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Stan Carpenter – Newcastle’s Rugby League Pioneer
Stanley Franzien Carpenter was born in 1879 and grew up in the Newcastle region with his brother Leslie (whom he would play football alongside) and sister Lily.
Stan started his Rugby Union career as a junior with the Carlton club based in central Newcastle where he became friends with Pat Walsh, who would go on to achieve success in three football codes across four different countries. Carpenter's size and strength for a hooker (he weighed 80kgs and was 178cms tall), from working in the coalmines in Newcastle and on the construction of the railway line near Dungog, saw him quickly become one of the premier forwards in Newcastle.
After winning premierships at Carlton, Stan played for Central Newcastle, regularly earning representative honours.
In 1906 he married local girl Jean McDonald.
In early 1908, the New South Wales Rugby League was set to commence, but after talks to create a St.George side had broken down, League President Henry Hoyle decided to look outside Sydney for his competitions 8th side.
After a failed attempt in February to form a Newcastle side, Hoyle returned in early April with greater success, thanks largely to a small group of players who were angry towards the Rugby Union after the treatment of local Test star Pat Walsh, who had been dropped from the state and test sides for seemingly political reasons. This group was led by Stan Carpenter.
The Newcastle club was formed and they agreed to adopt the red and white striped jumper of the Carlton club, as a tribute to Walsh who was arguably their best player.
Walsh himself had left the country a long time prior, winning a premiership in Australian Rules football in an expatriate competition in South Africa before returning to Rugby Union in New Zealand.
Carpenter was elected as the club captain for its inaugural season, a testimony to the great respect he earned from the players in Newcastle who joined the League, most of whom he'd only ever played against.
Newcastle's first game was against Glebe, who were considered the best team in the competition based on their overwhelming success in the Union game prior to changing codes. Glebe had to work very hard for their 8-5 victory.
Two days later, Carpenter captained a Newcastle representative side who suffered a heavy loss to the New Zealand All Golds side who were returning home after their tour of Great Britain.
Carpenter took on the All Golds again just 3 days later as he captained the Northern Districts team. His side was again on the receiving end of a heavy loss.
Carpenter led Newcastle in two losses against the visiting New Zealand Maori team before earning selection in the New South Wales side for their second match against Queensland. Despite playing well in a convincing victory, Carpenter was not selected for the state side again in 1908.
With James Giltinan successfully luring Pat Walsh from New Zealand Rugby Union across to Rugby League, Walsh lined up alongside Carpenter for the first time in years for Newcastle's last two games of the year against the two competition leaders Eastern Suburbs and South Sydney. The impressive Eastern Suburbs side were unstoppable, with star recruit Dally Messenger scoring 18 of his sides 34 points to Newcastle's 17, which pushed Newcastle out of the top 4 and the finals. The next week saw South Sydney work very hard to come away with an 8-3 win.
Carpenter played in a Possibles v Probables match to determine which players would travel to Great Britain for the inaugural Kangaroo's tour. Carpenter was selected as the tours second hooker, however he suffered a broken leg and had to withdraw from the tour.
The 1909 season saw Newcastle get off to a slow start, winning 1 of their first 4 games, before they almost pulled off a miraculous victory over the visiting New Zealand side. The strong performance lifted the side, who went on to beat Glebe 26-8 and Western Suburbs 34-0 in successive weeks.
Carpenter's form again earnt him state selection, in a game against the Kiwi's and in 3 more games against the returning New Zealand Maori side. But most importantly, he represented Australia in all 3 test matches against the Maori.
Upon returning to club football, Newcastle pulled off arguably their greatest victory when they beat the undefeated South Sydney 5-0 in the last game of the year before the finals. The win secured Newcastle's place in the finals, however they were trounced a week later against South Sydney 20-0.
Carpenter's last match of the year was for the Kangaroo's in a hastily organised fourth exhibition game against the Wallabies to be played straight after the 1909 final between Balmain and South Sydney.
The Newcastle side decided to leave the NSWRL and form its own local competition. Carpenter joined the South Newcastle side.
After such a stellar season, Carpenter was eagerly awaiting the new season with high hopes, however in March 1910, his young wife Jean passed away at their family home in Newcastle.
Despite the tragic loss, Stanley changed clubs, turning out for the newly created Eastern Suburbs Newcastle side, earning representative honours for Newcastle and Northern Districts against the visiting Great Britain team.
From 1911 to 1914, he continued his stellar representative career, representing Newcastle, Northern Districts, Hunter & Northern Districts and NSW Country against touring nations, interstate sides and other local representative teams. Meanwhile at club level, he achieved premiership success with Eastern Suburbs in 1913.
Within two weeks after war broke about, the widowed Stanley Franzien Carpenter enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force in the 2nd Battalion Infantry before transferring to the Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer.
Carpenter was part of the infamous mass of Australian soldiers who landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 with the third wave of troops. On the very next day, Carpenter and fellow stretcher bearer, Edward Roberts, travelled along the beach by foot under heavy fire, looking for wounded men. They came across a boat that had been beached since the landing some 30 odd hours earlier. All of the men inside had suffered gunshot wounds, with all but five of them killed. Carpenter and Roberts waded and swam to the boat and rescued the survivors, carrying them ashore, one-by-one, to the aid station while constantly being fired upon by sniper fire. Carpenter's bravery was observed by well known Australian War Correspondent Charles Bean and Lieutenant Colonel Braund. Braund was one of only two serving Australian politicians who died while serving in World War I. The other was former NSWRL secretary Edward Larkin. This incident was reported back to the Australian media by several soldiers.
Braund and later Lieutenant Herrod nominated Carpenter and Roberts for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Both were later recommended for a Military Cross for their heroic actions.
Carpenter then was transferred to the battle in Pozieres in mid-1916, the scene of one of the most horrific trench battles during the war. It was while serving here that Major General Walker recommended Carpenter for the Victoria Cross, the first Australian to receive such a recommendation in the Great War. Carpenter instead received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and a Military Cross:
"For conspicuous bravery during protracted operations under heavy shell fire. Time after time he went into ‘No Man's Land' to collect and tend wounded and it was owing to his fine courage that so few of his Battalion's wounded were missing.
The Major General also added in his recommendation that "Officers and men are unanimous in their expression of admiration for him."
Despite his heroics and constantly seeing death and destruction around him, he still ensured that every year while he was on duty, he placed a family notice in the Sydney Morning Herald dedicated to the memory of his wife on the anniversary of her passing.
Surprisingly enough, Carpenter met fellow serviceman Pat Walsh while they were both on active duty and spent some time convalescing near the end of the war.
In 1919, Stan's sister Lily passed away after a severe bout of influenza.
Carpenter remained on active duty for the duration of the war before finally returning home in 1920, where he immediately joined South Newcastle. Later in the year he married Olla Stokes and they moved into their own home in Kempsey, ending his career in the Newcastle competition. Two years later they had a baby boy, also named Stanley.
Stan Carpenter went back to playing Rugby League and despite his age and absence from the game, managed to gain representative honours for the Northern Districts before eventually retiring at the age of 43 and took up coaching junior teams before moving on to senior coaching roles.
Tragedy struck his life once again when in 1933, his son was riding his bike home from school and was hit by a vehicle, killing him instantly, just 2 days after his 11th birthday.
Carpenter slowly removed himself from all forms of sport and lived a quiet life with his wife Olla up until his death on May 31, 1962, aged 82.
**********This article appeared in the Rugby League Review magazine**********