Before the Great War began in 1914, Carlton Football Club had a gifted winger, George Challis. He was one of the outstanding players in the team that won the 1915 grand final at the MCG.
Less than 10 months later, Challis was on the plain below a village in French Flanders called Fromelles. And there he died, so badly blown up they could only find pieces of him.
Another four VFL players are thought to have been killed at Fromelles, but not too much was made of this at the time. Death was everywhere then. The lives of so many young Australians had ended on the yellow clay of that plain.
Like Challis, they were not professional soldiers but citizen volunteers - men who, when the war was over, intended to go back to hearth and home and the kinder occupations of peace.
You can stand on the Fromelles battlefield today, take your bearings, and fill in the catalogue of suffering. You can supply names to places. You can say with certainty that over there, near that patch of thistles, there died a wool buyer from Geelong, a medical student from Colac, a Duntroon graduate, a detective from Sydney, an architecture student from Melbourne.
You can go to the German strong point called the Sugarloaf and turn and face the Australian lines. In places they are 400 yards away. You are looking out over fields that have been farmed for thousands of years - dead flat, no trees, no gullies, nothing to break the ground bar a drainage ditch.
Here Australians ran at machineguns under a bright summer sun. It is impossible to stand there and not feel a chill. Quite simply, what happened there beggars the imagination, more so even than the charge at the Nek on Gallipoli. In the gentler world we live in, it doesn't seem true. But it is true.
Here is the most tragic killing ground in Australian military history - 5500 casualties in a single night. Close to 2000 dead. More dead in a night than the combined totals of the Australian dead from the Boer War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. All in one place, most in just 14 hours. And, essentially, for nothing.
Fromelles was a feint, intended to pin down German forces that might have been sent to the Somme.
But the Germans always knew it was a feint. They were on the high ground in front of Fromelles. They could see everything that was going on.
The British generals who planned the battle were living in the lost Victorian age, as too was the Australian general who went along with them without question. Their preparation was careless and cavalier. They didn't have anything like enough artillery to suppress the German machineguns or cut the wire. They simply didn't understand the concept of artillery, and the Great War was all about artillery. When the artillery failed, the attack had to fail.
It is unfair to judge the Great War generals, as some still do, in the light of the knowledge we have today. We cannot blame them for failing to see the future of warfare with perfect clarity.
But the mistakes that were made at Fromelles don't fall into that category. They were timeless mistakes, mistakes that would have appalled Julius Caesar or Stonewall Jackson. The British Official History, a work notable for its restraint, calls the Fromelles plan ill-conceived, and goes on to say that any ground won could not have been held anyway.
For more than 80 years, Fromelles was never in the forefront of Australian military history. It lived in the shadows, like a dark secret. And perhaps this was because if you talked about it, you also had to explain it, and Fromelles is hard to explain.
But, thanks to the work in recent times of Robin Corfield, Lambis Englezos, Ross McMullin and others, Fromelles has finally found its proper place. They have also reminded us that there is more to Fromelles than military politics.
The Australians there were, in Charles Bean's words, great-hearted men. Those in the later waves of the 15th Brigade ran out knowing they were almost certain to be killed. Those in the 8th and 14th brigades somehow held on in the German lines, even when they were waist deep in water and being shot at from three sides.
And all that's best in the Australian character came out in the days after the battle when men tried to rescue their mates who were lying wounded in no-man's land - which explains Peter Corlett's wonderful statue.
And by coming out on this winter's day to remember them, we're saying that we know what those men did there. There were so many of them and there are so few of us here today, but we remember - and we will go on remembering.
Les Carlyon is a former editor of The Age and author of The Great War. This is an edited version of his speech at a commemorative service at Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance yesterday to honour those who fought and died in the Battle of Fromelles in 1916.