Tales of brothers at war have a powerful emotional appeal. The movie Saving Private Ryan is a good example of the way stories can be woven around the tragedy of brothers leaving to fight a war and the impact this has on their families and communities. In Michael McKernan’s Victoria at War, the early focus is on the Whitelaw family from Briagolong from which six sons enlisted. Four of them died as a result of being at the front. It provides a disturbing preface to the accumulated tragedy his book documents.
Within the Melbourne soccer community there were many pairs and some trios of brothers who went off to fight but perhaps Bert, Tommy, Alexander and Hughie Lowe represent Victorian soccer’s biggest fraternal commitment to the AIF.
The Lowe family emigrated to Melbourne from Aberdeen in 1901. The four boys each came to prominence as players with the strong St. Kilda Club. In 1910, Tommy became club captain at the ripe old age of 21. Alexander was appointed treasurer and assistant secretary and also kept goal for the club at the age of 20 in 1913. Hughie, the youngest, was only starting his senior career, playing for the 2nd team at the outbreak of war. The oldest, Bert, played for the club and represented it as a delegate to the association. While each brother eventually enlisted, Hughie beat the others to the punch by travelling to Britain to join up very early in the war.
As a result of this haste Hughie was caught up in the fighting in the Dardenelles and died less than six weeks into the Gallipoli campaign on 3 June 1915. J. W. Harrison reported in the Winner:
H. M. (‘Hughie’) Lowe has lost his life in the service of the Empire, having died from wounds. I know that Victorian followers of Soccer in general will join with me in extending sympathy to the bereaved family. The late Soccer player in question has died as he would have wished — in defence of King and Empire, a sentiment which has dominated the members of the Sportsmen’s Battalion formed far across the seas.
Hughie is buried at Chatby War Memorial Cemetery (Row M, Grave No. 100), Egypt.
The other brothers all returned safely, Tommy and Bert both being decorated with medals for bravery. The three survivors resumed playing with St Kilda but it is safe to assume that the loss of Hughie weighed heavily on family and club alike. His death also left another significant gap (of the more than 70 killed and countless injured beyond recovery) in the booming culture that had been Victorian pre-war soccer.
This is the fifth part of Ian Syson’s We Shall Remember Them series. Funding for this series was provided by Football Federation Victoria.