On Anzac Day 2013, Tony Greenberg reflects on a brave, bold “Tiger of Old”, who served his country, and his club, with tremendous distinction and pride . . .
William Nicholas Pax Cosgrove was born on November 11, 1918.
Given this was the day World War 1 officially ended – Armistice Day as it became known – he was given that middle name Pax, which, in Latin, means the “kiss of peace”.
Cosgrove, the uncle of modern-day Australian hero, General Peter Cosgrove, was educated at Xavier College and later played football for Old Xaverians, where he was first spotted by the Richmond recruiters of the day.
They liked what they saw from the talented, courageous centre half-back, and invited him to play with the Club’s reserve-grade team in 1939.
Following a favorable impression in the Tiger seconds during the ’39 season, Cosgrove was selected to make his senior league debut in the opening round of 1940, against Footscray at Punt Road Oval.
He lined up on Footscray’s future Brownlow Medallist, Norm Ware, and according to reports, performed admirably.
Cosgrove would go on to make a further two senior appearances with Richmond (against Melbourne and Fitzroy) before enlisting in the RAAF during World War 2 and training as a pilot.
After gaining his pilot’s wings, Cosgrove flew important missions over Abyssinia, Libya, Iraq, Burma, Sumatra Java and New Guinea.
He became renowned for his daring aerial skills and earned the rank of Flight Sergeant with an RAAF Beaufighter unit.
The inspiration behind Cosgrove’s acts of heroism was none other than the man widely regarded as the greatest Tiger of them all – Jack Dyer.
Cosgrove idolised Dyer – so much so, that he named his Beaufighter planes after him.
“Sporting Globe” war correspondent, Allan Jones, caught up with Cosgrove in New Guinea in 1943, just months before the Tiger warrior was killed in action. He reported on Cosgrove’s hero worship of “Captain Blood” . . .
“Bill was more anxious to show me his plane than anything else. We hopped into a jeep and went to the airfield,” Jones wrote.
“One of the unit’s signwriters was putting the finishing touches to a fearsome tiger’s head on one side of the Beaufighter’s nose. Underneath was the inscription, ‘Tigers, Eat ‘Em Alive’. On the other side was written, ‘Jack Dyer 1V’.
“There is no greater admirer of Richmond’s popular captain and coach than this daring young airman. ‘Jack was one of my best friends, both on and off the field’, he told me. ‘As long as I am flying, his name will be on my plane.
‘Jack Dyer 1 carried me safely through Libya, Jack Dyer 11 gave the Japs a thrashing in Sumatra, Jack Dyer 111 stoushed them in Java, and Jack Dyer 1V will give them hell as long as I am flying this grand ship . . .’
“When I told him I would be writing something about him for The Globe, he said: ‘Tell Richmond to make an extra effort for the pennant this year. I hope to be wearing the good, old guernsey after the war. Give Bernie Herbert, Harry Dyke and the committee boys, who have done so much for the old club, my best’.
Sadly, just after dawn on August 11, 1943, only six weeks before the VFL Grand Final, which Richmond won (defeating Essendon by five points) , Cosgrove was killed off Goodenough Island, in New Guinea.
Years later, in his book “Captain Blood”, Dyer had this to say about Bill Cosgrove . . .
“The greatest compliment ever paid to me was by Bill Cosgrove, a former Richmond centre half-back and a wartime hero. He flew combat planes in Egypt, Sumatra and Java and every plane he flew bore my name.
He also had a tiger’s head painted on his craft and our battle cry ‘Eat ‘am Alive’ along the side . . .
Cosgrove had a habit of getting shot up, but never crashing, but he had to change planes regularly. He named his fourth plane ‘Jack Dyer 1V’. It was to prove the tragic plane. He was killed in New Guinea. Soon after his death I received this letter from one of his squadron leaders.
‘I have a vivid picture of a blood-drenched Bristol Blenheim bomber landing in a desert sandstorm with “Up there, Jackie Dyer” painted in foot-high letters, dimly visible on the fuselage.
‘The machine was returning from a raid on Benghazi on Christmas Day, 1941, and was piloted by a Richmond lad, Bill Cosgrove.
‘The air gunner’s cockpit had received a direct hit and the gunner’s blood had been blown by the raging slipstream over the huge white painted letters of your name, while Cosgrove persevered with the attack.
‘Bombs gone, Bill came home, landing as usual in the middle of a dust-storm.
‘Cosgrove later flew out to Singapore from India under very trying circumstances, only to be trapped there. The story of his escape, and the long weeks adrift in an open boat, are well known, although the cost was terrible, his body was pitted with tropical ulcers.
‘I came to know him and admire him tremendously. He seemed to think Jack Dyer was the epitome of all football ideals, and I know your name was a kind of a talisman to him, as he put it on his next machine when he went back to fight the Japs in New Guinea.
‘He was killed in a plane accident while looking for a lost comrade in bad weather. He was never beaten in battle.
‘When you unfurl that flag this year I want you to know Bill Cosgrove will be there with you in spirit.
‘So go in and win, Mr Dyer; the best of luck to you and the Tigers.”
It’s 70 years since Bill Cosgrove lost his life while proudly serving the country he loved.
His legacy lives on to this day at Tigerland, with the Club’s Best First Year Player award named in his honor.
Although his playing stint with Richmond was all too brief, he is the embodiment of that famous Eat ‘em Alive spirit . . .