World War: Rugby Heroes

Giorgi DolidzeCorrespondent IJune 11, 2009

While looking at the 20th Century you may think that it was the century of rise for rugby. Many countries accepted this sport, the Rugby World Cup was created, a lot of countries created connections between each other—not only because of rugby, and countries strengthened. We can’t close our eyes on the two World Wars that affected this sport very much, not to mention people of every nation in the world.


Anyway, the sport for real men found a way to write its name with pride in the history of the World Wars. A lot of rugby players of international and national level fought for their lives on the battlefield like they did in a rugby stadium.


Here are some statistics about dead rugby players from all around the world during the World Wars:


World War I (1914-18)


World War I ended in 1918 and left 10 million dead in the fields of Europe and around the world. When one considers the very few players who were honored to play for their country and the numbers of losses shown below, one can only imagine the number of players lost to rugby clubs around the world by the conflict.


Internationals killed in World War I:


Scotland: 30

England: 27

France: 23

New Zealand: 12

Wales: 11

Australia: 9

Ireland: 9

Wales: 3

South Africa: 4

Germany: Not available


Extracts from Daily Telegraph Article: Talking Rugby: Timely tribute paid to rugby's fallen heroes By Brendan Gallagher—additional text subsequently added:



  • Blair Swannell: Twice a British Lions tourist—1899 and 1904—and capped in all four Tests in 1904, this rugged Northampton forward immigrated to Australia immediately after that tour and was capped by his new country within 12 months on a tour to New Zealand in 1905. He died leading a ferocious charge by Australian forces at Gallipoli in August 1915, he was shot whilst kneeling, showing others how to aim better. He was awarded the military cross.
  • It has been estimated that 5,000 Australian rugby players ultimately went on active war service between 1914 and 1918. This figure represents about 98 percent of the playing numbers in the game outside of the schools, in 1914. Many of these players never returned to Australia.



  • Dr. David Bedell-Sivright. Enjoyed the reputation of being the roughest, toughest forward of his day and the arch exponent of the skill of dribbling. He played for Scotland 22 times during 1900 to 1908, led the 1904 Lions, and worked in Australia for a year as a stock rearer before returning to Edinburgh to complete his medical studies. Bedell contracted Septicaemia and, like Swannell, died at Gallipoli. He was buried at sea.


South Africa:

  • Jan "Jackie" Willen Hunter Morkel came from one of the famous rugby—playing families from Somerset West in Cape Town. 21 brothers and cousins were playing first-class rugby in South Africa before World War One, including eight who were or subsequently became Springboks.
  • Sir Abe Bailey had undertaken to sponsor a family tour of Britain in 1914 when war broke out. He died of dysentery fighting for the Mounted Commandos in German East Africa.


Extracts from Daily Telegraph Article: Talking Rugby: Timely tribute paid to rugby's fallen heroes By Brendan Gallagher:





  • John R Evans was a former Newport captain and lock who won his only cap—playing at hooker—against England in 1934, when he also captained the side. Evans was killed in action in North Africa on March 8, 1943, when serving with the Parachute Regiment's third battalion.


  • Robert Alexander played for Ireland 11 times. He also played for the Barbarians in 1935 and 1936. Alexander was an outstanding member of Ireland's pack who toured with the 1938 Lions in South Africa. An Ireland cricketer to boot, his last game for Ireland was in 1942, when he captained Ireland in a friendly against the British Army. It was to be his last game. Alexander was killed during the Allied landings on Sicily serving for the Royal Inn Skilling Fusiliers. He had risen to the rank of captain.

New Zealand:

  • Donald Cobden. A dashing wing, Cobden represented New Zealand after just seven first-class games. He played for 25 minutes in his solitary Test, against the Springboks in 1937, before being forced off through injury. He joined the RAF as a fighter pilot for 76 Squadron and was shot down on Aug. 11, 1940, during the Battle of Britain. His body was washed up at Ostend and buried by the Germans in a communal war grave.



  • Vice Admiral Norman Atherton Wodehouse. In 1913 England achieved a Grand Slam under the captaincy of Norman Wodehouse. Wodehouse won 14 caps for England between 1910 and 1913 and was captain six times. Norman served in WWI on board the battleship HMS at the Battle of Jutland and survived the war. In 1941 he was commanding a convoy to South Africa when they were attacked by German U-boats. He ordered the convoy to scatter and his ship was never seen again.

Here is information that might interest a lot of people. When looking to the list of countries participating to the 2007 World Cup and their situation during WWI, I wonder if there is any connection.

Romania-Allied Forces
Portugal-Allied Forces
New Zealand-Allied Forces ( British )
Italy-Allied Forces
Ireland-Allied Forces ( British )
Georgia-Allied Forces ( Russia )
Wales-Allied Forces ( British )
France-Allied Forces
Scotland-Allied Forces ( British )
Australia-Allied Forces ( British )
Canada-Allied Forces ( British )
England-Allied Forces ( British )
South Africa-Allied Forces ( British )
Japan-Allied Forces
USA-Allied Forces
Tonga-Allied Forces ( British )
Samoa-Captured by New Zealand august 1914.
Fiji-Allied Forces ( British )
Namibia-German colony captured by south Africa.


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