October 23 - 1915 ANZAC rugby near Gallipoli

Rugby had to take a back seat during World War I. But when the opportunity arose games were played, sometimes in unlikely settings. One such game was played on a beach on the Greek island of Lemnos.

Anzac Rugby Test in Aegean Sea

Once the Gallipoli Campaign got under way from 25 April, rugby was put aside for several months. There is no record of any rugby ball being kicked about on the Gallipoli Peninsula as there were few spaces safe from enemy artillery and snipers. When the troops were rested they were taken to the island of Lemnos, less than 100km from Gallipoli in the Aegean Sea, where there were hospitals and comfortable camping conditions. On 23 October 1915 Lemnos was the venue of one of the most unusual settings for a rugby contest between New Zealand and Australia.

The trans-Tasman clash was played on a beach, at low-tide, near the camp at Mudros. Little is recorded about the game. One report gives the score as 33-0 but, another paper says 39-3: ‘The Australian team was weak and lacked combination.’ Australia fielded a New South Wales rep., J. Spratt, and their sole try was scored by Maher. New Zealand fielded three All Blacks – Jock Cuthill, Teddy Roberts and Reg Taylor – and several provincial representatives including George Murray (Auckland), Sam Cameron (Taranaki) and George Bertrand (Taranaki). Thirteen tries were scored but, as there were no goalposts, goals could not be attempted. With no rugby ball available, the players made do with a soccer ball. Taranaki player Sid Paul refereed the game and tries were scored by Roberts (3), Marks (3), Newell (2), Sullivan (2), Cuthill (2) and McNab. New Zealand played into a very strong wind in the first spell and led 18-0 at halftime.

Other rugby games were also played on Lemnos during October. The Auckland Mounted Rifles drew 3-3 with Wellington Mounted Rifles and defeated Canterbury Mounted Rifles 3-0.

From “Balls Bullets and Boots” by Clive Akers. Pub. 2015 by NZ Rugby Museum.

Lemnos 1915