Private James Robert Pender
Died Bois Grenier, France, July 2, 1916, aged 39 years
15 games for Carlton, 1898
In season 1898, as Carlton struggled amongst the also-rans of the fledgling Victorian Football League, a remarkable situation unfolded when three brothers completed their senior debuts for the Blues in successive weeks.
In May of that year, in round one against South Melbourne, James Robert (Jim) Pender ran out onto Princes Park for his first senior game. Named as a ruck-rover, Jim contributed to an encouraging 17-point win against the Bloods. The next week, against Melbourne at the MCG, Michael joined his brother in the team, playing at half-back in a devastating 57-point loss to the Fuchsias.
For thirty year-old Mick, that was to be his only VFL appearance. He lost his place for the round three match against Essendon at Princes Park – and was replaced by his brother Daniel! Dan was to be more successful than Mick, in that he managed four games for the Blues in total, while the fourth and youngest of the Pender clan; Laurence (Laurie) Pender, rounded out a unique family achievement when he pulled on the blue and white hoops of Geelong Football Club in 1912.
All of the Pender boys were capable footballers, but Jim is remembered more for a singular act of selfless bravery that occurred years after his playing career had ended – in the trenches of the Western Front of northern France during World War 1.
Born in North Melbourne (Hotham) and raised in the open spaces of provincial Geelong, Jim Pender (like each of his brothers) was a star junior with the Wellington Football Club, and later with Footscray in the VFA, from where he was invited to Carlton for his one and only season in 1898. Afterward, he played three seasons with East Perth in the WANFL, before rounding off his senior career with North Melbourne.
By August 1914, when Great Britain and France declared war on a belligerent Germany, Jim Pender was 37 years-old and living back in Geelong with his wife Minnie and two children James and Mary. When thousands of young Australians rallied to the call to defend the British Empire, Jim was among them. Although his age and marital status entitled him to exemption from active service, he was obviously determined to do what he had always done: to give his best for the team.
He enlisted in July 1915 and after basic training was allocated to the 11th draft of reinforcements for the 14th Battalion. Described on his enlistment papers as being of excellent physique, with blue eyes, brown hair and with a large tattoo of a skipping girl in a ballet costume on his left forearm, Jim joined his battalion at Tel El Kabir in Egypt in March 1916. Barely three months later, he was under fire in the trenches of north-western France.
While training in Egypt, Jim was assigned as batman (or personal assistant) to another Geelong boy, Lieutenant Bob Julian. A born leader, Julian had been promoted through the ranks and seemed destined for higher honours. He and Jim Pender had much in common, and they were soon seen more as two mates than as officer and servant.
On the night of Sunday July 2, 1916, Bob Julian was designated to lead a bombing raid on a sector of German trenches near the village of Bois Grenier, as part of the successful Australian tactic of aggressive patrolling to disrupt the German defences. Leaving Jim to garrison duty, Bob led his men across no-mans-land and was in the process of cutting a way through a thick barbed wire barricade when a German patrol stumbled into them.
A desperate, close-quarters firefight ensued, before the alerted Germans in the trenches began raking the area with heavy machine-gun fire. Three Australians were hit and wounded as they scrambled back to their lines, where it was quickly obvious that Lieutenant Julian wasn’t with them. When he was told that his officer was missing, Jim Pender vaulted over the parapet and crawled away into the darkness toward the scene of the action.
He was never seen alive again.
A month or so later, one of Jim’s comrades (Private Coleman) testified to a court of enquiry in the field that two of the 14th Battalion stretcher bearers saw Lt. Julian’s body entangled in the German wire, with Jim Pender’s body close by. Another soldier told of seeing the bodies too, as they were hit again and again by machine-gun fire. Ultimately, both men’s remains were not recovered, so their names were added to the list of 54,000 Allied troops with no known grave.
Obviously a chip off the same block, Jim Pender’s son James (Jim Junior) also enlisted for active service as soon as possible after he turned 18 on September 27, 1918. However, the war ended less than two months afterward, so he was demobilised before his training was completed.
But, emulating his father at last – in the best possible way – Jim Junior joined the ranks of VFL players in 1936, when he turned out in his solitary VFL match for Geelong.
Private James Robert Pender