Former Carlton back pocket player Arthur Sleith, whose two seasons with the club took in the dark days of the Second World War, has died in Melbourne at the age of 90.
Sleith, the 569th player to don the famed Navy Blue guernsey, passed away last Wednesday, just five days short of his 91st birthday.
Born in Murtoa on December 22, 1917, Arthur Joseph Sleith was just three years old when his parents relocated to a home in Mount Street West Preston. In later years he purchased the house, and basically lived there until he died.
Sleith represented Carlton during the 1942 and ’43 seasons, during which time he also served with the RAAF. Having enlisted in August 1941, Corporal Sleith was discharged almost five years later, in February 1946.
Sleith was originally recruited to the club from VFA outfit Preston, from which teammate Bert Deacon – Carlton’s inaugural Brownlow Medallist of ’47 and much-respected club figure - also hailed.
He was 24 years and 145 days old when he completed his senior debut on Saturday, May 16, 1942, against South Melbourne at Princes Park – together with five other debutants - George Gniel, Jim Knight, Bob ‘Bomber’ Atkinson, Wilf Atkinson (no relation) and Jack ‘Chooka’ Howell.
Wilf Atkinson and Knight, who also served in the RAAF, would later die on active service in August and October 1943 respectively.
Sleith represented Carlton in just five senior appearances and wore three different guernsey numbers in his five-game foray. He went in with the No.26 on his back for the second and third rounds of 1942, the No.20 for rounds 10 and 13 of that year, and finally the No.22 in his final senior appearance of Round 4, 1943. He was named in the back pocket for those first two contests and as 19th man for the remaining three, having successfully obtained leave from the RAAF to play.
Sleith, whose wife Valma pre-deceased him, is survived by a daughter Deanne, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Deanne said that her father, at one point a tailor by profession, later owned two hotels I regional Victoria – the Hotel Sarsfield which no longer exists, and the Malmsbury Hotel.
She said that during the war he was stationed in Darwin for four years and four months.
“Dad never talked about the war much, but I think he was with a unit that used to collect the debris from crashed planes and ships,” Deanne said.
“He knew all of those League footballers who served in wartime. I’ve a photo of Dad in a combined services football team, with so many players of his era in it.
“He told me that Carlton and Collingwood later invited him to train, but he lost a lot of weight through the war and needed to bulk up. So he went back to Preston, but then ended up coaching in Jerilderie, and later the Yeoman Football Club, near Burnie, in Tasmania’s north-west.
“He maintained his interest in football and cricket to the end and he certainly had a soft spot for the Blues. In fact, I was recently given one of his long sleeve Carlton jumpers to pass on to one of his great grandsons.”
At the time of his death, Sleith was the seventh oldest known living Carlton player, behind Clen Denning, (97), Arch Shields (94), Andrew McDonald “Max” Wilson (94), Don McIntyre (91) and Keith Rae (91). Another former player, Jack Bavin, would also be 91, but it is not known if he is still living.