Tag Archives: Grand Slam

Phil Waller: the Welsh Rugby International and the Two Minutes Silence

This article was posted on the World Rugby Museum blog on 14 December 2017 to mark the centenary of Philip Dudley Waller’s death on the Western Front. Shortly afterwards, it was “borrowed” online without acknowledgement. So it is posted again here under my by-line with some minor amendments.

The practice of observing two minutes silence on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday was initiated following a suggestion made to the King by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick after the tragic death on the Western Front of his son, Major Percy Fitzpatrick and of his friend and former Welsh rugby international, Lieutenant Philip Dudley Waller.  On 14 December 1917, the two officers were travelling by car on the Cambrai to Bapaume road to a nearby railhead, when they were both killed by shellfire.  Indirectly, therefore, this tragic event has had a profound influence upon national acts of remembrance up to the present day.

Although Phil Waller played rugby for Wales, he was English by birth, having been born in Bath in 1889.  However, his family moved to Llanelli when he was young and so it was at Llanelli Intermediate School that he first came to prominence at rugby.  He did not play for the town club though, because at seventeen he moved to Newport to take up an engineering apprenticeship at the docks.  There, he joined Newport’s Third XV as a forward in 1906-7, but the precocious youngster made his First XV debut before the end of that season.  He was still only eighteen.  For the next three years, he remained a regular member of the Newport pack.  Though not a particularly strong scrummager, he made up for this with his fine line-out work and his mobility and all-round play in the loose.  He was described by one contemporary as “a very dashing forward … with a great capacity for covering work”.

With his reputation at Newport growing, in November 1908, he was selected for Somerset against the touring Australians.  Though defeated 8-0, the county put up a good fight.  Their forwards were prominent in the loose and Phil was amongst the best of them.  The referee, Tom Schofield, was a WRU official and so was well placed to recommend that Phil should be included in the Wales team to meet the Australians at Cardiff two weeks later.  It was a decision Schofield didn’t regret.

Despite being only nineteen, Phil was one of the successes of the match, a tight battle which Wales won by 9 points to 6.  While the home pack struggled in the scrums, they had a clear advantage in open play.  Phil was a “glutton for work” according to one reporter, and the Australian manager singled him out for special praise.

Not surprisingly, he kept his place for the rest of the season, and a very successful season it was for Wales.  An 8-0 victory over England at Cardiff was followed by a much harder match at Edinburgh, which Wales won 5-3. France were beaten 47-5, still Wales’ greatest margin of victory in the fixture.  Then, in defeating Ireland 18-5 at Swansea, Wales became the first country to win a successive Triple Crown/Grand Slam.  Although throughout the championship the Welsh forwards did not dominate in the set scrummage, they more than compensated for this with their vigorous loose play in which Phil was conspicuous.   In the Triple Crown decider against Ireland, his contribution in two of Wales’ three tries proved crucial to the victory.

He was retained for the opening game of 1910-11, when Wales thrashed France 49-14 at Swansea.  However, even though Phil had now played six times for Wales and had never been on the losing side, this turned out to be his last Welsh cap, as he was replaced by the Cardiff docker, Joe Pugsley, who was a stronger scrummager.

This wasn’t the end of Phil’s international career, though. In the summer of 1910, he was one of a record seven Newport players who were selected for the “Lions” tour to South Africa.  Over half the team were uncapped, so the party was not a particularly strong one, especially behind the scrum.  It was a bruising tour and several men had to be drafted in to replace the injured.  However, Phil seems to have revelled in the conditions and he completed the tour with a quite exceptional record.  Demonstrating his fitness, endurance and resilience, he played in all but one of the twenty-four fixtures, including the three Test matches.  In the first, Britain were just edged out 14-10 but the tourists levelled the series by winning the second by 8 points to 3, a victory in which Phil was prominent.  Unfortunately, in the deciding Test, Britain were reduced to fourteen men after ten minutes, when the Newport fullback Stanley Williams was carried off injured.  The Springboks went on to win 21-5.

Giving up any possibility of further Welsh caps, Phil decided to stay on in South Africa after the tour, after being offered an engineering job in Johannesburg.  So for the next three seasons he played for the local Wanderers club.  This came to an end, however, with the coming of war.

Phil enlisted as a gunner in the 71st (South African) Siege Battery which was raised in Transvaal.  He saw action on the Somme in 1916 and in the major battles of the following year.  In May 1917, he was commissioned in the field and was later promoted to lieutenant but he did not survive very long after this.  He is often wrongly said to have died at Arras, but a little over a week after taking part in the Battle of Cambrai, Lieutenant Waller was going home on leave. He and Major Fitzpatrick had only just left their battery at Beaumetz-lès-Cambrai when the shell struck.

80 PDW

When I visited the area a couple of years ago, I found that the two men, who had died so tragically, had been buried alongside each other in the intimate and beautiful Red Cross Corner Cemetery at Beugny. near Bapaume.

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Charles “Charlie” Meyrick Pritchard (1882-1916): One of the Greatest Forwards to Play Rugby for Wales

During the Great War, Captain Wyndham Williams of the Royal Army Medical Corps kept a diary of his experiences as a medical officer on the Western Front. In August 1916, he was on duty at a casualty clearing station when one of the wounded being brought in caught his eye. Captain Williams, from Nantymoel near Bridgend, was a keen follower of rugby, so it is perhaps not surprising that he immediately recognised the badly wounded casualty as one of the heroes of the Welsh victory over New Zealand in 1905. After all, he had been at the Arms Park that day. It is interesting, however, that, “Charlie” Pritchard is the only patient mentioned by name in Captain Williams’s diary, although he must have treated thousands of casualties during the war. This diary entry is clear evidence of Charlie’s fame and popularity.

Charlie Pritchard was certainly one of the greatest forwards of his era and, arguably, he was one of the finest ever to represent Wales. A vigorous and courageous player, he was also highly regarded in rugby circles for his genial, warm-hearted and sporting nature. Between 1904 and 1910, he won fourteen caps for Wales, though injuries cost him at least ten more. He played in the Triple Crown teams of 1904-5 and 1907-8 when Wales also recorded the first ever Grand Slam. However, it was his total and unflagging commitment in the 3-0 defeat of New Zealand for which he is best remembered. His devastating tackling in this gruelling match was acknowledged by the press as crucial to the Welsh victory. Charlie was “always in the thick of the fight” that day when he performed “prodigies of aggressive defence” for Wales.

Born in 1882 into a sporting family in Newport, he learned the game, however, in England when he boarded at Long Ashton School, Bristol.  After school, he took up work in the family wine and spirit business and, at only nineteen, he was invited to play for Newport in an especially tough away game against the then Welsh champions, Swansea. So impressive was he on his debut in the hard fought Newport victory that, from then on, he became a permanent member of the Newport pack. He played in well over two hundred matches for the club between January 1902 and April 1911, and was a popular captain for three consecutive seasons though he was injured for much of that time.

A physically dominant presence on the field, he was described as the “Uskside Appollo” by the irrepressible Percy Bush, the Wales fly-half in the New Zealand match. Charlie was a vigorous and resolute forward who always committed himself totally during matches. His reputation as a tackler was fearsome, yet he was also widely admired for his chivalrous approach to the game and it was said of him that he was never guilty of foul play during his entire career.

In May 1915, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 12th Battalion The South Wales Borderers (3rd Gwent). They went on active service in June 1916, and gained their first experience of trench warfare near Béthune. Because of the date of his death, it is widely but incorrectly claimed that Charlie died in the Battle of the Somme. However, he did not. He never served on the Somme and he died, and is buried, over thirty miles to the north in a different part of the Western Front.

 

On the night of 12th August 1916, Charlie  ̶  now promoted to captain  ̶  was in command of a strong raiding party who had been given instructions to capture a prisoner. Charlie was wounded before reaching the enemy trench but he refused to stop. Moreover, he arrived at the trench first and jumped in and grabbed a prisoner. After scrambling out with him, he then ordered his men back but was wounded again, this time much more seriously. He was forced to hand the prisoner over, and two comrades then managed with great difficulty to carry Charlie back to safety. Now in a state of collapse, he asked “Have they got the Hun?” When told they had, he replied, “Well, I have done my bit”. He was then stretchered out of the line and taken to the Casualty Clearing Station at Chocques, a few miles behind the front.

 

Despite the ministrations of Captain Wyndham Williams and his medical colleagues, it was here that, on the 14th August 1916, Charlie Pritchard died of his wounds. The 12thSouth Wales Borderers War Diary recorded, “The Battalion thus loses a very gallant officer and a chivalrous, generous and large minded gentleman.” It was later announced that, had he survived, Charlie would have been recommended for the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery. Only the Victoria Cross was a higher gallantry award but at that time the DSO could not be awarded posthumously. So he never received the decoration he so richly deserved.

 

When he heard the news, a distraught WJ Townsend Collins, a journalist who knew Charlie well, wrote movingly:

The war has swept away many a great and famous Rugby player who was also a good fellow; but among them all was none with a stouter or kinder heart, more beloved, more lamented than Charlie Pritchard.

Captain Charles Meyrick Pritchard is buried in Chocques Military Cemetery, three miles north-west of Béthune.

I should like to thank Clive Lougher for allowing me to make use the information in his grandfather’s diary.

This is an amended version of an article which originally appeared on 14th August 2016 on the World Rugby Museum: From the Vaults blog on the centenary of Charlie Pritchard’s death in a Casualty Clearing Station at Chocques. It is re-posted here to commemorate the 101st anniversary of his death.

There is a much longer account of his life and rugby career in “Call Them to Remembrance”. 

 

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Dick Thomas (1880-1916): Welsh International Killed at Mametz Wood

Company Sergeant Major Richard “Dick” Thomas was killed during the early stages of the Battle of the Somme as he was bravely leading his men in the initial attack on Mametz Wood on the 7th July 1916. A policeman in civilian life, and a well-known Welsh rugby international, his passing must have been especially keenly felt, not just by his family, friends and comrades in arms, but by the whole of the Welsh sporting community.

Dick was born into a mining family in Ferndale, Rhondda, and although he initially worked underground, he subsequently joined the Glamorgan Police and rose to the rank of sergeant. He began his rugby career with Ferndale Scarlets, but quickly moved on to a more senior Rhondda club, Penygraig. There he soon began to impress the Welsh selectors, and in 1904-5 he was named reserve forward for all three of Wales’s internationals. He also had a few games for Cardiff that season, but after he joined the police force he was posted to the Cynon Valley. So he joined Mountain Ash who, like Penygraig, played in the Glamorgan League, a fiercely contested competition for valley clubs.

Not that this bothered Dick much. He was a tough forward with a reputation for being able to take and give knocks. We “would sooner face any man than Dick Thomas, the fiery chariot” wrote one old opponent. But, despite being a hard-working scrummager and a fearless tackler, Dick also possessed good all round footballing skills and he demonstrated his versatility by appearing regularly at halfback or threequarter for the Glamorgan Police team. Right up to his retirement – and this was a time when the press often overlooked the contribution of individual forwards – Dick was frequently referred to in match reports as one of the outstanding players.

Throughout his career, Dick was a regular in the Glamorgan County XV and he played for them against New Zealand (when he was “head and shoulders above any other forward”), South Africa and Australia. It was following a fine display for the county against the 1906 Springboks that he was awarded his first cap against South Africa a few weeks later. Dick went on to play three more times for Wales in 1907-8 and 1908-9. Serious illness and injury denied him more caps, but he still managed to play in two successive Grand Slam winning teams.

In 1911, following another posting, Dick transferred to the Bridgend club and he continued to play – and play well – for them, and for Glamorgan Police, right up to 1914. He was also a talented boxer, and he was three times heavyweight boxing champion of the Glamorgan Police. Just six months before the outbreak of the war, he reached the heavyweight final of the Welsh Amateur Championships, although he lost to a much younger opponent.

Dick’s grandson, another Richard Thomas, has recently located his grandfather’s birth certificate, which reveals that his date of birth was 14th October 1880 – three years earlier than suggested in most accounts of Dick’s life. This only further emphasises the longevity of Dick’s sporting career. The discovery of his birth certificate also resolves the question of Dick’s exact names. For many years, he has been widely, but incorrectly, referred to as ‘Edward John’ or ‘Edward John Richard’ Thomas, but he was in fact registered as just ‘Richard Thomas’. Evidently this mistake arose long after his death, when his military record was confused with that of another Welshman, an ‘Edward John Thomas’ who was killed on exactly the same day during the Battle of the Somme.

With the coming of war, Dick enlisted in the 16th Battalion Welsh Regiment (Cardiff City) and was soon promoted to Company Sergeant Major. This unit was full of rugby players, so he found himself serving alongside many former teammates and opponents.

Six days after the opening of the Battle of the Somme, the 38th (Welsh) Division were given the task of capturing Mametz Wood. The City Battalion, together with the 11th Battalion South Wales Borderers, were selected to spearhead the initial attack on the wood on the 7th July. The plan, however, was ill-conceived and stood little chance of success. The Germans were well dug in at the edge of the wood as well as on the right flank of the attackers. The artillery failed to neutralise the enemy’s machine guns, while the promised covering smoke never materialised. The attack was held up well before the men could get into the wood and the 16th Welsh suffered terribly from both frontal and enfilade fire. Company Sergeant Major Richard Thomas was one of nearly 140 from his battalion who were killed in the doomed assault. Mametz Wood was eventually captured five days later after much Welsh blood was shed.

The commanding officer of the 16th Welsh, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Smith, a Welsh trialist and an old teammate and police colleague of Dick’s, wrote to his widow, “My old friend Dick was killed while attacking a wood … I had already recommended him for a MC for his gallantry and splendid example to his men”. However, Dick never received the decoration: at that time, the Military Cross could not be awarded posthumously.

A Welsh selector later wrote of Dick, “He died as he had always lived, a great hero.”

Richard Thomas is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme; on the Bridgend War Memorial and on the Glamorgan Police War Memorial.  A new building has recently been named in his honour at the Bridgend headquarters of the South Wales Police.

 

I should like to thank Richard and Margaret Thomas, John Jenkins and Gareth Madge for their help in researching this article.

This is an amended version of an article which originally appeared on the World Rugby Museum: From the Vaults blog on the centenary of Dick Thomas’s death in action on 7th July 2016. It is re-posted here to commemorate the 101st anniversary of his death.

There is a much longer account of Dick Thomas’s life and rugby career in “Call Them to Remembrance”. 

 

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