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List of international rugby union players killed in action during the First World War: Wikis


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Dave Gallaher (New Zealand), considered one of the greatest players of rugby at the turn of the 20th century
Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux where lies William Tasker and 770 other Australian fallen

This is a list of international rugby union players who died serving in armed forces during the First World War. Most of these came from the British Commonwealth, but a number of French international rugby players were also killed. It should also be noted that a number of major teams, whose nations were belligerents in WWI such as Japan, Canada, Italy, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa had not made their international debuts at this point in time,[1] and the United States team had only been in existence for around two years prior to the war. Also, none of the Central Powers had true national rugby squads at this point although there had been rugby clubs in Germany since the late 19th century,[2] and the German Rugby Federation is the oldest national rugby union in continental Europe.[3] However, Germany did put forward a team for rugby union at the 1900 Summer Olympics (although not the 1908 tournament, which involved only two sides) - Olympic rugby was not seen as particularly prestigious - and it is not known if any of that team were war casualties.

The war took an extremely heavy toll upon rugby at all levels, and this list includes some major figures, such as Dave Gallaher, who led a major All Blacks tour to the British Isles in 1905,[4]; David Bedell-Sivright, who is sometimes considered one of the greatest Scottish players of all time;[5] and Ronnie Poulton-Palmer who is similarly honoured by the English;[6] and the Frenchman Jean Bouin, better known as a middle distance athlete at the 1908 Olympics as well as the 1912 Games.

The first rugby international to die in WWI was the Scotland and London Scottish player, Ronald Simson, on 14th September 1914.[5] He was a lieutenant in the British Royal Field Artillery, at the First Battle of the Aisne,[7] which was the Allied follow-up offensive against the right wing of the German First Army (led by Alexander von Kluck) & Second Army (led by Karl von Bülow) as they retreated after the First Battle of the Marne earlier in September 1914.



Blair Swannell (on right) in Egypt, 1915
Edward Larkin, killed in Gallipolli

Although many rugby players were killed during the war, a large number were also injured or crippled, leading to their departure from the game. For example, the Australia and British Isles player Tom Richards had his back and shoulders damaged by a bomb blast and suffered respiratory problems the rest of his life, from gas attacks he had experienced on the Western Front, leading to his death from TB in 1935.[8]


Ronald Poulton-Palmer, former captain of England
The Memorial Stadium in Bristol shown here during a soccer game. It is named in honour of those rugby players who died in WWI

One of the most poignant stories is of Ronnie Poulton-Palmer, who had played against the South African tourists of 1912-13 only a few years before:

"Those who watched [Ronnie Poulton] play were certain that he was the greatest three-quarter ever to play the game and they held to that opinion all their lives...
"Poulton later inherited a fortune on condition that he changed his name to Poulton-Palmer; sadly he did not live to enjoy it, being killed by a sniper's bullet in the Great War. His last words before he died were: 'I shall never play at Twickenham again.'"[6]

England took had over twenty six players killed in the conflict. This was the second highest number of casualties, after Scotland - however, it should be noted that many of the Scotland players were "Anglos", i.e. based, born or playing in the England's domestic leagues for teams such as London Scottish FC or universities, so their loss affected English rugby too.

Henry Brougham is sometimes listed,[9] because he died of war wounds. However, since he died in 1923, after the war had ended, he is also often omitted.

  • Harry Alexander; died on 17 October 1915 Aged 35 [9]
  • Henry Berry; died on 9 May 1915, Aged 32.[9]
  • Arthur James Dingle; died on 22 August 1915, Aged 23 [9]
  • George Eric Burroughs Dobbs, died on 17 June 1917, Aged 32.[9]
  • Leonard Haigh, died on 6 August 1916 Aged 29. [9]
  • Reginald Harry Myburgh Hands, ("Reggie Hands") died on 20 April 1918, Aged 29[9] Hands was a South African who played cricket for South Africa and rugby for England.
  • Arthur Leyland Harrison VC; died on 23 April 1918, Aged 32[9]
  • Harold Augustus Hodges; died on 24 March 1918, Aged 32 14[9]
  • Rupert Edward Inglis; died on 18 September 1916, Aged 53 [9]
  • Percy Dale Kendall; died on 21 January 1915, Aged 34 [9]
  • John Abbott King; died on 9 August 1916, Aged 32 [9]
  • Ronald Owen Lagden; died on 3 March 1915, Aged 26[10][9]
  • Douglas Lambert; died on 13 October 1915, Aged 32 [9]
  • Alfred Frederick Maynard; died on 13 November 1916, Aged 22[9]
  • Edgar Roberts Mobb, ("Mobbsy") died on 29 July 1917, Aged 37 16[9]
  • William Moore Bell Nanson; died on 4 June 1915, Aged 34 [9]
  • Francis Eckley Oakeley; died on 25 November 1914, Aged 23 [9]
  • Robert Lawrence Pillman; died on 9 July 1916, Aged 23 17[9]
  • Ronald William Poulton-Palmer, ("Ronnie Poulton") died on 5 May 1915, Aged 25 [9]
  • John Edward Raphael, died on 11 June 1917, Aged 35[11] [9]
  • Reginald Oscar Schwarz MC, ("Reggie Schwarz") died on 18 November 1918, Aged 43 [9]
  • Lancelot Andrew Noel Slocock; died on 9 August 1918, Aged 29[9]
  • Francis Nathaniel Tarr; died on 18 July 1915, Aged 27 [9]
  • Alexander Findlater Todd, died on 21 April 1915, Aged 41 [9]
  • James Henry Digby Watson; died on 15 October 1914, Aged 24. [9]
  • Charles Edward Wilson
  • Arthur James Wilson, died on 1 July 1917, Aged 29[9]


Jean Bouin (right) in a track event in Stockholm, 1912

France is different from all the other nations mentioned on this list for two reasons - firstly, it was not part of the British Commonwealth nor English speaking, and secondly, unlike the other nations, it actually had a military front in its border territory.

Maurice Boyau particularly distinguished himself as a balloon buster and military flying ace, with 35 victories under his belt.[12] He spent the much of his flying career with Escadrille 77, known as "Les Sportifs" for the great number of athletes in its ranks.[13] He had been captain of the French team before the war.

Stade Bordelais of Bordeaux was badly affected, losing players such as Boyau and Giacardy.

Great Britain


British Isles team

Pre-WWI, it was not uncommon for members of the British Isles team (later known as the British and Irish Lions) to be uncapped for their nation of origin. This never happens now.

Most British Isles players had been capped for their country, and can be found listed more fully under their respective countries. Capped players include the following.


At least one competitor for the Great Britain Olympic team which competed at rugby union at the 1908 Summer Olympics, and gained silver died -

Scotland and Ireland did not put teams up for either the 1900 or 1908 Olympic rugby events, and most of the players were from England, and in particular Cornwall.


Ireland, unlike other parts of the UK and much of the British Commonwealth did not have conscription during the war, although there was a disastrous attempt in 1918 to impose it. See also Ireland and World War I.

  • Jasper Brett, died on 4 February 1917, Aged 21
  • Robert Balderstone Burgess, died on 9 December 1915, Aged 25.
  • Ernest Deane MC, died on 25 September 1915, Aged 28.
  • William Victor Edwards, died on 29 December 1917, Aged 30
  • Basil Maclear, died on 24 May 1915, Aged 34.
  • Vincent McNamara, died on 29 November 1915, Aged 24
  • Albert Lewis Stewart DSO, died on 4 October 1917, Aged 28.
  • Alfred Squire Taylor, died on 31 July 1917, Aged 29

New Zealand

  • James Alexander Steenson Baird ("Jim Baird"), died on 7 June 1917, Aged 23.
  • Robert Stanley Black ("Bobby Black"), died on 21 September 1917, Aged 23
  • Henry Dewar ("Norkey Dewar"), died on 19 August 1915, Aged 33.
  • Ernest Henry Dodd ("Ernie Dodd"), died on 11 September 1918 aged 38
  • Albert Joseph Downing ("Doolan Downing"), died on 8 August 1915 aged 28.
  • David Gallaher ("Dave Gallaher"), died on 4 October 1917, Aged 41.
  • Eric Tristram Harper, died on 30 April 1918, Aged 40.
  • Autini Pitara Kaipara, died 4 August 1917 aged 30
  • James McNeece ("Jim McNeece"), died on 21 June 1917, Aged 31
  • Alexander James Ridland ("Jimmy Ridland"), died on 5 November 1918, Aged 36
  • George Maurice Victor Sellars, died on 7 June 1917, Aged 31
  • Reginald Taylor ("Reg Taylor"), died on 20 June 1917, Aged 28
  • Hubert Sydney Turtill ("Jum" Turtill), died on 9 April 1918, Aged 38
  • Frank Reginald Wilson, Died on 19 September 1916, Aged 31


According to Allan Massie, "Scotland had suffered more severely than any of the Home Counties from the slaughter of the war. Thirty capped players were lost (twenty six English internationalists were killed)."[14]

While some of these players were clearly retired, such as Charles Reid (who had been capped in the 1870s and 1880s), others such as Frederick Harding Turner, James Huggan and John George Will had played in the last match before the war, the Calcutta Cup match in March, 1914, and so had their playing careers prematurely ended. Walter Sutherland was also considered one of Hawick RFC's greatest players, and was still remembered fondly as "Wattie Suddie" in Bill McLaren's playing days.[15] Few surviving Scots were capped before and after the war - Charlie Usher, Jock Wemyss and Alex Angus are some of the exceptions. Charlie Usher spent much of the war in a POW camp.

South Africa

The 1906-07 South Africa rugby union tour team included AF Burdett (not pictured)

Adam Burdett was part of the 1906-7 tour to the British Isles. This was the inaugrial South Africa tour and is recognised as the event that coined the word "Springboks" as a nickname for the South Africa team. Poignantly, in the two games he played on that tour in November 1906, he shared the field with David Bedell-Sivright of Scotland, and Basil Maclear of Ireland, who were also casualties of that war. Likewise, Toby Moll would probably have rubbed shoulders with Eric Milroy, Noel Humphreys or Phil Waller in the 1910 British Isles tour of South Africa.


Johnnie Williams

Amongst the fatalities was Richard Garnons Williams, who had played in the very first Wales international rugby union match in 1881. At 59 years of age, he was the eldest of the 13 Wales international players to be killed during the war.[17]

Charles Taylor was the first Welsh fatality, and was a noted athlete, especially good at the pole vault.[18]

Fred Perrett is often left out of lists of the Welsh international war dead due to his supposed defection to the professional game.[18]


Printed sources

  • Bath, Richard (ed.) The Scotland Rugby Miscellany (Vision Sports Publishing Ltd, 2007 ISBN 1905326246)
  • Guttman, Jon & Dempsey, Harry (2002). Spad XII/XIII Aces of World War I Aircraft of the Aces). Osprey Publishing.
  • Richards, Huw A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 2007, ISBN 9781845962555)
  • Smith, David; Williams, Gareth (1980). Fields of Praise: The Official History of The Welsh Rugby Union. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 0708307663. 
  • Starmer-Smith, Nigel (ed) Rugby - A Way of Life, An Illustrated History of Rugby (Lennard Books, 1986 ISBN 0 7126 2662 X)

Online resources


  1. ^ The debuts of these teams were Japan & Canada (1932); Italy (1929); Fiji & Tonga (1924); Samoa (1924) - Western Samoa was technically a German colony until the Treaty of Versailles, but was seized by New Zealand in 1914.
  2. ^ Bath, Richard (ed.) The Complete Book of Rugby (Seven Oaks Ltd, 1997 ISBN 1 86200 013 3) p67; the debut of Germany was in 1927, and those of the successors of the Central Powers Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey decades after World War II
  3. ^ (German) Deutscher Rugby-Verband - Official Site
  4. ^ NZEF Fatal Casualty Form 1917 (with a date of birth of 31/10/76, lowering his age by 3 years)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l An entire team wiped out by the Great War (The Scotsman), retrieved 8th December, 2009
  6. ^ a b Starmer-Smith, p40
  7. ^ Commonwealth War Graves Commission: SIMSON, RF, retrieved 8th December, 2009
  8. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Starmer-Smith, p42
  10. ^ "Ronald Lagden". The Rugby History Society. 
  11. ^ "John Raphael". Cricinfo. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Spad XII/XIII Aces of World War I. p. 65. 
  14. ^ Massie, Allan A Portrait of Scottish Rugby (Polygon, Edinburgh; ISBN 0 904919 84 6), p19
  15. ^ McLaren, p19
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Bath, p109
  17. ^ Smith (1980), pg 40.
  18. ^ a b c Rugby Heroes who went to War BBC Online Matthew Ferris, November 2008
  19. ^ Richard Williams player profile


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