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The Armed Forces and the ATC

November 11, 2022

One of the strongest connections between the military and the ATC is at the beginning of racing in NSW in 1810. The first race to be run with the approval of Governor Macquarie was arranged, conducted, and participated in by the 73rd Regiment. With not much else happening in the way of entertainment and plenty of horses in use, racing became the obvious solution, and the military were key in promoting it.

From these beginnings, the AJC/STC/ATC continued to provide support to the armed forces through special race days, the use of courses and monetary donations during the major conflicts of the 20th Century. On 14th February 1900 a Bushmen’s Contingent race meeting was held at Randwick in support of the soldiers heading off to the Boer War. A similar event was held at the beginning of WWI. When the war started there was much debate over whether sports such as racing should continue when there were people overseas dying for their country. Others suggested that it should continue as a morale booster for those at home and to remind people what they were fighting for. In a somewhat reduced capacity therefore, racing continued throughout the war.

The AJC quickly became involved in the war effort. Randwick Racecourse was handed over for use by the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade. Training exercises were conducted on course throughout the war and in 1917, recruitment tents were put up in all enclosures during the spring meeting. Further to this direct connection, all profits and unclaimed totalisator dividends were donated to various war related charities. Leading the AJC at this time was Sir Adrian Knox. Committeeman from 1896 until 1919 and chairman from 1906, Knox was a racing man and a lawyer who brought his considerable expertise to bear on all aspects of racing. He introduced an iron discipline during his time as Chairman and lifted the tone of racing in NSW, overseeing a comprehensive building programme at Randwick and introducing a number of innovations, such as the totalisator. In 1915, Knox went to Egypt with Sir Norman Brookes as an Australian Red Cross Commissioner, taking stores and medical supplies to the wounded at Gallipoli. He was fully supported and funded by the AJC.

As the war drew to a close, the AJC made the decision to continue their support through the purchase of a property in Darling Point called “Canonbury”. Canonbury was formally opened on 23rd January 1920. Its charter gave its purpose as a “home for those suffering from permanent or serious disabilities sustained whilst on active Naval or Military Service”. The AJC supplied the staff, managed the accounts, and organised repairs for Canonbury well into the 1940s. By the mid-1920s however, as cases from the Department of Repatriation reduced in number, the use of Canonbury changed to “The Australian Jockey Club War Memorial Convalescent Home for Children”. Those who convalesced at Canonbury were, more often than not, children of deceased or returned servicemen. The placed is recognised in the continued running of the Canonbury Stakes.

Anzac Day continues to be commemorated at Randwick Racecourse with a special race meeting each year. The names of the races will often recognise events during WWI and there have been military representatives over the years who attend the day.

Warwick Farm, 1944

WW2 connections were focused primarily at Warwick Farm. Taken over by the AJC in the 1920s, Warwick Farm was given over to the military during WW2. The train line made access easy for troops and gear to be transported. The course was taken up by tents and stores and officers made their homes in the grandstands and other buildings. Throughout the war Red Cross race meetings were held on a yearly basis and in 1946 a Victory Meeting took place, recognising the actions of the armed forces.

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