August 14 holds special significance in the world. Seventy-five years ago, the Allies celebrated Victory over Japan Day, or V-J Day. After six long years, World War II was finally over. Vision of people dancing in the streets and celebrating still provokes an emotional response. The sheer relief that a battle which killed between 70-85 million people, around three per cent of the world's population, was no more. The Wodonga Football Club played its part in World War II and The Border Mail's ANDREW MOIR caught up with the family of Jack Eames about his experiences.
When Jack Eames was part of a group which had pushed the Japanese back in World War II, the engineers would come in and clear a patch of jungle in New Guinea, so the boys could play footy.
Ah, you can take the boy out of Wodonga, but you can't take the Wodonga out of the boy.
Jack Eames was a future Richmond footballer but, like so many around him, was just a young man playing his role in the biggest and bloodiest story of the 20th century.
And footy was a constant theme as the Australian Army personnel tried to forget the horrors.
"He mainly talked about the football he had played and spoke about the VFL players who were serving around him at the time," his son Ian said in Wodonga this week.
Prior to his service Jack had met Lois, the childhood sweethearts marrying after the war and having two children (Ian and Sandra) through 70 years of marriage.
Around that time, he was employed in selling motor car spare parts.
He joined the 10th Ordnance Field Park in December, 1941 and then 126 Brigade Ordnance Field Park in July, 1942, rising to Sergeant.
It was his experience in the motor industry which was quickly identified by his army superiors who put him in charge of setting up three spare parts units during his service in the Pacific region.
"The American supply system was so unreliable, the 'Yanks' used to come to him to order stuff through the Australian system. They would give him anything, anything, one bloke fronted up with a machine gun and said to dad, 'here, you can have this if you give me what I want'," Ian offered.
However, like so many men of his vintage, he didn't speak much about war, but occasionally let slip the odd story.
"He told me about their unit camped at the Jackson airfield and the Japanese had an artillery field cannon looking over the airstrip," Ian said.
"Each night the Japanese would wheel it out and shell everyone, until an American airman flew his plane into it and put it out of action, as well as himself.
"One other time 400 American troops were sitting in trucks next to the airfield waiting to be flown out when one of the planes overshot the airstrip and ploughed into the trucks. There was total carnage."
Under such terrifying conditions, you needed anything to survive. A sense of humour was essential.
"Dad was put in charge of overseeing and constructing a dinner table, it looked good until the cook put the roast on the table and it collapsed. He wasn't a handy man," Ian laughed.
"He went fishing with a friend and used hand grenades in a dinghy.
"Also, when their unit wanted a cup of tea in the tropical rain, they would play a game of CROW. They had a person in their unit, who was not liked, so he always got the CROW. On the piece of paper everyone had, it had CROW written on it, but this bloke who wasn't well liked always said he had it, so he made the tea, he never quite woke up to to the fact he was being 'had' every time."
But perhaps it was a moment when he arrived home after the brutality of war which exposed his inner feelings.
"His last invoice at Motor Traders before he left was, let's say for example, December 1, 1941. When he went back there after the war, he dated his first invoice back as December 2, 1941. He just wiped those five years as though it had never happened," Ian said.
"Dad wasn't a military person, he went there to do a job and did it."
The Wodonga Football Club has a proud record of supplying men to war.
In World War 1 (1914-1918), 70 young men from the Wodonga district were killed in action and while the records are sketchy, certainly some were ex-Wodonga Football Club players.
Forty-seven players from the Bulldogs enlisted in World War II.
"I believe that figure would equal any football club in Australia," Wodonga life member Lloyd Deane said.
"To think that Fred Matthews played in the famous 1939 grand final where Wodonga, coached by Gordon Strang, was beaten by three points by Albury, which was coached by Gordon's brother, yet within two years he was killed returning to England when his bomber plane crashed after a raid in Germany. Fred Matthews was a pilot in the RAAF and is buried in a war grave in northern England near the Wales border. As an inspiration to our young players, Wodonga's Rookie of the Year is named the Fred Matthews Memorial Trophy. A photo of his grave is featured in our social clubrooms."
Eames was discharged from the army on April 10, 1946, eight months after the war ended.
However, the lessons learnt never left him.
"In the mid 1950s, I asked dad, 'why does your kit bag have a lock on it'? He replied, 'to keep the enemy out'," Ian recalled.
Eames was 23 when he started his 'new' life.
It was a big year too as he married Lois, who he had met at a dance seven years earlier. The pair was married until his beloved Lois passed away in 2016.
He was also pursued by four VFL clubs before settling on Richmond.
But the newly weds didn't like city life and struck a deal with the Tigers where he could live and train in Wodonga and travel by train to Melbourne to play each Saturday.
"The Richmond Football Club must have thought the world of Jack to want him to play on that sort of basis," chaplain Ross Barnes said when Jack Eames was farewelled by a large crowd of mourners in January, 2017.
It was an unusual set-up and it must have been a unique experience for any Tigers' fans who might have also caught the Spirit of Progress train, potentially talking to a player just hours before the game.
Eames played 14 matches with club legends Jack Dyer, dual Brownlow medallist Roy Wright, Des Rowe and Don "Mopsy" Fraser, playing in a drought-breaking win against Collingwood at Victoria Park.
But while he never left home, Wodonga was calling.
"It was where most of his friends were and dad married a Wodonga girl, he lived here for the rest of his life," Ian said.
Eames signed as coach of the Bulldogs in 1947 and led the club for four years before retiring as a player in 1952.
"Jack Eames had an indescribable effect on our club. Apart from being an extremely talented player and coach, he worked on the committee and was used in recruiting players to Wodonga. In the 1960s he also acted as a talent scout for Richmond and assisted Jack Dyer and Graeme Richmond to recruit John Perry, Barry Richardson, Kevin Smith and Geoff Strang to Richmond. John Perry, Barry Richardson and Geoff Strang all became premiership players at Richmond," Deane said proudly.
"Even when Jack was in his 90's he could be seen at home games sitting with his old team-mate Jake Elkington, barracking for Wodonga."
Quite remarkably, in 90 games for the Bulldogs, the Wodonga Team of the Century centre half-back polled 80 Morris Medal votes.
He finished runner-up on debut, third in 1948 and claimed the league's top award by a whopping 10 votes.
"When Wodonga played Corowa late in the year, dad knew big 'Stevo' was going to give him a hard time," Ian offered.
"Dad was favourite for the Morris Medal and as the ball was bounced, dad gave 'Stevo' a whack behind the ear and all 'Stevo' did was tell the umpire how Jack Eames had hit him.
"The ump couldn't believe that the best and fairest favourite would do such a thing (laughs)."
But 1949 was also one of the saddest times in Wodonga's history.
Young star Ted West and two committeemen Harold Phefley (Bon's dad) and Robert Howlett were killed when the team's bus ploughed into a fruit truck, which had broken down on the Hume Highway, near Chiltern, on the way back from Wangaratta.
"Dad would choke up, he had talked two people into travelling on the bus and they died," Ian said.
The crash transcended footy as the community mourned the loss of three lives, along with a handful of injured, including Eames, with a broken thumb ruling him out of the grand final, which Wangaratta won by 32 points.
Wangaratta star Kevin Allan, now 94, recalled this week Eames' influence on and off the field.
"Jack was a good bloke and a good player," Allan said.
"I often had the pleasure later of playing golf with and against Jack. On Veterans Day at Bandiana one day we broke fairly even over the 18 holes, but the 19th hole was probably the most enjoyable (laughs)."
Eames remained in the motor vehicle industry and, just like all aspects of his life, he strived to be the best.
"When he sold Fords at Blacklocks, he won professional salesmen awards for two years. He sold 17 cars in 17 days to get his numbers up," Ian quipped.
"Dad was a people person, he was popular, compassionate and the first person to put his hand out to help someone, including the times I needed him, he was always there," Ian said.
As we remember those who served, spare a thought for "Gentleman Jack" Eames.