October 16 - 1953 All Blacks take long route to London

The 1953/4 All Blacks were the first to fly to the United Kingdom, and by 2015 standards it was a long and devious trip, with a multitude of stops, but with welcomes everywhere.

Broadcaster Winston McCarthy was part of the All Black party and recorded their twists and turns in his tour book.


A grand crowd assembled at Evans Bay on the morning of Thursday, October 15th, to bid the final farewells as the party moved out to the flying-boat at 11.30 a.m. Movie-cameras were turning, a South breeze was blowing, and handkerchiefs were waving as the mooring ropes were slipped and we moved to the North end of the bay for the take-off. We were airborne as we passed the farewelling party, and in a minute or two we were out over Lyall Bay. The plane banked, back we went North, banked again and went in right over the City of Wellington from North to South in a final salute. Then over the Makara Hills, a glimpse of the coastline and Kapiti Island on our right; a roar from the South Islanders, so we all looked to the left and looked and listened while they extolled the beauties of the flora and fauna of the “Mainland”. A brief glimpse of Golden Bay, and then the clouds came to obscure everything as we saw, fittingly, Farewell Spit. A few sighs, a search for pens to start the diaries or write a note or two home, general chatter, and the great tour had really started.

Heavy rain was pelting down as we settled in Rose Bay, Sydney, on the first leg of the all-flying trip, having crossed the 1,236 miles of the Tasman Sea in about seven hours of flying. The first to greet us with a bellow as we landed was “Wild Bill” Cerutti, Australia’s “Iron Man” of the 1930’s. A buffet tea was provided by the New South Wales Rugby Union, among those present being Judge Les. Heron and Judge Rainbow, as well as members of the Australian and New South Wales Unions. A few hours’ stay and, still in the blinding rain, we were delivered safely at Kingsford Smith ‘drome, Mascot, for our next leg, Sydney to Darwin, an all-night trip. From now on we were to travel by land-plane.

It was hot when we touched down at Darwin. A drive by bus to our breakfast (“Bacon and eggs, please!”), but a shower first of all, a shower beautifully cool. Only a couple of hours and we were on our way again, but not before letters and postcards were posted for home. In addition, Vince Bevan had a pile of autograph books he wanted posted—”Yes, by air mail, certainly. How much? Oh-h-h-h-h-h-h-—wel-l-l-l-l, better make it surface mail then, eh ?“ Across the sea, over Timor, over the Flores Sea past Java on our left, through the Java Sea with Borneo on the right and along the Sumatra Coast on the left to a perfect three-point landing at Singapore some hours later. It was hotter here, and we could not get quickly enough to our hotel and a shower. We were met by Malay Rugby Union representatives and members of the New Zealand Society. There were cars aplenty to take the team sight-seeing. It was with some relief (from air travel) that we learned definitely that we were to stay the night (Friday) here, as well as Saturday night, and move off again on Sunday. And so we saw Singapore, or what we could of it in the time we had. Down “Change Alley” we went. A narrow street—two paces from side to side —studded with tiny shops of all descriptions. Knowing how hot it was going to be in the plane for the next few thousand miles, I bargained for a transparent Nylon shirt. I got it at the “reduced” price of 10 dollars Singapore. A pair of dark glasses were needed, so in a jiffy I was surrounded by people of all races offering me the best and cheapest. They cost just one dollar Singapore, about 2/6d. I was happy. Back at the hotel I proudly displayed my bargains. Next morning “Change Alley” was over-run by bargaining New Zealanders. Laurie Haig bought a shirt identical with my purchase and a pair of sun-glasses that was a twin to mine. He also was wearing a grin. “Ten dollars ?“ I queried, indicating the shirt. “Er, no,” he replied in his slow drawl. “As a matter of fact, Mac, I had a bit of a yarn to the chap and eventually” (the “eventually” had

slow emphasis on it), “he let me have it for seven dollars fifty cents.” I said nothing—there was nothing I could say, really. Again the slow Haig drawl, with only a twinkle in the eye, “Er, how much did you pay for your sun-glasses, Mac ?“ I cleared my throat a little. “Oh, not much, only a dollar, Laurie.” “Oh, well, er, I should say they must be better quality than mine, Mac, these only cost me 35 cents.” Then a Haig chuckle, “What a mug you are, McCarthy; you had better let me do your shopping in the future.” I couldn’t agree more.

Morrie Dixon had suffered abrasions to his knee in the last Canterbury Ranfurly Shield game. He had it treated in Darwin, but it still looked angry. At Singapore he was given penicillin injections. A call went out for Mr. Millard. A doctor was summoned and it was found that Morrie was allergic to penicillin and was quite ill. Later he was removed to hospital and we eventually continued our journey without him. He joined us about ten days later at Eastbourne.

On Saturday, October 17th, we were invited to attend a Rugby match between the all-conquering Fijian Army team in Malaya and the Rest of Malaya. I was asked also if I would broadcast the match over the Malayan network. I was happy to do so. The Fijians, playing with that schoolboy enthusiasm, speed and handling that we know so well, annihilated the Rest in a temperature around 90 degrees. After the match the All Blacks trooped on to the field and had a practice run, but not for long in that heat. In the evening we were entertained by members of the Malay Rugby Union, followed by a glimpse of Singapore by night. And so to bed, and on our way tomorrow.

We got away from Singapore about ten on Sunday morning, with Calcutta as our next call. Sleeping, reading, writing and cards occupied the tedious trip. A short stay of one and a-half hours, and away again en route to Beirut on the Syrian Coast, an all-night hop. But we didn’t make Beirut that night (Sunday), because a mechanical defect in our cabin pressuriser made it obligatory to land sooner, so we sat down at Basra in the Persian Gulf. After hanging around for a while we were told that the defect would take a bit of fixing, so we were trooped off to bed in the hotel. Up early in the morning, breakfast, and on to Beirut. A short stay for refuelling, and we saw our first jet warming up and taking off. Monday now, and our next stop Zurich, but instead we dropped into Rome, but only for refuelling. A delay here, though, while they consulted as to whether we could cross the Swiss Alps with our big load. Anyway, we swung around the Alps and landed next at Zurich in Switzerland. Moans and groans when we were eventually advised that fog over England made it imperative that we stay the night at Zurich. How glad we were we did! A beautiful hotel, and in the morning an Autumn day greeted us. Breakfast, and down to the ‘drome, where we were told that there would be a few hours’ delay before we took off, owing still to fog over England. So a bus was procured and we were driven on a short tour of Zurich. What a beautiful place it is! Every house spotlessly painted. Every house with trees and shrubs, all in their Autumn colours. Really a marvellous sight. However, duty calls. We eventually got away about eleven, with next stop London, only about three hours away. We made it alright, even though there was fog down to about 500 feet. Great driving. So England at last, Tuesday, October 20th, 1953.

Photos, cinematographers, television, B.B.C., Rugby Union officials. There was massive Colonel B. C. (Jock) Hartley, C.B., O.B.E., Chairman of the Four Home Rugby Unions’ Tour Committee; Eric Watts Moses (England); R. K. Cuthbertson and Herbert Waddell (Scotland); Harry Thrift and Captain Jim Ramsay (Ireland) ; Glyn Stephens (Wales), father of Rees Stephens, 1950 British “Lion”; D. Hopkin Thomas (Wales); L. E. L. (Bru) Donne, Hon. Secretary; H. A. Haigh Smith, Hon. Treasurer. With a reminiscent smile of a trip to New Zealand was F. D. (Doug) Prentice, Captain of the 1930 British Team in New Zealand, and now Secretary of the Rugby Union. A friend of many a New Zealander, member of the Rugby Union, and a grand Referee during the “Kiwis” tour, genial Cyril Gadney, who was to prove such a grand friend to us during our London stays, was full of greeting. Then we met our three travelling Companions for the tour. Philip Bradforth, representative of Hamer and Co., entrepreneur, information bureau, paymaster, difficulty straightenerouter, everything; a gem of the first water was Philip. All of those who had to be ministered unto with oil and supple fingers had nothing but the highest praise for our masseur, Phil Ashcroft. In fact, those who had been on trips before assured me that he could not be surpassed in his profession. The baggage-master has an onerous job. Counting, sorting, identifying suitcases as they were loaded or unloaded, taken up to rooms, taken from rooms, is a full-time job. But our “Jeeves”, Leo Rourke, didn’t stop at that. Leo was everything, including father confessor. They don’t come more popular than Leo with touring teams and we missed him greatly when we left England, not only for what he did for us, but also for his companionship. May he tour with many more teams.

After meeting all of these good people, and many more besides, we were hied off to our London City quarters, Park Lane Hotel, at the Hyde Park corner end of Piccadilly. After lunch a bus trip was arranged for those who would like to have a short sight-seeing trip around London. Next morning it was a train journey that took us down to seaside Eastbourne, where the initial training of the team was undertaken, to say nothing of the welcomes. In eleven more days the first match of the tour was played.


To help Arthur in rounding up stragglers for training, dispensing mail and generally keeping the party au fait with what was going on, someone on arrival in England hit on the idea of appointing each day, on roster system, one player as “duty boy”. It worked like a charm. Some went about their duties nonchalantly: Tanner, Freebairn, Bowers. Bill Clark realised one day that he had been the duty boy the day before. “Oh, well, it’s too late now,” he said. Some took it seriously, very seriously: Jarden, Davis, Woods, Dixon, Jones, Fitzgerald. Elsom particularly so. One day in the bus Norm. Millard stood up to give the boys some information about something. “Hey, Norm., cut it out,” bellowed Elsom, “I’m the duty boy today, not you. I’ll tell them.” What a character he was. It was a lot of fun.”

From “Round the World with the All Blacks” by Winston McCarthy. Pub. 1954 by Sporting Publications 1954. P.17-20.

Laurie Haig - shopper supreme

Allan Elsom - keen duty boy