Headgear to helmets: George Duffin
Tragic George Duffin was a hero on both sides of the Tweed River. Fullback for Western Suburbs (Sydney) Rugby Union first grade team in 1906 and '07, he was one of the pioneers in the new code, appearing for Western Suburbs in their first ever rugby league match. He played seven matches for the Magpies in that historic season before shifting north for the first ever season of club football in Queensland.
He was a star in the fledgling Brisbane competition for six seasons, being a near permanent fixture in their representative combinations over that time and making 18 appearances for Queensland between 1909-13. His qualities as a utility are evidenced by the fact that he appeared in every backline position except halfback and the fact that he captained the state.
Duffin's sole Test came at Brisbane in 1909 against New Zealand, when Australia posted a 10-5 win. Selected in the unfamiliar position of winger he was one of nine Queenslanders included in the Second Test of the series.
As the match was played in Brisbane the need to include local talent to attract a crowd appeared overdone, but the Australian XIII surprised all their critics by levelling the series after the Kiwis had won the first encounter 19-11. Duffin sustained a badly cut nose as a souvenir of his appearance but helped construct the match winning try when he backed up some clean-up work by Heidke, which turned defence into attack, and sent Woodhead on a 50 metre run to the tryline
In the summer months, Duffin was also a very fine first grade cricketer who could open both the batting and bowling to good effect.
Although not married, Duffin enlisted on March 1, 1915 and was assigned to C Coy 18th Battalion. His attestation papers reveal that he was then aged 27 yrs 7mths, was a warehouseman by occupation, stood 5 ft 7 in and weighed just over ten stone (64.5 kg). At that time he was back living with his father in Sydney.
Duffin's career as a soldier would be tragically brief. He sailed from Australia on HMAT A40 "Ceramic" on June 25 and after a few weeks training in Egypt they were thrown into the fray, and landed on the peninsula on August 20. Unfortunately the new men from the 18th Battalion were not used as much more than fodder, as Les Carlyon describes:
"The 18th had been ashore three days…These new men were big and rosy-cheeked; they had never been under fire and were full of hope. They arrived a few hundred yards west of Hill 60 at dawn on August 22. Their officers were called to a conference and told they were to attack with bombs and bayonets only. But they had no bombs, an officer interjected. Well, they'd just have to do their best without them. They charged the Turkish trenches 750 strong and came out with 383 casualties, half of them dead. Hill 60 was still unconquered and a new battalion had been ruined. Troops were short and compromises inevitable; there was still something contemptible about the way the 18th had been sent out to die."
- Carlyon, Gallipoli, p485
George Duffin was one of those who perished in the stunt, but his body was never found and there were misleading reports that he had been captured and was being held as a prisoner of war. An inquiry nearly two years later found that he probably died at Gallipoli "on or about August 22" from a direct hit by a shell, which would usually mean there was no body to be found. It may have been quick and relatively pain-free for George if not his family in the months that followed. After the inquiry it was even reported that he had died in France.
One cannot begin to imagine the emotional pain his kinfolk must have felt when he was posted as missing, the two years of emptiness before final confirmation that he had been killed. There would be many more families who would experience the same heartbreak before the war was finished.