Late summer 1939: it was time for Australia’s rugby men, the Wallabies, to return to the shores of what many still saw as the Mother Country. Sadly the invitation was as well timed as the worst of hospital passes. International tensions had risen in the late ’30s, with Germany’s flouting of the Versailles terms and her moves into Austria and Czechoslovakia, Italy’s expansionist moves in Africa, the Spanish Civil War, for which more than one Welsh rugby man volunteered, and Japan’s aggression in the Pacific.
Appeasement in Europe gave an impression of bringing breathing – and recruitment – space after 1938. Rugby proceeded as normal, with a three way tie in the Championship, Scotland the unlucky wooden-spooners. France had been promised a provisional return to the fold for 1940.
England’s 9-6 Calcutta Cup win in Scotland on 18th March was to prove the last international game before the Second World War. Although seven would return to international rugby after it, six players who took part in the game, four of them airmen, would lose their lives on active service.
Both fullbacks were to fall, Scotland’s George Roberts as a Japanese PoW in 1943 and England’s Ernest Parsons from NZ, whose only test was that Murrayfield clash. He was a bomber pilot who won the DFC but was to die over Italy in 1940, just one day before England prop and airman Derek Teden. From the back rows, Scotland’s Donald Mackenzie, RAF, and England’s Robert Marshall, Navy, DSC and bar, were to perish in 1940 and 1945 respectively, while Scotland scrum-half Tommy Dorward was to prove another RAF fatality in 1941.
For as September 1939 dawned, Germany had invaded Poland and appeasement was at an end. After a long sea voyage (with some training), the Australian tourists under skipper ‘Vay’ Wilson arrived in Penzance on September 2nd, due to play 28 matches in ten months: the next day, war was declared. Continue reading