When the Waratahs met the All Blacks in Sydney on 11 July 1914, to open the season’s international games, no one could have known that within weeks Australia and the British Empire would be at war with Germany and Austria. By war’s end, a third of the NSW team would be dead.
The New Zealanders, then as now, were a difficult proposition for Australia’s best Rugby exponents.
In an effort to instill some fighting spirit of times gone by in the Waratahs the NSWRU had invited every former state (colony) representative player to attend the game.
Among more than sixty “giants of other days” who answered the call to rally the current team were players from as far back as the first season in 1882, and others who had “gone over to the League”, including Dally Messenger.
NEW SOUTH WALES (Light Blue, with waratah on breast).
L. Dwyer (Orange) full-back; E. Carr (Manly), L.W. Wogan (Glebe), H. Jones (Newcastle), D. Suttor (Mudgee) three-quarters; W. G. Tasker (Newcastle) five-eighth; F. Wood (Glebe) half-back;
W. T. Watson (Newtown), C. W. Prentice (Western Suburbs), H. George (Eastern Suburbs), E. Fahey (Randwick), C. Wallach (Eastern Suburbs), F. Thompson (Eastern Suburbs), H. Baker (Randwick), J. Duffy (Eastern Suburbs) forwards.
There was never any real expectation though that the light blue XV that day would emerge as victors over the black-garbed “machine-like combination” at the final whistle.
And so it turned out to be, with 15,000 at the Sydney Sports Ground on a cold and wet afternoon, the home men were outpointed 27-6.
The surprise though had come in the first half, with the NSW team crossing for the opening try barely a minute after the kick-off, and were only six points behind the visitors at half-time. The credit was put down to the effort and deeds of the Waratahs’ forward ‘eight’.
“… the crowd was jubilant, as the local forwards had unexpectedly held their own against their formidable opponents …”
However, in the second half:
“It was the old New Zealand story over again. There is always one ‘All Black’ too many, and he is generally in a scoring position. Undaunted the ‘Blues’ stuck to their guns. It was a hard game, and there were some hard knocks given and taken … The boot was used freely in the loose, and a fist or two went flying in the scrum. But the blood was hot, and the game keen.”
In the shadow of the looming war, the New Zealanders won all three matches against the Wallabies.
On the Wednesday afternoon (5 August) that telegraph wires flashed back and forth across Australia the news that Britain had declared war on Germany, and therefore Australia was also at war, the All Blacks were playing a ‘Metropolitan’ XV at the Sydney Sports Ground in an ‘Olympic Funds Match’.
Added to the tour schedule months earlier, the game’s gate-takings were intended to raise a financial contribution towards sending the Australasian* team to the Olympic Games set down for Berlin in 1916. Some reports suggest a Rugby team would be going as well (presumably a combined team, though in 1908 the Wallabies had won a gold medal for ‘Australasia’ at the London Olympics).
When the third Test was held a week later the game had to be moved to a 2pm kick-off so the New Zealanders would have enough time afterwards to board their ship home, which under new wartime regulations had to be out of Sydney Harbour by sunset (or be made wait tied-up at the dock until sunrise the following morning).
The Wallabies forward pack for that final Test match included six of the Waratahs who had turned out against the All Blacks in the tour opener.
Within weeks many of the nation’s top Rugby footballers had enlisted in the ‘The First Australian Imperial Force’ (1st AIF). A year later The Referee carried a list of names of 47 Rugby footballers from across NSW that had been killed in action.
While many stories can be told – and deserve to be told – of the deeds, exploits and sacrifice of Rugby men during the First World War, the fate of the Waratahs forwards of 1914 can serve to illustrate the severity of the impact the conflict had on the code and its players.
It is difficult for us today to put in context a situation where one day we are watching the Waratahs or any of our favourite teams and players in action, and then within a year to hear the news that some of those footballers turned servicemen have been killed fighting in a war in a faraway land.
So what became of the eight men who comprised the majority of the Waratahs and Wallabies forward packs of 1914?
“When the bugle-call to arms was sounded in 1914 he put aside the jersey for the khaki, the football for the rifle and the bayonet.”
Harold Baker (Sydney, Eastern Suburbs, Waratahs, Wallabies):
Originally came into rep football as a fullback, he was chosen as a flanker (breakaway) in all three Tests for the Wallabies against the All Blacks in 1914. When the war came Baker was appointed as an officer in the 12th Light Horse Regiment, but had the misfortune while on a troopship steaming up the Red Sea into Egypt to fall and lacerate his spinal cord. Baker was for the most part immovable for the next four years, and it was a long time afterwards until he could walk again. Brother of Reginald ‘Snowy’ Baker who also played for NSW and the Wallabies.
Fred Thompson (Eastern Suburbs, Waratahs, Wallabies):
Thompson got into big football in 1911, when he played his initial games with Easts, being about 6ft high he was always prominent in line-out work, and possessed remarkable pace in following a ball. Member of the 1913 Wallabies tour to New Zealand, a highly regarded back-rower played in the two Tests held in Sydney against the All Blacks in 1914. Sailed with his AIF unit from Sydney in mid February 1915, but on 29 May was among the fallen at Gallipoli after being shot through the head.
Clarence ‘Doss’ Wallach (Eastern Suburbs, Waratahs, Wallabies):
Played in all three Tests in 1914 against the All Blacks, after playing them twice on the Wallabies 1913 tour of New Zealand. Leaving Sydney with the rank of private, “he went right through Gallipoli without a scratch”, and was one of the last to leave the Peninsula. From there he went to France, was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry”, and was promoted to captain. Wounded in action he had both legs amputated in what proved to be a forlorn effort to save his life, passing away on 22 April 1918.
William ‘Willie’ Watson (Newtown, Waratahs, Wallabies)
New Zealander came to Sydney in 1911, quickly earning a reputation as hard-working front rower. Member of the Wallabies Test team on two tours (1912 USA/Canada, 1913 New Zealand) and the first Test of the 1914 home series against the All Blacks. Watson joined the AIF, went through Gallipoli, and then on to France. Awarded numerous military honours including the D.C.M., after the war he captained the famous AIF Rugby team in the King’s Cup and in Australia. In 1920 he led NSW in a three game series against New Zealand that were later given Test status by the ARU. Watson served as a major in WW2 in Papua New Guinea, was later made Australian Consul-General in New York.
Edward (Ted) Fahey (Eastern Suburbs, Randwick, Waratahs, Wallabies):
Test-playing second-rower of the Wallabies team in 1912 (vs USA) and 1913 (vs New Zealand), Fahey captained the side in two Tests on the latter tour, and was recalled into the side for the final Test of the 1914 series against the All Blacks. He stood down from club football in 1915 citing business duties, but by 1916 had volunteered as a ‘gunner’ in the AIF, serving on the ‘Western Front’. He returned home at the end of 1918, continued his Rugby career, and the following year twice captained Australia against the AIF team.
Jim Duffy (Eastern Suburbs, Waratahs):
In an era where a Waratahs place was practically a sinecure to a Wallabies Test cap, Duffy appears to be an oddity. He played for NSW 13 times over 1912-14 without gaining a Test call-up. Duffy moved to Easts (now Roosters) rugby league club for the 1915 season, and held a place in the first grade team until retiring at the end of 1920.
Clarrie Prentice (Western Suburbs, Waratahs, Wallabies):
From the famous Rugby clan of ‘Prentice brothers’, 22 year-old Clarrie made his NSW debut at hooker against the All Blacks in the opening game of their 1914 tour. A few weeks later his his sole Wallabies appearance came in the third Test against the visitors. Though their older brother Ward had been a Wallabies captain, Clarrie and Archie Prentice joined Wests rugby league club in May 1915. After the war Clarrie became a dual international, playing for the Kangaroos on tours of New Zealand (1919) and Great Britain (1921/22).
Harold George (Eastern Suburbs, Waratahs, Wallabies):
A prop forward and stalwart of the game, George was ever present in Waratahs and Wallabies teams from 1910 until the war broke out days before the final Test against the All Blacks in 1914. “It is hard to imagine anyone playing a harder, tougher game than he did. Perhaps never super-brilliant, he always played himself out to the last ounce, and was an awfully hard man to beat for the ball in the front rank of a scrum” wrote The Arrow of George. Enlisting in the AIF, and just two weeks into the Gallipoli campaign, he undertook a “heroic rescue of a wounded comrade, whom he carried several hundred yards under hot fire, a deed that might have won the V.C.”, only that before George could then get himself back into the trench he was shot. He died on a hospital ship on 10 May 1915.
“When the war ceases Mr. W. W. Hill [NSWRU Secretary] will have the task of placing together a permanent record of the fighting deeds and heroism of the men of the Union, and among these the things done by the New South Wales 1914 representative team will take a very high position. But theirs is not the only era with magnificent deeds of gallantry and glorious deaths to light up its history. The lives and deaths of so many others distinguished in the old game will adorn the pages of the narrative to be handed down to Ruggerdom of the future.“
— ‘The Referee’ 22 March 1916
Though the above passages have paid tribute to the Waratahs forwards who met New Zealand in the opening game, the backs too made their sacrifices.
The NSW team from that day also lost Newtown five-eighth Bill ‘Twit’ Tasker (Wallabies 1913-14) and Newcastle three-quarter Herbert Jones (Wallabies 1912-13), who were both killed serving with the AIF in France.
With the loss on the battlefield in 1918 of Bryan Hughes (North Sydney / a Wallaby Test forward in 1913) and Robert Aspinall (Sydney University captain/halfback in 1914), the Waratahs ‘Roll of Honour’ included the names of seven fallen soldiers who had worn the sky blue state jersey in 1914.
The final number of Rugby players volunteering to join the war effort would be very substantial – so many that club competitions could not go ahead.
Rugby in Australia had mirrored the contribution of the sport in England. Other codes went on though while the war continued, and an English RU official famously declared:
It was necessary to compel those who idled around the streets – those shirkers and bullet-funkers – to join the ranks.
Former Waratahs forward and 1908 Wallabies captain Herbert ‘Paddy’ Moran wrote from Europe during that war:
You must all come over if you want to win this war — ‘every man Jack’ [all] of you. It is fighting all-in now, and the slacker and the shirker merit only a noose of rope. It is the only game worth playing at present, and they [our enemy] are in our twenty-five … It is the best game in history. There are no rules, and the only referee — posterity — has a whistle that cannot be heard … If we lose we are out of the competition forever, and when we win we shall despise those who looked over the fence when our line was in danger.
The Wallabies that played in the final Test match on 15 August 1914 included nine players that enlisted during the war, four of whom were killed in action:
Bruce Beith (enlisted), full-back; Ernie Carr (enlisted), Larry Wogan, Larry Dwyer, Monty Massy-Westropp, three-quarters; Bill Tasker (killed), five-eighth; Fred Wood, half-back;
Fred Thompson (killed), Harold Baker (enlisted), Pat Murphy, ‘Doss’ Wallach (killed), Ted Fahey (enlisted), Harold George (killed), David Williams (enlisted), Clarrie Prentice, forwards.
© Sean Fagan
Newspaper quotes of NSW v New Zealand match sourced from The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 1914 & The Referee 15 July 1914. The list of 47 fatalities was made in The Referee on 15 September 1915. Herbert Jones is listed in some accounts as Hubert Jones.
* Australia and New Zealand did not compete as separate nations in the Olympic games until 1920. The earlier teams were represented by Australasia.
NSW WARATAHS ‘ROLL OF HONOUR’ WW1
[final list still being researched/compiled]