhere in France. At the zenith of his career Slater had no peer as a half-back and a fairer player never stepped afield. Peace to his ashes'.

Geelong businessmen later established the J H Slater Cup, a race for local amateur runners during half-time at Corio Oval. It continues today before home games at Kardinia Park. Slater Square, a public open space at the former Geelong Technical School re-development, Kilgour Place was unveiled on 4 July, 2013

Joe Slater has no known grave. His name is commemorated on the Villers Bretonneux Memorial, France. His name is also recorded on the Roll of Honour at South Geelong Methodist Church.

Sources: Pegasus April 1909 p33; Geelong Advertiser 25 April, 2013; James Affleck, Geelong Collegians at the Great War pp 110-111 (citing Australian War Memorial; Jim Main and David Allen, Fallen: The Ultimate Heroes: Footballers who never returned from the war (2002); Photo Pegasus August 1917).
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