The Last Post
It was expected by many, but some of spectators at the St. Kilda and Essendon match on June 17, 1922 at the Junction Oval got a surprise late in the third quarter when a lone bugler in military uniform strode onto the ground just after a goal had been kicked by the Saint's Cyril Gambetta.
Outside the ground, the State Funeral procession of Lieutenant James Mallett Bennett had come to rest on its way to St. Kilda Cemetery from Parliament House.
Players running back to their positions stopped as the somber notes of The Dead March drifted across the oval from the R.A.A.F. Band accompanying the procession, and the crowd of over 20,000 stood bare-headed as the bugler sounded the plaintive notes of the Last Post.
The two teams had already observed a minute's silence at quarter time, but there was to be a further moving tribute paid to a remarkable airman.
The only other sound was the drone of four Air Force planes in a formation in the shape of a crown overhead. Press reports noted a hush for several moments as the bugler marched off and that many of the observers were visibly moved by the tribute before the full-throated roar of the crowd resumed, Essendon eventually winning 15.7(97) to 13.11(89) and recording their seventh win from as many games.
Bennett, born in St. Kilda and a well-known resident and supporter of the club, had been killed along with his pilot Sir Ross Smith on April 13 in an air crash at Brooklands, England during a trial flight of a Vickers Viking amphibian plane being prepared for an attempt at the first round-the-world flight with Smith's brother, Keith.
Bennett, along with the Smith brothers (from South Australia) and another Australian engineer, Sergeant Walter Shiers of New South Wales won international fame by becoming the first crew to fly from London to Australia, collecting in their converted Vickers Vimy World War One bomber a £10,000 prize offered by the Australian Government in 1919, a source of immense national pride as they beat home crews from several other countries.
Keith Smith was also scheduled to have been on the trial flight after the Vickers test crew had passed the aircraft (somewhat revolutionary in that it was a "pusher", with the propellers at the rear of the four engines), but his train from London was delayed by fog and Ross Smith and Bennett took to air without him, believing he had missed the train. Keith arrived a few minutes afterwards and watched in horror as the aircraft plummeted into the ground.
Bennett’s send-off was one of the biggest seen in Melbourne for many years.
The patriotic pride in the achievement, even two and a half years after the event, and excitement over the round-the-world challenge was so great that after Bennett’s body arrived back in Australia on the previous Thursday, it was decided to put the coffin on display in the Queen’s Hall (then the Federal Parliament) between 7.00 and 9.00 p.m. on the eve of the funeral, The Age suggesting some 6,000 people filed past the “flag-draped and wreath-draped” coffin in the two hours, at times at the rate of 100 per minute.
The Herald edition on the Saturday evening had nearly nearly half the front page, plus a full column on page five devoted to the funeral; the Monday’s Argus two full columns suggesting crowds described as "four or five deep" lined Bourke and Swanston Streets as Bennett's funeral cortege passed.
James Mallett Bennett was born in St. Kilda and lived with his parents James and Henrietta at ‘Argyle’, 21 Punt Road when he enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps on 14 June, 1915 at 21 years and seven months of age.
Back in civilian life after the England-Australia flight, Bennett opened a motor garage at 663 St. Kilda Road, two doors north of the Junction and almost adjacent to the St. Kilda ground.
There are many other examples of tributes to servicemen of sporting note who gave their lives for their country, but Bennett ranks a mention as it appears to have been the only one that actually interrupted play! Whether it remains today is uncertain, but there was a memorial obelisk to Lieutenant James Bennett erected in the Catani Gardens on the St. Kilda foreshore in 1927 .
That he was also me dear old mum's cousin also helps his cause for inclusion in our archives!
More details : www.ozsportshistory.com/melbournerules/lastpost.html