There's an extraordinary AFL 'premiers' plaque from Changi prison during WWII up for auction

The AFL premiership plaque from Changi. Source: Sotheby’s Australia.

Sotheby’s Australia has an incredible piece of World War II history coming up for auction later this month: an Australian Rules “premiers trophy plaque” declaring Richmond as the winners of the 1942 premiership – at Changi POW camp.

Richmond lost to Essendon by 53 points in the actual VFL grand final back in Melbourne in 1942, but lot 278, a 30cm-wide handwritten Changi plaque is an insight into the resilience of Australian diggers at the notorious Japanese-run prisoner-of-war camp, which initially housed 15,000 Australians in 1942. Two years later, just 5000 remained there.

It comes with details of the match and players.

The plaque reads:

RICHMOND FOOTBALL CLUB, PREMIERS, 1942, Australian Rules Association, P. O. W. CAMP CHANGI, Coach: Horgan D., Trainer: G. Brown, Pres: A. Bush, Capt: P. MacKinlay, Vice Capt: R. Small, Secretary: B. C. Wootten, Treasurer: H. Hollioak, Presented to P. J. Campbell as a member of the above Club., President Changi League.

The lot is valued at $3000-$4000 and also includes the medals, service records and other personal details of Private R. G. (Bobby) Small.

Bobby Small came from Donald, Victoria and enlisted in the AIF’s Australian medical corps at the Melbourne Town Hall on 28 July, 1941. He landed in Singapore on 15 September and became a prisoner of War after the fall of Singapore in February 1942.

Small was “Richmond’s” vice captain in the grand final, played at 7pm on 17 October 1942. The match report says “Small was master of the centre” and “gathered the crumbs” so that “Richmond’s forwards got most of their opportunities”.

Small died of dysentery on 15 December, 1943, having been dispatched by the Japanese to be one of the forced labour crews working on the Burma-Siam railway.

He is buried at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand along with too many of his mates.

The plaque and Private Small’s war memorabilia have been passed down through family, but the current custodian has no direct descendants and is hoping someone else will appreciate this small, remarkable moment in Australian history.

For the full catalogue and details, go to Sotheby’s Australia online.

Private Bobby Small’s memorabilia from his time in Changi as a POW. Source: Sotheby’s Australia

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