Keith Rae, who died Thursday aged 104, was Richmond’s oldest living player, and the club’s last surviving player to have served in World War II.
No other Richmond player ever lived longer than him, and in his lifetime he lived through all 13 of the Tigers’ League premierships.
Born in Williamstown on July 30, 1917, Rae’s playing career of 17 League games spanned two clubs (Carlton then Richmond) across eight years due to his War service.
A left-foot centreman and wingman who stood 5ft 11inches, his career began at Carlton in 1939 under coach Brighton Diggins.
But when World War II broke out, Rae’s career stalled at two games when he was called up for service by the Royal Australian Navy on the destroyer HMAS Nestor. The vessel patrolled international waters and acted as an escort ship.
In June 1942, Rae survived the bombing of the HMAS Nestor by the Luftwaffe.
“The plane came over and dropped a bomb. The bomb hit the yard arm of the mast and deflected into the water,” he told Tony De Bolfo, the Carlton Historian in 2017.
“I’d just come off the wheel and wooden pieces of it came flying down, some of it hitting me in the leg. It’s why I’ve still got this crook leg, but I was lucky. I sat on top of the deck until a rescue ship came by.”
When he was posted back to Melbourne, he quickly re-joined Carlton for the 1943 season under ex-Tiger champ Perc Bentley’s tutelage.
The Navy re-called him to service and he remained with them until the end of World War II in September 1945.
In 1946 Richmond were trying different recruits on the wing to fill the void left by champion premiership player Bert Edwards who had gone to Longford in Tasmania.
Rae was on the radar, and Carlton cleared him to Tigerland in May of 1946.
He debuted wearing Number 30 in Round 5 against Collingwood. The Herald named him as one of the team’s best.
The following week he kicked a goal against Geelong, which was to be his last senior game.
Richmond were hit with major injuries during the 1946 season, losing their key forward Frank Bourke, and full back Ron Durham to knee injuries. They finished just two wins outside of the final four.
1946 was also the year that saw the League introduce the 20th man substitute. Rae played 13 games for the Richmond Reserves that season, including as 20th man in the club’s thrilling one-point win over Fitzroy for the premiership.
The following June, Rae was cleared by the Tigers to Williamstown, where he played for three seasons.
He had earlier represented them in cricket, and was a talented left-armed bowler, finishing atop of their bowling average in 1936-37 and being chosen to represent the VCA Colts team.
His most memorable cricket innings however was for South Melbourne in District Cricket in 1950, where he scored a century in 144 minutes as part of a 180-run eight-wicket partnership that somehow secured victory.
Rae’s 104 years made him the longest-lived Richmond player in its 136-year history.
That honour had previously sat with Henry Archibald Richardson, our 1902 VFA premiership player, who lived for 101 years.
Rae’s death was first reported by Carlton Historian Tony De Bolfo.