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ANZAC Rugby


Written by Gwyn Pratley (Hertford Highlander)

Posted in :All Blacks, Original Content, Super Rugby, Wallabies on 25 Apr 2011 at 06:00
Tagged with : , , , , ,

On August 15, 1914, the All Blacks were touring Australia and were playing a Metropolitan XV at the old Sydney Sports Ground. During that match a message appeared on the match scoreboard, that message read:

“WAR DECLARED.”

Today is ANZAC day in New Zealand and Australia. It’s a day which is marked by a national holiday. A day when we remember all those men and women that have given their lives in battle for our freedom. It is also specifically a day that marks the battle of Gallipoli during World War One. A day when New Zealanders and Australians joined arms as ANZACS and fought together, with both countries enduring massive losses. For young countries (such as New Zealand and Australia) they were fighting for their own identities. So in many ways, 25 April, 1915 was the day, two nation’s were born.

This weekend we watched Round 10 of the Super Rugby competition. With it being ANZAC weekend matches in New Zealand and Australia were marked with Poppy wearing and the playing of the ‘Last Post’ which was all moving stuff.

However, then came for me, the most moving imagine of the weekend. It was when the brilliant young Wallaby, Drew Mitchell broke his leg in open play and lay writhing in pain and anguish on the ground, his match, his season and possibly his RWC dreams in tatters.

But as the medics attended him with his colleagues, the opposition and a partisan Queensland crowd watching on, one could here shouts of ‘Australian’, ‘Australian’ in the crowd. Similar to the cries you here of ‘Queenslander’, ‘Queenslander’, ‘When the going gets tough’ when the ‘Cane toads’ play the ‘Cockroaches’ at State of Origin, Rugby League.

For me it encapsulated the ANZAC spirit this weekend. A spirit that was born on this day, 1915.

It was today in history that New Zealand and Australian troops were part of the Allied invasion force that landed at what became known as Anzac Cove. Nearly 60% of the 8500 New Zealanders who served at Gallipoli would be killed, die from illness or be wounded.

For eight long months New Zealanders, Australians and allies from France and elsewhere in the British Empire battled harsh conditions and resolute Turkish opponents who were desperately fighting to protect their homeland.

By the time the campaign ended, more than 120,000 men had died: more than 80,000 Turks, and 44,000 Allied soldiers, including 8500 Australians. Among the dead were 2721 New Zealanders, about a quarter of those who landed on the peninsula.

It has been estimated that 5,000 Australian rugby players ultimately went on active war service between 1914 and 1918. This figure represented about 98 per cent of the playing numbers in the game, outside of the schools, in 1914, in Australia.

Many of these players never returned home.

At the end of the Gallipoli campaign, seven Wallabies were buried on the Dardanelles Peninsula, in Turkey.

The Referee (a sporting magazine of the time), published a series of letters from rugby players relating their experiences at Gallipoli. The players wrote about their yearning for the simple pleasure of home life, their loved ones, and their hope that they would once again experience the joy of chasing a rugby ball around a field with their cobber’s.

Here is an extract from Clarrie Wallach, a Wallaby against the All Blacks in 1913:

“We arrived at Hellopolis about three weeks ago. We have been in pretty solid work but expect the real stuff next week. “All the rugby union men are well here, from the Major down to the privates. ‘Twit’ Tasker told me how Harold George died a death of deaths – a hero’s – never beaten until the final whistle.”

William “Twit” Tasker died of wounds on the Western Front in France in 1918. The major was Major James McManamey, a leading NSW rugby official. He died at Gallipoli a few weeks after Wallach’s letter was written.

Clarrie Wallach, too, was killed at Gallipoli. He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in action.

In the history of the Great War, the Gallipoli campaign made no large mark. The number of dead, although horrific, paled in comparison with the casualties in France and Belgium. But for New Zealand and Australia along with Turkey, the Gallipoli campaign left a lasting impression on the national psyche.

The image of Drew Mitchell on Saturday evening lying on the ground with his playing career in tatters cast my memory back to many young men who were lovers of our great game. Men who served in foreign lands and never played again. Players like Tom Richards, for instance, who was rated as one of the greatest loose forwards in the history of rugby. Richards was among the first to land at Gallipoli and the last to leave. He later served in France, where he was awarded a Military Cross.

He survived a gas attack.

He never played the game he loved again.

Today is ANZAC Day.

Lest we forget.



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