Headgear to Helmets: Paddy Bugden
Headgear to Helmets is a documentary feature film that provides an insight into rugby league players who enlisted in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and saw active duty during the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign.
The following story is the fourth in a series of seven.
Paddy Bugden was working in the family hotel at Alstonville when he enlisted in the 31st Battalion in 1916. Aged 21, he had already played rugby league with Alstonville and Billinudgel before he joined the AIF in Brisbane.
After training in England, his battalion landed in France in January 1917, and in between stints in the front line he was able to play football again, as he wrote home:
"I have a great name amongst the Battalion boys as a footballer," he wrote. "They call me the 'tank' and they think there is no one like me as a player."
The bravado in his letters home contrasts with his diary, in which he recorded his fears and the difficulties facing the troops:
I don’t like to examine the reality of my situation too often, it makes it harder. The worst times are when supplies run low, like they did last week… The environment here in Belgium is cold, and as we fight, unforgiving.
When I sleep, which I promise you isn’t often, I can hear gunfire in my dreams. I would never admit it, but I find it unnerving. The wickedest part is, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the terrors I’ve seen here, regardless of how very hard I try.
I look forward to returning home, to seeing my beloved family, of regaining some form of normality.
I don’t know whether I’m going to live or die, I just hope for the best.
P Bugden, diary, May 16, 1917
Paddy Bugden was killed in action during the battle of Polygon Wood on September 28, 1917. On five occasions he single-handedly attacked the Germans to free Australians who had been captured, and in attempting to free a sixth he was fatally wounded.
For his deeds Bugden was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, one of two rugby league players from Australia who received this most prestigious of honours.
The Bugdens have been a prolific rugby league family over the past 100 years – a nephew named Paddy Bugden won a premiership with Newtown in 1943, Bob Bugden was a great half with St George, Parramatta and Australia, while brothers Geoff and Mark Bugden each won Grand Finals in the 1980s.