Boots and bullets - fallen All Blacks

PETER LAMPP
Last updated 12:21 06/08/2014

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Stephen Berg was leafing through the Rugby Museum's collection of World War I photos this week when he stumbled on a tattered gem.

It was a photo of the 1914 All Blacks who were posing the day before playing Metropolitan Union at the Sydney Sports Ground on August 5, 1914.

Berg was startled to discover scrawled on the back of the photo, "The day war broke out. . ." precisely 100 years to the day from New Zealand joining the war.

Legend has it that a sign was put up on the scoreboard at the game, proclaiming "War Declared".

The museum is constructing an exhibition commemorating rugby from World War I.

It will go nationwide under the title, "Balls, Bullets and Boots - from playing field to battlefield."

So background on the 1914 team was but a phone call away to museum chairman Clive Akers, who is researching the book to go with the exhibition.

Of the 13 All Blacks who died in World War I, three were in this 1914 team. They finished the tour and returned home, most of them enlisting in the army.

Of the 23 All Blacks in the team, only five did not serve overseas.

One of the three killed was Albert "Doolan" Downing, the first All Black killed in the war, at Gallipoli in 1915. He died during the assault on Chunuk Bair. He was a member of the Auckland Ranfurly Shield team in 1913 and had a Ranfurly Shield tattooed on his left forearm.

There was also Otago's Bobby Black, who was killed at the Somme in France in 1916 and Southland's James McNeece, who died at Messines, Belgium, in 1917.

Only 1000 attended the game, which the All Blacks won 11-6. The proceeds were to go to the Australian Olympic Fund to send a team to the 1916 Olympics in Berlin. They were cancelled.

Akers also discovered that a New Zealand Army team played the Australians during the Gallipoli campaign on the nearby Greek island of Lemnos, where soldiers went to rest or receive hospital treatment. New Zealand won the game, played on the beach at low tide with a soccer ball, and 1914 halfback Teddy Roberts was one of several All Blacks in the game.

Another 1914 All Black, Jim Ryan, later captained the NZ Services team that won the King's Cup in England in 1919. He lived in Feilding after the war and coached Manawatu in 1920s.

Another killed at Gallipoli was Manawatu halfback Owen "Spot" Niccolls, from Feilding.

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- Manawatu Standard

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