November 29 - 1941 NZ Services play their first match

The New Zealand Services team which played in England, Ireland, Wales and France during World War II arose out of a challenge to New Zealand High Commissioner W J “Bill” Jordan in October 1941 from the Rosslyn Park club. A team of RNZAF personnel was hastily cobbled together and fielded against Rosslyn Park on November 29 1941. The scratch NZ Services side was well beaten 3 – 30. Rosslyn Park were played twice more that season, a 15-16 loss but a Services’ win 18 – 5 in the third encounter.

“The Founding of the Team

It has been truly said of the New Zealand Division in the Mi/Idle East and Italy during the War years, that wherever it went it took its goal-posts and football with it. The same remark could well be applied to the Royal New Zealand Air Force. No sooner were there sufficient units located in Great Britain than Rugby contests were being staged between the different stations. The next step was early taken, a step which was to lead to the formation of the New Zealand Services Team. This was brought about when Squadron/Leader C. G. Kain. and Pilot/Officer Eric Grant were asked by Mr. W. J. Jordan, High Commissioner for New Zealand in London, to form a New Zealand team to resist a challenge sent out by a London Club, Rosslyn Park. Both were flying at Bassingbourn O.T.U., where Squadron/Leader Kain was a Flight Commander and Pilot/Officer Grant a pupil in the same flight. The task was an unenviable one, as it was only known by hearsay who was in the United Kingdom at the time; it was early in the War—October, 1941, and there were not many New Zealauders then in England. However, Bassingbourn being a New Zealand Officers Training Unit (most of the aircrew were New Zealanders) a fairly good XV. could he mustered, but of Mr. Jordan’s request, Eric Grant writes: ‘‘We could not. hope to extend Rosslyn Park with a team of New Zealanders from our Station only, so we had to look afield. One day Garry Kain and I flew over to Yatesbury, a nearby Training Station, where we were overjoyed to pick up Alex. Sutherland of Southland, H. Tomoana, of Hawke’s Bay, and L. P. McCloy, of Canterbury. And so it went on, picking up players here and there, then the big day arrived we were just a collection of footballers without training, most of us unfit and having no opportunity to get together for team combination. It was not to be wondered that Rosslyn Park trounced us.”

Still whatever the result of this, the first match of many to come, history had been made—the New Zealand Services Team had been born, a side destined to carry the banner of New Zealand Rugby through four English seasons under conditions of War never before experienced, to culminate with a series of matches, which took the side to Wales, Ireland and France, in addition to visits to many parts of England. Right from the beginning the New Zealand High Commissioner, Mr. Jordan, displayed a lively interest in the team, and his frequent attendance at matches and his active co-operation were a source of inspiration to the players. He presented several Cups for competition: (1) The Dominions Cup, originally for competition in Great Britain between the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force, with the South Africans later entering; (2) one for the annual North Island-South island match; (3) another for the R.N.Z.A.F.-Royal New Zealand Navy contests; and (4) a fourth for the Maori-Pakeha fixture.

The team developed beyond a purely Air Force side, including personnel from the Fleet Air Arm at an early date, whilst other players from Navy Units were called on also. In the 1942-43 season the team also comprised Army men, to make the combination fairly representative of each Service.

Prominent in the XV.‘s in the early games were P/O. Pat. J. Farren, Sgt. James H. Wetere, P/O. Eric C. Cox, Sgt. Stuart D. Wells, Sgt. Chas. Saundercock, Sgt. Jack Tanner, Sgt. George K. Samson, Sgt. W. J. (“Bill”) Fulton, Sgt. H. Tomoana, Sgt. H. George, Sgt. Malcolm Cato, Sgt. H. T. Hatchard, and F/O. A. Leslie Ellis, all of whom were killed on operations.”

From: ”FIVE SEASONS OF SERVICES RUGBY” BY Arthur C Swan and Arthur H Carman. Pub. by Sporting Publications 1946. P. 5-6.

“Commenting on the season Eric Grant says ‘Difficulties in the way of obtaining a good evenly-balanced team were many. The plan was to select the best possible side and keep in mind at least another 15 players as reserves to be called on at a moment’s notice, and to tell those reserves to be prepared in case they were wanted. Flying, naturally enough, had to take precedence over Rugby, but owing to the vagaries of the weather it was difficult to forecast what it would be like, and consequently many players would not be released by their units until the morning of the match. If they were stationed in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, etc, as was often the case, it would be impossible for them to reach London in time for the game. Then again as practically the whole team in each case was chosen from flying personnel, casualties made great inroads into our available players. Les Ellis was an early casualty whose loss as a player and also as a chap was keenly felt. It was difficult to build up a team under these conditions, especially as players were so widely distributed throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and as the personnel of the team was continually changing. There was no opportunity for practicing together, as our team usually foregathered a couple of hours before the game at the New Zealand Forces Club, Charing Cross Road. That was mostly the headquarters in London. Many players after a strenuous six or seven train journey on a crowded , bustling train had only enough time to gulp down a hurried cup of tea before departing for Richmond Athletic Ground, where the majority of our London matches were contested.’”

Ibid p.8

NZ Services played seven matches in the 1941-42 season for three wins and four losses. Points for 68, against 81.