Although Australian society at the time of World War I was predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant there were a number of rugby league enlistments that did not fit that demographic and came from a variety of backgrounds.
Rugby league players in the first AIF reflected wider society, and came from all sorts of ethnicities.
Apart from those who were native born their ranks included many players who had come from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Overwhelmingly the largest group outside them is from a German background. There are at least 30 with surnames that underline their ancestry (including an Ettingshausen), the most notable of which is John Stuntz, the former Australian representative who was killed in action at Bullecourt on 3rd May 1917.
Other European nationalities include Italians such as Balmain junior league player Arthur Simonetti, whose grandfather had been a famous sculptor, and Polish such as Alex Bolewski, from a famous Bundaberg family that produced two internationals. Alex played with Glebe and Newtown and represented NSW in 1919.
There were also French like Annandale official Sid Le Serve, who was wounded at Gallipoli and after returning home and recovering, re-enlisted and went back to the western front, Scandinavians such as 1908 Kangaroo Ernest “George” Anlezark, who remained in England after the tour and was actually in Germany when war was declared. He got out in time to get back to the UK and served with British forces in the Middle East.
There were also a handful of Jewish player/soldiers– none better than 1908 Kangaroo Albert Rosenfeld, who remained in England at the end of that tour, married a local girl and set a benchmark for tries in a season (80) that will probably never be beaten. He too served in the British Army.
And then there are others such as Page Amos, who came from a West Indian background and played with Newtown, whilst brothers James and Norman Sam, both prominent players with West Wyalong, were part Chinese. There’s even an American, William Bismarch Schaeffer from Eastern Suburbs second grade, whose father had served in the Confederate Forces during the American Civil War. Schaeffer was killed in action at Gallipoli on 16th May 1915.
All of them showcase that Australia was already somewhat multicultural, even in 1914. That diversity has always been a feature of our country, and rugby league, as the face of the nation, has always mirrored that. It’s why it is incumbent on the game and all Australians to acknowledge, respect and commemorate those who served.