War Games: Rugby in 1939

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.

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Scotland v England Programme 1939

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.

26 'Vay' Wilson at sea

‘Vay’ Wilson at sea

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

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SPECIAL EXHIBITION – Rugby and the Olympics


Ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games, the World Rugby Museum is pleased to announce our new special exhibition Rugby and the Olympics.

Rugby and the Olympics explores how Rugby Union played a leading role in the birth of the modern Olympic movement. From Pierre de Coubertin’s formative experiences at Rugby School, to Fiji’s first Olympic gold medal, it will analyse the history of Rugby at the Olympics in the XVs, 7s, men’s and women’s game, culminating in a look ahead to the XXXII Olympiad, which will be held in Tokyo 2020.

The exhibition will not only showcase the major stories surrounding the sport at the Games, it will also highlight key figures in the story of rugby at the Olympics, such as Dan Carroll and Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera. Find out about the introduction of wheelchair rugby into the Paralympic games, the only sport to need a physio and a welder on site!

Rugby and the Olympics opens at the World Rugby Museum on 29th November 2019 and will run until Summer 2020.

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Posted in Museum Collection, Olympics | 2 Comments

Lion of the RAF

Extracts from ‘Lion of the RAF: the Extraordinary Life of George Beamish, War Hero and Rugby Star’ by Paul McElhinney (Amberley Publishing)


George Beamish

1930 Lions Tour to Australia and New Zealand

George Beamish was one of three Leicester players to be selected for the 1930 Lions tour. The other two were Doug Prentice as captain and a nineteen-year-old prop, Doug Kendrew. Like George, Kendrew had a distinguished record in the Second World War, in his case with the Army. He later became a distinguished High Court judge.

From a New Zealand perspective, the tour was seen as business as usual. The Lions had never won in New Zealand and the Kiwis were determined not to let it happen this time. Their press pundits praised the quality of the Lions’ backline but were rather dismissive (unfairly) of their forwards.

The 1930 tour was the first time when the party were officially referred to as the Lions. The iconic four-quartered crest had first been adopted in 1924. Beamish made a huge impact on the 1930 tour, playing in twenty-one matches, also captaining the side on three occasions in Prentice’s absence. George was building towards being a real leader of men through his rugby and his role in the RAF. Continue reading

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How to become the Rugby Photographer of the Year

Rugby Photographer of the Year is a competition that will celebrate the very best of rugby photography, both amateur and professional, culminating in a two-month exhibition here at the World Rugby Museum

Nelson Mandela 1995

Are you a professional or amateur photographer that loves capturing the moments, the people, the places that make rugby the sport it is?

If so you should enter our inaugural Rugby Photographer of the Year competition, which culminates in a two-month exhibition here at the World Rugby Museum. A grand prize of £1,000 is also awarded for the overall winner at a finalist awards evening at the World Rugby Museum in late May, 2020.


The prizes
All shortlisted entries will have their work featured in a two-month long exhibition. They will also be invited to an exclusive awards evening at the World Rugby Museum, where the winners will be announced. A cash prize of £1,000 will be awarded to the winner of Rugby Photograph of the Year. All winners will also feature in a special edition of Rugby Journal. Additional prizes may be provided by sponsors, to be confirmed at a later date.

Please read the terms and conditions to entry here

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In memory of the fallen…

World Rugby Museum Curator, Phil McGowan, remembers the rugby players that served in the First World War…

When Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914 one sport above all others stood out due to the immediacy of its response. Such was the example set by rugby union footballers that the war office produced a poster advising other sportsmen to follow their ‘glorious example’ by enlisting with the armed forces. When the Rugby Football Union convened a month later they discussed the idea of forming a Rugby Football Corps but concluded that it was too late since all of their members were already inside barracks. Between 1914 and 1918 rugby footballers served in almost every British campaign. Over the course of the commemorative period 2014-2018 I have had the privilege to research and write about those that served, some who fell and others who returned. Here follows a selection of those men.

2007-50 (small)

Continue reading

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Historic Rugby Internationals: Australia v Fiji, 1952

The first ever visit of a Fijian touring side to Australia took place in the summer of 1952.  This tour originally comprised 9 matches including appearances on Sydney Cricket Ground for a match against New South Wales and a historic first test against Australia on July 26th 1952.  Although Fiji had played 28 tests since 1924 and won 16 of them, their previous opponents – Samoa, Tonga and the NZ Maoris – were not full members of the International Rugby Football Board.  This was the first time that the Fiji national side played one of the leading rugby nations.

Fiji team, 1951

Fiji team, 1951


The Fiji team won their opening two tour matches against South Harbour and City of Sydney before drawing 14-14 on July 12th with a powerful New South Wales side containing 14 current or future Wallabies in front of a record crowd of 38,699 spectators.  Following three further victories including a convincing 24-17 victory in Brisbane over a strong Queensland side with 11 current or future Wallabies, the Fijians amply demonstrated in the lead-up to the test their powerful running and superb handling, qualities that generations of spectators have enjoyed ever since. Continue reading

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PLAYER PROFILE – Georges Jèrôme

As Black History month draws to a close we thought we would share the story of French rugby international Georges Jèrôme. 

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Born in French Guiana in 1883, a young Georges Jèrôme left his homeland for continental France, where he dedicated much of his adult life to rugby.

A lock forward, Jèrôme played for several French clubs, the most successful being Stade Français, with whom he won the Championnat de France in 1903 and was runner-up the following four years.

Jèrôme was selected to play in the back row for an uncapped French game against Ireland in 1905, and he captained the ‘Blacks’ team in France’s ‘Blacks against Whites’ match that same year at Parc des Princes, Paris.

g jer003He made his official debut for France on 1st January 1906 against New Zealand’s famed ‘Originals’ side. This game was not only France’s first capped international match, but one of the first official international games to feature non-white players – Georges Jèrôme and André Vergès.

Jèrôme proved his worth on the pitch, scoring a try against a strong All Blacks team. His second and final international took place against England on 22nd March 1906; the same match in which the French unveiled their first tricolour outfit.

Following his playing career, Georges Jèrôme dedicated much time to coaching rugby in Périgueux and Villeneuve-sur-Lot and refereeing in the South-West of France.

Jèrôme is honoured in the Rugby Pioneers gallery at the World Rugby Museum.

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