A SPECIAL celebration took place today (Thursday) Australasian time at the great old ground of Twickenham.
Osterley Rugby Club in west London will present to the RFU Museum at Twickenham the jersey that Bob Scott wore on May 12, 1946 when the famous Kiwis side played Osterley.
It is quite some story.
Even Winston McCarthy’s full record of the post-war Kiwis’ tour (the famous Broadcasting the Kiwis book), does not mention the last, extra, match while the team waited for its ship home.
Between October 27, 1945 and March 31, 1946 the New Zealand Army rugby team (officially the Second NZEF side but popularly known as the Kiwis) completed an often arduous tour covering the British Isles, Ireland , France and Germany. It was a wet winter and some games were played in atrocious conditions.
Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg had instigated the tour at the war’s end and obtained £7000 guaranteed for expenses from the New Zealand Government. The clear objectives of the tour were to help revive interest in rugby in the British Isles and to play bright, open football, with the winning of the game not the most important factor. The Kiwis proved hugely popular, both on and off the field. Army, navy and air force charities benefitted by almost £40,000.
In those five months the Kiwis played 33 matches, winning 29, drawing two and losing just two. It was an amazing feat for men just finished with a war and many of them years away from home.
But the one game missing was when they were finally ready to leave and it came through an invitation for Fred Allen and Bert Cook (not to be confused with the Bert Cooke of 1924-25 Invincibles’ fame), initiated by a contact in New Zealand House, to the Osterley Rugby Club’s annual end of season dinner.
To quote club life member Tennant Eastman in an extract from the club history: “One of the highlights of the evening was the attendance of Fred Allen and Bert Cook of the visiting ‘Kiwis.’ Fred Allen expressed the wish that they had heard of us earlier because they would have been delighted to come along and coach us, or to have used our club for giving games to their players who were recovering from injury. They thoroughly enjoyed their evening and we literally had to carry them to Twickenham the next day for the Middlesex Sevens, which the Kiwis won.
“You can imagine our surprise when, about 10 days later, I received a telephone call from Fred Allen saying that, owing to a dock strike at Tilbury, their sailing for home on the SS Moreton Bay was delayed and could they come down and play us?
“What a dilemma. The clubhouse was closed for the summer, the posts stored away and the grass about a foot high. Frantic telephone calls to the Rugby Union to obtain permission to play in the close season resulted in the whole club turning out with mowers, scythes, sickles, et cetera, and I recall towing all sorts of mowers around the ground with my new Opel car.
“The event was described by the following report which appeared in the Evening News on Saturday May 11 under the heading, ‘This is why we like the Kiwis.’
‘We have another grand example of the sort of thing which has made the Kiwis the most popular of all rugby visitors when tomorrow afternoon a part of them will go down to Osterley to play against the local club. Although they are in the throes of packing up for their return home, yet they are quite willing to repay the hospitality which has been shown to them. Two of their members, F Allen and H Cook, were guests at the recent Osterley dinner. It is through them that the match has been arranged. Normally the season has ended, and in any case the RFU frown on Sunday matches, but I understand they have been granted permission for the two teams to meet. So here is a last chance to see in action those players who entertained so many rugby followers this winter. There is nothing competitive about the match. Osterley look upon it as a high honour and the Kiwis are delighted to have one more opportunity to show their appreciation for the reception they have received over here’.
“As a result of this article some 2000 spectators turned up on the day. There were no grandstands at the Wood Lane ground, just an open field and a small clubhouse. A most enjoyable game was had by one and all. The result was immaterial – the score unknown. At halftime some of the Kiwis switched sides and after the game it was most rewarding and appreciated to see Cook, Bob Scott and others still on the field coaching some of the local players.
“It was one of the few times when an English club played an international team with the others being Blackheath and Leicester against the Maori in 1926 and Leicester v the All Blacks in 1924-25.
“Both sides moved to the local Lion and Lamb (pub) to carry on the conviviality. The landlord was one of the players in the match. Very late that night the Kiwis piled into two or three cars and were returned to the Fern Leaf Club in Lowndes Square, off Knightsbridge.
“A couple of days later, just before they eventually sailed, the Osterley team and supporters were all invited to spend an evening at their club.”
It was the start of many years of strong links with New Zealand and visiting Kiwis were always warmly welcomed. The photograph of the two teams hung in the clubrooms along with Scott’s jersey until the club went into recess a few years ago as a result of Southall becoming a totally different ethnic community, mainly South Asians with no interest in rugby. However, a large number of former club players still meet up for an annual dinner and get-together.
The teams that day were: Kiwis: Bert Cook, Bob Scott, Eric Boggs, Johnny Smith, Bill Meates, Fred Allen, Ron Dobson, Ike Proctor, George Nelson, Kiwi Blake, Garth Bond, Bill Edwards, (?) Hume, (?) Urlich, (?) Thayen, Maurie Ingpen.
Osterley: J Madath, W Jones, G Williams, E McCormack, B Nash, J Nicholl, TS Davies, KT Eastman, JM Nicol, R Firman, GL Lewis, J Holland, DC Morris, F Yates, E Cornwall.
There was no rest for the Kiwis when they arrived back home as public demand had them play five more matches, against provincial sides. These and all the 33 official games in the UK and France were well documented by broadcaster McCarthy, who also became a household name in the next 20 years.
Only the Osterley match was missing. There was also no mention of it in the late Mike Whatman’s excellent Khaki All Blacks book, published in 2005, though there was a hint that players appeared in matches “at the invitation of various clubs around the country”.
*Osterley is now defunct but still holds an annual dinner, reunions and golf days for its older supporters and friends. Its grounds used to be used for training by the London New Zealand Club in the 1980s. It was last year when Osterley club secretary Dick Evans was searching through boxes of memorabilia in his garage for the photo of the two teams before kickoff in 1946 when he came across Bob Scott’s jersey, which had been presented to the club after the game by Fred Allen.
The last surviving member of the Osterley squad was halfback Gerry Newton, though he was not listed in the XV to take the field against the Kiwis. He penned his recollections of the match last year, evocative and rich in colour. Space prevents us publishing it here, but Newton believed the score to be 47-3 to the Kiwis. Newton died earlier this year.
*This story was provided by Gordon Florence, formerly an Eastern Suburbs’ soccer player who fell in love with the English style of rugby and post-match conviviality after playing a friendly game for West Herts in 1958. He joined Osterley and played several seasons before returning to New Zealand in 1966 and playing for Eastern Suburbs in Auckland for many years. He still keeps in touch with many of his old Osterley teammates, with many reciprocal visits.
Scott, who had played rugby league for Ponsonby before the war, and Ron Dobson, returned to Auckland and became the stars of the fledgling Auckland softball competition. Their photos put the game into the newspapers and they were joined by rugby league international Ray Cranch and soccer international Bob King, as well as the outstanding soccer goalscorer Don Brewer in the news. King, named one of the official legends of softball, played for Auckland before and after the war.
Bert Cook became a rugby league star in the north of England while Johnny Smith, Fred Allen, Bill Meates and Eric Boggs became household names as All Blacks. Florence recalls meeting Allen some years ago, and the great rugby man, still sharp as a needle, as it were, remembered the Osterley match vividly.
Scott is the sole surviving member of the Kiwis, at 91, and is still regarded as one of the greatest All Blacks fullbacks of all time.« Back to Articles
There are plenty of mouth-watering clashes on offer this weekend.
Which player was unlucky to miss out on the All Blacks’ wider training squad?
Gordon Tietjens’ success in sevens is unrivalled and should place him in the same coaching league as Sir Alex Ferguson.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen named a 38-man training squad and there are a couple of oversights worth highlighting