Stanley Young Bisset
Stan Bisset was one of the four Victorians, Andy Barr, Max Carpenter and George Pearson being the others, to be picked for the Wallaby team to the British Isles in 1939. This was the team that never played a game in England, war being declared soon after their arrival. Their time was spent filling sandbags until their voyage home to Australia was arranged on the Strathaird.
A game was arranged in Bombay as many had never played for Australia and in this way they could say they had. In the case of Stan Bisset, he had played for an Australian XV but not the Australian team, against the 1937 Springboks on their visit to Australia. There were a few famous names on that squad such as 'Fob' O'Brien, Cyril Towers, Dooney Hayes, Wally Lewis, Boyd Oxlade, Vay Wilson, Bill Cerutti, Eddie Bonis and Vince Bermingham. They went down 3 to 36 against the rampaging Springboks at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground.
He had also played against them in Victoria and some of the players who would obtain greater heights were such as Max Carpenter, Andy Barr, Ru Dorr, Bill Hammon, 'Weary' Dunlop and Cliff Lang. Victorians were very strong at the time as there were regular matches against NSW and Queensland.
Dornan referred to that Australian game against the 1937 Springboks: “Stan was deeply proud of his jersey and was playing in his first international. Tall and weighing 88 kilograms, he was fast, strong and aggressive second rower and he too was aware of his own potential”.
A change in Stan's life was when he was invited to join the Lord Somers Camp and Power House organisation. This was founded by the Governor of Victoria, Lord Somers, based on a movement set in England by Prince Albert, the Duke of York. As Dornan put it in The Silent Man: “The Somers Camp, situated at Victoria's West Port Bay, was only part of the process. Probably the more important function of the movement found expression in the instruction known as the Power House. It was here that a boy began fully to learn the spirit of the service and duty and understand that he had responsibilities, both to himself and others.” These ideas stuck with Stan all his life, as they did with Andy Barr, and they would make a remarkable contribution in the war and both would be selected to play for Australia.
In 1937 Stan was re-elected as Captain of the Power House Rugby Club for the third year. He would alternate from number eight to the second row. His brother 'Butch' also played.
It was in 1937 that he played for Victoria and an Australian XV against the touring Springboks. Though he was disappointed at the thrashing received in both games, a former international and 1927-28 Waratah, Syd King, told him: “Stan, you've got what it takes. I reckon if you add a bit more weight, you stand a pretty good chance of touring with the Wallabies in 1939”.
At the time, in 1939, the Power House formed its own military training unit, the 14th Militia Battalion, and Stan and his brother 'Butch”signed up as privates and were trained in all aspects of war. At the same time he had pushed up his weight to 91 kilograms and he was absolutely thrilled when his name was read out and he was selected for the 1939, ten-month tour.
In late July that year, the team boarded the Mooltan for the sporting adventure supreme. During the way over, Andy Barr, who had taken his accordion with him, started to regale the team and passengers with his playing. Stan would often accompany Andy and everyone was taken aback by Stan's baritone voice. The team management asked them to compose a team song on the way over. If it happened, it appears to have been lost. War broke out almost the day the Wallabies landed and Stan and Andy Barr and among others discussed joining up immediately. Instead the team, apart from the captain, was told by the manager that they should return home. As Peter Dornan put it: “They spent two weeks at Torquay filling sandbags to place around the hotel and then travelled to London for the last week. Anti-aircraft balloons floated over the city and sandbags bolstered walls and stairways. The city was blacked out and everyone was carrying a gas mask.”
They were all honoured when they were recalled at Buckingham Palace by the King and Queen. Stan was introduced as the choir leader and singer of the team. Then they boarded the Strathaird to zig-zag their way back to Australia.
In Bombay a match was hastily arranged so that players could say they had played for Australia. That was Stan's sole game for Australia.
We unfortunately can only conjecture about what Stan, Barr, Carpenter and the others might have achieved. The disappointment over missing the world tour seemed to have an effect on Stan. He was disorientated for a time but when brother Butch joined up, so did Stan a few weeks later, as a private in the 2/14th Battalion of the AIF. The story of the war is brilliantly covered in Peter Dornan's The Silent Man. He tells of the war against the Vichy French in Syria and the recall of the battalion to defend Australia against the Japanese in Papua -New Guinea. At the Kokoda track they battled against the Japanese, forcing them back. His brother Butch unfortunately died in his arms. Then they fought in the bloody beaches of Gona, Stan being one of the few who came out alive.
Dornan wrote: “Stan was awarded the Military Cross for his general leadership and courage at Gona, as well as during the Ramu and Markham River actions. He was mentioned in despatches for his work in the Kokoda campaign. After the war Stan worked for many years as Director and Secretary of the gas and furnace engineers 'N.S.Heull & Company' in Melbourne. During these years he continued to be actively associated with the Somers Camp and Power House and was games director for more than two decades.”
When he was 86, he was honoured by the ARU and was thought to be the oldest living Wallaby, though the honour was really Gordon Stone's. He was capped and in acceptance sang his battalion's song, in a beautiful baritone voice as if he was touring once again.