When a Picton boy stole the show from Fred Allen
Few living New Zealanders can claim to have watched the late Fred Allen play rugby – even fewer can recall playing alongside the great man.
One such person is Picton identity Reg Dawkins, 94 years young and still residing in the seaside town he was born in.
Reg's chance to rub shoulders with rugby's elite came in 1942 as World War II raged in Europe and the Pacific. After enlisting in 1940 with his brothers Jack and Hughie, Reg intended to join them as they fought in the North African campaign. However, their plans came unstuck and Reg "ended up chasing the Japs around the Pacific".
After six months overseas he returned to New Zealand on final leave with the 3rd NZ Division. While training in Pukekohe Reg was selected in a divisional invitation side to take on the Auckland provincial side in two matches. It was a strong combination. Southland flanker Ron Ward, Canterbury lock Harold Milliken and the captain, Hawke's Bay hooker Doug Dalton, had already worn the All Black jersey, while Allen and King Country lock Ron Bryers were to do so after the war. Auckland were no mugs either, with 1946-49 All Blacks winger Eric Boggs and `47 All Black halfback Percy Tetzlaff in their mix.
The first match was at Eden Park and turned into a personal triumph for Reg, who played at No 8 and scored three tries as the 3rd Division XV prevailed 20-13. A newspaper report at the time labelled them "one of the most powerful sets of forwards seen at Eden Park for a long time" and said "Dawkins anticipated play well and his backing up rewarded him with two (sic) tries." Good to see they didn't always get it right then either!
Reg remembers the match well, especially one of his tries.
"It was a breakaway from the halfway. I only had the fullback to beat and I sidestepped him to score under the posts. It was a bit of a surprise to everyone as forwards weren't expected to sidestep in those days."
He also proudly recalls the words of his skipper Dalton who told him: "Reg, you played up to international standard today".
The second match was much closer, Auckland winning 14-12 at Hamilton's Rugby Park. Reg, who again played No8, said they just didn't click on the day.
Although Allen would go on to play 21 times for NZ, captaining the All Blacks on every occasion, Reg said he was "just one of the boys" in 1942. As Reg was a lance corporal and Allen a second lieutenant they tended to go their own ways. "The officers were inclined to keep to themselves", Reg recalled with a smile, but he did become great friends with one team-mate, rugged Southlander Ward, a sergeant.
Two weeks after the matches it was back to harsh reality as Reg returned to the Pacific with the 35th Battalion. They island-hopped alongside US troops through New Caledonia and New Hebrides, to Guadalcanal and then Vella Lavella where he lost 25 mates after a planned assault from the sea went badly wrong.
From there it was on to Green Island, where the US forces built a runway to allow refuelling of the planes which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Reg's war ended in 1946 when he returned to his beloved Picton, still suffering the after-effects of a bad bout of malaria. He resumed his rugby career with Waitohi and represented Marlborough in 1946 and `47 before hanging up his boots to spend more time with wife-to-be, English war widow Kay Patterson. They married in 1947 and were together for 57 years.
Reg's sporting pedigree is impressive. A Marlborough hockey rep at 17, he played golf to a two handicap, rowed for Picton, was a junior tennis rep, a rep lawn bowler and played rugby through the grades for Waitohi and Marlborough. "Picton had everything a young man would want growing up," he recalls.
Reg and Kay had five children – John, Lindsay, Andrew, Paula and Shelley – who were all active in sport at various levels. The eldest, John (Patterson) was chairman of the New Zealand Golf Association in 2004-05. Andrew (Dawkins), now living in Pukekohe, was a talented hooker in Queen Charlotte, Waitohi, Marlborough 1985 and New Zealand Secondary School rugby teams. Andrew's son Matthew is a promising young rower who was close to selection for NZ junior team.
Reg is justifiably proud of his family, and they of him. In 1998 he was awarded the Queens Service Medal for services to the community and he was nominated for the senior New Zealander of the Year award in 2010 and 2011. He has served on so many community organisations he finds it hard to remember them all.
Truth is, you could write a book about Reg, his family and their influence on Marlborough and Picton in particular – and someone probably should.
But this is a sports column and, when Reg celebrates his 95th birthday in August, he can reflect with pride on the day he scored a hat-trick of tries against Auckland at Eden Park – a rare sporting feat indeed. Ironically the jersey he wore that day was black and gold – Waitohi colours.
The Marlborough Express