A Rugby-playing Aussie writes home from war-time England just before Christmas 1914.
Richard Granville Waddy, who played Rugby for Sydney University in the early 1900s (his brothers were famous Australian cricketers), moved to England late in 1908 to study medicine at Oxford University.
His early education in the classroom and on the Rugby field had come at the King’s School in Parramatta.
Well before the war he enlisted with the ‘King Edward’s Horse’ – a cavalry regiment comprised of colonials.
In December 1914, with the war well under way in Europe, but the full effect on Australians yet to be felt, Lieutenant Waddy wrote from London to his family at home (later published in The Sydney Morning Herald ):
We are continuing our training, and are very efficient just now. We have rifles, swords, bayonets, and revolver. Nobody knows when we shall go to the front …
Dr H J Shields of Middlesex Hospital, who went as a lieutenant In the RAMC [The Royal Army Medical Corps], was killed whilst tending the wounded. He was captain of our Rugby football team, and I used to box with him. He wrote just before he was killed to say that he didn’t expect to come back.
It was sad about poor young Pockley. He died the same way as Shields and he was in the same football team as I was In Sydney.
Things here are very normal, considering the magnltude of the war. Just now the good people of London fear a Zeppelin raid, so all lights are hidden at night. The buses, trams, etc., exhibit blue and red lights. But they nullify all precautions by the use of searchlights on prominent buildings to look for the Zeppelins; they would only attract them. They should send up every night aeroplane scouts Instead.
We are doing very well on land, and pushing the Germans slowly but surely back to where they came from.
Only those who can ride and shoot are wanted, as we have no time to train raw material. I can hardly realise that we shall be at the front so soon.
I don’t mind as long as I have a good horse, rifle, and plenty of ammunition I shall be able to take care of myself and If they get me I hope you will be able to say he died well doing his best to preserve our Empire and for the future of our beloved Australia.
Such a lot of good men have fallen of the first families of the land so that if I go I go In good company.
We want every man In the Empire, especially from England, where they are on the spot and believe me they are still playing and watching football [soccer] while this life and death struggle for the existence of the Empire rages round them. What do they care as long as they are safe.
A few Zeppelins over London, or a few bombs would have a very salutary effect on these gentry.
Conscription will soon come. Kitchener is getting a bit ‘fed up’. He will bring it in.
We shall win in the end all right, but how much sooner would the war be over If we had every man!
It is awful to think of the colonials coming thousands and thousands of miles to fight and these people still playing football.
I am glad to say that the kind of football I played In London (Rugby) is dead, as there are no men to play – all are now soldiers.
The swords Issued to us I think were the gifts of Sir George Reid. They are very sharp. It is going to be an awful struggle.
I only hope for one thing and that Is that in years to come the young people of Australia will not forget about those lonely graves in Belgium of men who sacrificed their lives freely and gaily in order that those same young people may live and prosper In freedom and carry on the Empire we loved and fought for, not under the savage domination of tho Prussian bullies of Potsdam.
Alas for Waddy he never got to mark his mark with the ‘King Edward’s Horse’ regiment, having been transferred to the RAMC almost immediately after posting the above letter home to Australia. As it happened there was no glorious Napoleonic cavalry charge in the ‘First Battle of Ypres’ anyway (despite War Horse), as the horsemen were sent into battle to fight the Germans on foot, with rifle in hand.
Dr Waddy spent the remainder of the war treating injured servicemen in military hospitals, medical units and hospital ships in England, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Waddy was discharged form service in September 1919.
© Sean Fagan
Dr Waddy returned to Sydney, residing in Bellevue Hill with his wife and family. He passed away in 1974. The ‘Waddy Memorial Windows’ in St Stephen’s church Bellevue Hill were donated in 1940 by Dr Waddy and his wife.
There’s Zeppelins over London,
The rugby game is dead,
For all the ruggers have enlisted,
To battle on fields made red.