Jack Cooper was a Fitzroy great. Club champion in 1911 and 1914, captain in 1912 and a premiership player in 1913. He played eight times for Victoria and was State captain in 1912. He did it all in a career of 136 games from 1907-15.

But he is best remembered not for his football exploits but for his ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life for his country in the First World War.

Cooper was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium on 20 September 1917. He was 28.

A thick-set 178cm and 78kg half back flanker, Cooper is one of 11 Fitzroy players officially recognised by the AFL has having been killed in action and is remembered especially this week as the AFL celebrates Anzac Round.

Cooper, a product of Alfred Cresent State School in Fitzroy North and the North Fitzroy Juniors, lived with wife Margaret and daughter Maggie at 38 York Street Fitzroy North.

He worked as a storeman for a company owned by Fitzroy president Don Chandler before enlisting in the 8th Battalion of the First AIF (Australian Imperial Force) on 8 November 1915. He left home shores for France on the troopship Wiltshire on 7 March 1916, thereby missing a season contested by just four teams in which Fitzroy finished bottom on the home-and-away season yet won the flag.

Cooper first saw a totally different brand of action in the Battle of the Somme in France, in which 3million troops were involved and more than 1million were injured or killed.

He was not long in the trenches when he was so badly gassed that he was sent for recuperation in London, where he played in a famous exhibition match of Australian football in London in 1916 before returning to active duty in France.

Having almost lost his voice to the lingering effects of his earlier mishap, he still suffered and returned to England for further repatriation. On his third active assignment he was killed at Polygon Wood in Belgium.

In the ultimate indignity, his remains were never recovered, and he is commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belgium. His name also appears in the Commemorative Area of the Australian War Memorial.

The first Fitzroy player killed on active duty was Stan Reid, who played in the 1898 grand final win over Essendon. It was the last game of his 24-game career, which began in the club’s fourth game in Round 4 1897.

Ordained as a minister of the Presbyterian Church soon after his retirement, he later became a member of the Imperial Forces in the Anglo-Boer War, first as a trooper in 1900 and later a commissioned officer in 1901. He was shot during a reconnaissance mission at Renshoogte Farm, near Ermelo and died on 29 June 1901.

His brother Francis, a Surgeon/Captain serving alongside him, wrote in a letter to their parents: “Since he was wounded I have been near him all the time, and was with him when he passed away. I had all the surgeons in the camp. but they all agreed it was hopeless. He was in considerable pain but stood it as I have seldom seen a man stand it.

“The men of the contingent fairly worshipped him; and are very cut up over his death. Poor Stanley's grave is the best I have seen in South Africa. The men asked leave from the captain to look after the grave. Leave was granted, and they worked away at it and made it up splendidly.”

Killed 48 days earlier was Charlie Moore, an Essendon player who had played against Reid in the 1898 grand final. They were the only two AFL players killed in a war other than the two world wars.

According to AFL and military records, Cooper was one of six Fitzroy players killed in World War One.

Arthur Jones, who played his seventh and last game with Fitzroy in the 100th game of club great Percy Parratt, was killed in action at Gallipoli on 7 August 1915.

Killed on the same day was Sid O’Neill, who played one game in 1909 before following pastoral exploits in Queensland and NSW. After the declaration of war he returned to Melbourne to enlist in the 8th Light Horse Brigade, earning promotion to corporal and sargent.

Thornton Clarke, who played four games at Fitzroy in 1911 after a fine career with Essendon in the VFA, died in the Battle of Fromelles on 18 July 1916, while Arthur Harrison, a 1913 Fitzroy premiership player in a 19-game career from 1913-14, died at Bullecourt on 3 May 1917.

Tom McCluskey, a five-game Fitzroy player in 1911 after playing in Carlton’s 1910 grand final loss in just his fourth game, was killed by a German artillery shell during the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October 1917.

Five Fitzroy players killed in World War Two were:-

Fred Heintz, who played 14 games with Fitzroy from 1931-33, joined the Second AIF in 1940 and was in the 2/21 Battalion Gull Force sent to the island of Ambon in the Banda Sea in Indonesia to defend key air fields and deep water harbours. He was among 229 ‘Diggers’ executed on 22 February 1942 when a huge Japanese force invaded the island.

Tasman Roberts who played 41 games at St.Kilda from 1925-27 before 17 games with Fitzroy in 1928, enlisted as Albert Lyons using his mother’s name and in April 1941 was sent with the 2/22 Infantry Battalion to Rabaul in New Guinea. He was captured in January 1942 and reportedly died of starvation as a prisoner of war on 9 April 1942.

Tommy Corrigan, a 107-game Fitzroy player from 1922-28 and a premiership player in his 15th game as a 19-year-old in 1922, enlisted in the RAAF in 1941 and although he served primarily in Melbourne, he flew several times to PNG. He died of peritonitis following a burst appendix in hospital in Heidelberg on 9 January 1942 after being wrongly diagnosed with influenza.

Percy Roberts, who played two games with Fitzroy in 1929 and 16 games in 1932, enlisted in 1941 and 12 months later at the Fall of Singapore he was captured by the Japanese. He died of dysentery as a prisoner of war in Burma on 3 August 1943.