A collection of Anzac tales from 100 Years of Rugby News

The following stories are extracts from the 100 Years of Rugby News book:

World War One

World War One had a significant and tragic impact on the Sydney club rugby community. 

NSWRU Secretary William Hill was quoted in early 1915 estimating that half the rugby union players in the state had joined the war effort in the opening months. 

Incredibly, clubs even battled for the honour of enlisting the most young men, with a running ‘honour roll’ updated weekly in the Sydney Morning Herald throughout 1915.

“Five names were added to the Rugby Union honour roll yesterday - the list comprising the names of members who have enlisted for active service. 

There were three members of the Balmain club, one from Glebe, and one from Eastern Suburbs. 

From Balmain, the Featherstone family have sent three brothers. 

Easterns Suburbs are now equal to Manly club in the matter of supplying the most recruits and keen competition is stirring both clubs up to be acclaimed the leader in this regard.”

Many young men never returned. 

By late 1915, NSWRU reported the deaths of 115 first grade rugby union players at Gallipoli and on the Somme.

Glebe, the most successful club of the pre-war District era from 1900-1914, was particularly decimated. Of the 69 young men that enlisted, 27 were killed and 23 were seriously injured and never played rugby again. 

The stories above are extracts from the 100 Years of Rugby News book. Click here to purchase your copy!


The ultimate survivor

There’s been no shortage of tough, resilient scrum-halves to have graced Sydney’s many rugby pitches over the years but, arguably, the toughest and most resilient of them all was Cecil Ramalli.

Born in Mungindi on the NSW-QLD border to an Indian father and an Aboriginal mother, Ramalli played for Hurlstone Agricultural High School’s First XV as a 15-year-old in 1938. He made his first grade debut for Western Suburbs that same year and quickly caught the attention of NSW and Australian selectors. 

The pint-sized No.9 was quick and nippy with a brilliant pass, and became the first player of both Indigenous descent, and the first of Asian descent, to play for the Wallabies when he was picked to play the All Blacks, not long after his 19th birthday. 

Ramalli had an immediate impact on debut in Brisbane and the All Blacks soon realised they needed to find a way to slow him down. He played the second half that day with a broken nose and two black eyes but still backed up a week later to partner Western Suburbs teammate Paul Collins in the halves in the return Test in Sydney. 

Ramalli was Australia’s best that day, but was again knocked out by a stray All Black elbow and carried from the field to a standing ovation from the SCG crowd. 

He travelled to the UK and back with the ‘Unlucky 29’ Wallabies in 1939 and enlisted on his return, serving in Malaya initially where he captained the Australian Imperial Forces to several victories over the English troops. 

When Malaya and Singapore fell to the Japanese, Ramalli was one of 100,000 British Empire troops captured. He was first sent to Changi Prison, then to build the Thai-Burma railway, where more than 2,600 Australian troops died under the horrific conditions. But Ramalli refused to give in and in 1944, he was sent by ship to Nagasaki, Japan to work as a slave in the coal mines. 

Ramalli was due to board the Rokyo Maru, the ship mistakenly torpedoed by the US, killing over 500 Australians including Wallabies teammate Winston ‘Blow’ Ide. Instead, he was herded on to the next ship and spent most of the next year working in a coal mine below Nagasaki Harbour. 

On August 9, 1945, as Ramalli’s 12-hour shift was due to end, he was ordered back down the mine to continue working. When he eventually finished, he returned to the surface to find a city and a population destroyed by the second atomic bomb the US dropped to end the war. 

Somehow, Ramalli had survived again. 

By the time he returned to Australia, he weighed just 38kgs and would never play rugby again. But he continued his involvement in the sport and helped start the West Pymble Rugby Club. He then managed and coached junior sides at Northern Suburbs for more than 15 years before retiring in 1977. 

The stories above are extracts from the 100 Years of Rugby News book. Click here to purchase your copy!


Peace at last - the end of the war

As World War Two came to an end and international rugby returned, Rugby News published the following editorials: 

Peace at last!

The electrifying events of recent weeks have culminated in a glorious victory for the Allied Forces and brought peace after six long years of war. 

A grand vista now opens for the Rugby Union, whose administrators wisely carried on the game and have solid foundations ready for a rosy post-war era. 

Players have a host of splendid opportunities awaiting them. A trip by an Australia team to England a year hence has become a real possibility. It is Australia’s turn also to tour both New Zealand and South Africa. 

Interstate games promise to be revived on a greater scale than ever with the spread of the code in South Australia and Western Australia by Servicemen from Eastern States stationed in those areas during the war period. 

But while there is every cause for the greatest jubilation, let us pause a moment to remember those who have made the supreme sacrifice and those who have lost dear ones in this mighty conflict. 

Such Union stalwarts as Russ Kelly, “Blow” Ide, Jim Bourke, Mick Clifford, Thorold Smith, Eric and Frank Hutchinson and others have died that the Japs might be utterly crushed. 

There is a comforting thought that their heroic sacrifice has not been in vain, but has helped to rid the world of a barbaric enemy. 

We can look to the future with great confidence. 

Almost a year later, a similar editorial used the metaphor of a three generational family to describe rugby’s journey over the previous century and to look ahead at what may come next. 

Today, and for the first time for seven long years, a team designated AUSTRALIA will run on to the playing area, signifying the re-entry to the international field of Rugby football. 

The great Rugger family may be said to comprise of three generations. Old Grandad, who was born in the year 1823, lived and flourished gloriously through many vicissitudes until 1914. 

The First World War almost finished his career. For four years, the old man was hardly able to keep the game alive, as the players flocked in their thousands to the call of Empire, placing for the time being the lesser game behind them. 

But no really good thing ever dies, and, as Grandad struggled through, he had at least sufficient energy left to launch the next generation, which commenced feebly in 1918-19. 

The growth of the youngsters was slow. Service teams which helped to maintain some interest returned to their various homelands to find the re-establishment a difficult process. However, in 1919, NSW played five games, to be followed in 1920 by a visit of a New Zealand team, and things began to look up a little. 

The first international series occurred in the following year, 1921, when the Springboks passed through on their way to New Zealand, and it might be said that the impetus given by this fine team resulted in an almost complete and enthusiastic revival of Rugby football. 

In a few short years the second generation had found its feel but it still required the visits of the 1924-25 All Blacks and the 1927/28 Waratahs to the Mother Country to establish beyond all doubt that the game was back to standard. Tours then followed in rapid succession until the fateful year 1939. 

But this Dad, shall we say, had learned a lesson and, despite the fact that the second world conflict was a longer and more bitter experience, the game was not allowed to die, sufficient time being found within the Services and at home to keep the Rugby flag flying. 

Down to half-mast on many occasions, it never became completely furled, and in the year following the peace the third generation is ready to carry on. 

How will the youngsters fare? Tested in the fire and not found wanting, steeped in traditions made honourable by their forebears and with a heritage such as no other game may boast, this year 1946 finds the third generation of this great Rugby family strong, virile and confident, marching onwards to a future full of hope. 

The stories above are extracts from the 100 Years of Rugby News book. Click here to purchase your copy!

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