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Australian rules footballer and soldier, Len Johnson (1908-1942), was in an orphanage as a child.

Len Johnson was born Leslie Albert Johnson in Elsternwick, an inner suburb of Melbourne. His mother, Margaret, died when Len was ten and his father, Albert, chose to put Len (there were eight children in the family) and two of his brothers (Eric and Dan) into the St Vincent de Paul Orphanage in South Melbourne.

Len was recruited by the Essendon Football Club when he was twenty years old, playing in his first game against Carlton in the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1929.

Len Johnson played thirteen games in his first season with Essendon, drawing with Keith Forbes to achieve the status of leading goal kicker.

In 1933 Len Johnson played his final season for the VFL with North Melbourne. He then coached football teams in Tasmania and country teams in Victoria until 1940.

Len Johnson joined the Australian Army in 1940, and was killed in action in Malaya in 1942.

In less than one year after signing on for duty, Len was killed in a freakish accident when a brick wall, that was being demolished, crashed on top of him. His death, which occurred on January 24th 1942, was reported in several newspapers including the ‘Launceston Examiner (The Hero from the Orphanage).

Len Johnson was honoured in 2016 by ABC Grandstand as one of “three players who played for either Collingwood or Essendon and then lost their lives serving their country.”


“Anzac Day Footballer #2.” ABC Radio Melbourne, 23 April 2016.

“The Hero from Orphanage – The Story of Len Johnson.” Boyles Football Photos, 2014.

“St Vincent de Paul Orphanage (1855 – 1967).” Find & Connect, 2021.

Image available here.