Wales are playing Australia on Saturday, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, with added significance this year of the 100th anniversary of the ending of the First World War. Rob Cole reveals the link between Welsh rugby and the origins of the commemorations.
When you stand for the two minute silence to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ending of ‘the war to end all wars’, World War 1, at 11.00am on Armistice Day on Sunday, bear in mind that there is a strong Welsh rugby link to the tribute to the fallen heroes of so many global conflicts.
The idea for the silent vigil was suggested to King George V by universally acclaimed South African writer, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.
His suggestion, made on 27 October, 1919, was to honour the dead of World War I, one of whom was his son, Percy Nugent Fitzpatrick.
King George decreed on 7 November, 1919, “that at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities … so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”
The war had formally come to an end on 11 November, 1918, and almost a year on Sir Percy was thanked for his suggestion for the silence by Lord Stamfordham, the King’s Private Secretary.
Dear Sir Percy,
The King, who learns that you are shortly to leave for South Africa, desires me to assure you that he ever gratefully remembers that the idea of the Two Minute Pause on Armistice Day was due to your initiation, a suggestion readily adopted and carried out with heartfelt sympathy throughout the Empire.
Nugent Fitzpatrick had died on 14 December, 1917, when he was struck by a “stray 4-inch shell while driving to railhead in the battery car.”
Alongside him in the car was Lieutenant Phil Waller, also of the 71st (Transvaal) Siege Battery, who had accepted a lift from him from the front line on his way home for some much needed leave.
Born in Bath, but raised in Llanelli, Waller attended the Carmarthen Intermediate School and showed early promise as a forward. He made his first-class debut for Newport against London Welsh on 30 March, 1907, two months after he had turned 18.
He went on to make a further 78 appearances in Black & Amber over the next three years and in the 1908/09 season he played against the first Australian tourists three times in the space of four weeks.
He played for Somerset against the Wallabies in Taunton in an 8-0 defeat on 28 November, 1908, made his Wales debut against the tourists at Cardiff Arms Park on 12 December, winning 9-6, and then played for Newport against them at Rodney Parade on 19 December, losing 5-3.
His Wales debut came a month before his 20th birthday and he went on to play in six consecutive internationals, ending up on the winning side every time in the middle of Wales’ record run of 11 straight victories.
He helped Wales secure their second Grand Slam in 1909 and made his final outing in a Welsh jersey at St Helen’s, Swansea, on New Year’s Day, 1910, in a 49-14 win over the French.
But while his Welsh international career came to an abrupt halt before he was 21, he won a place on the 1910 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa and faced the Springboks in all three Tests.
He was one of seven Newport players on that tour, a reflection of the superb season the club had just enjoyed.
Waller figured in 34 of the 39 matches during the season, only two of which were lost, both by a single point, and made his final appearance for the club in the defeat to Neath on the last day of the season.
His club form earned Waller a call-up for the Lions and he was joined by club-mates Tom Smyth, Stan Williams, Jack Jones, Mel Baker, Harry Jarman and Reg Plummer on the trek around South Africa.
He played in 23 of the 24 games and was praised as one of the most consistent forwards on the tour.
The Lions lost the first Test 14-10 at the Wanderers Ground, Johannesburg, but hit back to level the series in Port Elizabeth 8-3. The final Test was lost 21-5 in Cape Town.
Waller obviously enjoyed South Africa because he decided to stay there, joining the Wanderers club in Johannesburg and then enlisting in the South African Heavy Artillery Regiment.
He fitted in some more ‘international’ rugby in March, 1916, when he was in the South African Heavy Artillery team that beat a New Zealand Army team 7-0 at the Queen’s Club, London, earning him the distinction of beating international sides from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in his career.
Back on the front line at the Western Front in France he became the 12th of the 13 Welsh international players to lose their lives in WW1 on 14 December, 1917.
It was a day of double tragedy for the 71st (SA) Siege Battery at Beaumetz-lès-Cambrai (20 kilometres south west of Cambrai) with Major Fitzpatrick also dying. The two comrades were buried next to each other in the Red Cross Corner Cemetery at Beugny.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.”
LEST WE FORGET
WELSH INTERNATIONALS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN WW1
Billy Geen (3 caps) died 31 July, 1915, aged 24
Bryn Lewis (2 caps) died 2 April, 1917, aged 26
Fred Perrett (5 caps) died 1 December, 1918, aged 27
Lou Phillips (4 caps) died 14 March, 1916, aged 38
Charlie Pritchard (14 caps) died 14 August 1916, aged 34
Charles Taylor (9 caps) died 24 January 1915, aged 51
Dick Thomas (4 caps) died 7 July 1916, aged 35
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Horace Thomas (2 caps) died on 3 September 1916, aged 26
Phil Waller (6 caps) died 14 December, 1917, aged 28
David Watts (4 caps) died 14 July, 1916, aged 30
Dai Westacott (1 cap) died 27 August, 1917, aged 35
Johnnie Williams (17 caps) died 12 July, 1916, aged 34
Richard Williams (1 cap) died 28 September, 1915, aged 59
* Hopkin Maddock MC (6 caps) died 15 December, 1921 as a result of wounds sustained in WW1, aged 40
On Thursday, Dai Sport will pay tribute to the Wales international footballers who died in World War 1.