List of international rugby union players killed in World War I

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Dave Gallaher (New Zealand), considered one of the greatest players of rugby at the turn of the 20th century
Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux where lies William Tasker and 770 other Australian fallen

This is a list of international rugby union players who died serving in armed forces during the First World War. Most of these came from the British Commonwealth, but a number of French international rugby players were also killed. It should also be noted that a number of major teams, whose nations were belligerents in World War I such as Japan, Canada, Italy, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa had not made their international debuts at this point in time,[1] and the United States team had only been in existence for around two years prior to the war. Also, none of the Central Powers had true national rugby squads at this point although there had been rugby clubs in Germany since the late 19th century,[2] and the German Rugby Federation is the oldest national rugby union in continental Europe.[3] However, Germany did put forward a team for rugby union at the 1900 Summer Olympics (although not the 1908 tournament, which involved only two sides) – Olympic rugby was not seen as particularly prestigious – and it is not known if any of that team were war casualties.

The war took an extremely heavy toll upon rugby at all levels, and this list includes some major figures, such as Dave Gallaher, who led a major All Blacks tour to the British Isles in 1905,;[4] David Bedell-Sivright, who is sometimes considered one of the greatest Scottish players of all time;[5] and Ronnie Poulton-Palmer who is similarly honoured by the English;[6] and the Frenchman Jean Bouin, better known as a middle distance runner at the 1908 Olympics as well as the 1912 Games.

The first rugby international to die in World War I was France and Stade Toulousain scrum-half Alfred Mayssonnié on 6 September 1914.


Blair Swannell (on right) in Egypt, 1915
Edward Larkin, killed in Gallipolli

Although many rugby players were killed during the war, a large number were also injured or crippled, leading to their departure from the game. For example, the Australia and British Isles player Tom Richards had his back and shoulders damaged by a bomb blast and suffered respiratory problems the rest of his life, from gas attacks he had experienced on the Western Front, leading to his death from TB in 1935.[7]


The Memorial Stadium in Bristol shown here during a soccer game. It is named in honour of those rugby players who died in WWI

One of the most poignant stories is of Ronnie Poulton-Palmer, who had played against the South African tourists of 1912–13 only a few years before:

"Those who watched [Ronnie Poulton] play were certain that he was the greatest three-quarter ever to play the game and they held to that opinion all their lives..."
"Poulton later inherited a fortune on condition that he changed his name to Poulton-Palmer; sadly he did not live to enjoy it, being killed by a sniper's bullet in the Great War. His last words before he died were: 'I shall never play at Twickenham again.'"[6]

England had over twenty six players killed in the conflict. This was the second highest number of casualties, after Scotland. However, many of the Scotland players were "Anglos", i.e. based, born or playing in the England's domestic leagues for teams such as London Scottish FC or universities, so their loss affected English rugby too.

Henry Brougham is sometimes listed,[8] because he died of war wounds. However, since he died in 1923, after the war had ended, he is also often omitted.


France is different from all the other nations mentioned on this list for two reasons – firstly, it was not part of the British Commonwealth nor English speaking, and secondly, unlike the other nations, it actually had a military front in its border territory.

Maurice Boyau particularly distinguished himself as a balloon buster and military flying ace, with 35 victories under his belt.[12] He spent much of his flying career with Escadrille 77, known as "Les Sportifs" for the great number of athletes in its ranks.[13] He had been captain of the French team before the war.

Stade Bordelais of Bordeaux was badly affected, losing players such as Boyau and Giacardy.

British Isles[edit]

British Isles team[edit]

Pre-World War I, it was not uncommon for members of the British Isles team (later known as the British and Irish Lions) to be uncapped for their nation of origin. This never happens now.

Most British Isles players had been capped for their country, and can be found listed more fully under their respective countries. Capped players include the following.


At least one competitor for the Great Britain Olympic team which competed at rugby union at the 1908 Summer Olympics, and gained silver died –

Scotland and Ireland did not put teams up for either the 1900 or 1908 Olympic rugby events, and most of the players were from England, and in particular Cornwall.


Ireland, unlike other parts of the UK and much of the British Commonwealth did not have conscription during the war, although there was a disastrous attempt in 1918 to impose it. See also Ireland and World War I.

  • Jasper Brett, died on 4 February 1917, Aged 21
  • Robert Balderstone Burgess, died on 9 December 1915, Aged 25.
  • Ernest Deane MC, died on 25 September 1915, Aged 28.
  • William Victor Edwards, died on 29 December 1917, Aged 30
  • Basil Maclear, died on 24 May 1915, Aged 34.
  • Vincent McNamara, died on 29 November 1915, Aged 24
  • Albert Lewis Stewart DSO, died on 4 October 1917, Aged 28.
  • Alfred Squire Taylor, died on 31 July 1917, Aged 29

New Zealand[edit]

Thirteen former New Zealand representatives – known as All Blacks – lost their lives in the First World War,[15] with three (possibly four) of them dying in the Battle of Messines.[16]


According to Allan Massie, "Scotland had suffered more severely than any of the Home Countries from the slaughter of the war. Thirty capped players were lost (twenty six English internationalists were killed)."[17]

While some of these players were clearly retired, such as Charles Reid (who had been capped in the 1870s and 1880s), others such as Frederick Harding Turner, James Huggan and John George Will had played in the last match before the war, the Calcutta Cup match in March, 1914, and so had their playing careers prematurely ended. Walter Sutherland was also considered one of Hawick RFC's greatest players, and was still remembered fondly as "Wattie Suddie" in Bill McLaren's playing days.[18] Few surviving Scots were capped before and after the war – Charlie Usher, Jock Wemyss and Alex Angus are some of the exceptions. Charlie Usher spent much of the war in a POW camp.

South Africa[edit]

The 1906-07 South Africa rugby union tour team included AF Burdett (not pictured)

Adam Burdett was part of the 1906-7 tour to the British Isles. This was the inaugural South Africa tour and is recognised as the event that coined the word "Springboks" as a nickname for the South Africa team. Poignantly, in the two games he played on that tour in November 1906, he shared the field with David Bedell-Sivright of Scotland, and Basil Maclear of Ireland, who were also casualties of that war. Likewise, Toby Moll would probably have rubbed shoulders with Eric Milroy, Noel Humphreys or Phil Waller in the 1910 British Isles tour of South Africa.


Johnnie Williams

Amongst the fatalities was Richard Garnons Williams, who had played in the very first Wales international rugby union match in 1881. At 59 years of age, he was the eldest of the 13 Wales international players to be killed during the war.[20]

Charles Taylor was the first Welsh fatality, and was a noted athlete, especially good at the pole vault.[21]

Fred Perrett is often left out of lists of the Welsh international war dead due to his supposed defection to the professional game.[21]

United States of America[edit]

The captain of the All America side that faced New Zealand in California died in the war.[23]

Deaths after the war[edit]

Sometimes included are two deaths from war wounds after the war, although both are past the Commonwealth War Graves Commission limit of 31 Aug 1921 (when an order in council declared the war over) to be considered a war death:

Henry Brougham (England) died 18 February 1923
Hopkin Maddock (Wales) died 15 December 1921


Printed sources[edit]

Online resources[edit]


  1. ^ The debuts of these teams were Japan & Canada (1932); Italy (1929); Fiji & Tonga (1924); Samoa (1924) – Western Samoa was technically a German colony until the Treaty of Versailles, but was seized by New Zealand in 1914.
  2. ^ Bath, Richard (ed.) The Complete Book of Rugby (Seven Oaks Ltd, 1997 ISBN 1-86200-013-1) p67; the debut of Germany was in 1927, and those of the successors of the Central Powers Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey decades after World War II
  3. ^ (German) Deutscher Rugby-Verband – Official Site
  4. ^ NZEF Fatal Casualty Form 1917 (with a date of birth of 31/10/76, lowering his age by 3 years)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k An entire team wiped out by the Great War (The Scotsman), retrieved 8 December 2009
  6. ^ a b Starmer-Smith, p40
  7. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Starmer-Smith, p42
  9. ^ "Ronald Lagden". The Rugby History Society. 
  10. ^ "John Raphael". Cricinfo. 
  11. ^ "CWGC Casualty Details: Wilson, Charles Edward". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 13 February 2011. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Spad XII/XIII Aces of World War I. p. 65. 
  14. ^ "Ronald Rogers". ESPN. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  15. ^ Mortimer, James (25 April 2012). "ANZAC Day and the All Blacks". Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  16. ^ "Death of All Black Dave Gallaher". New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 29 October 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
  17. ^ Massie, Allan A Portrait of Scottish Rugby (Polygon, Edinburgh; ISBN 0-904919-84-6), p19
  18. ^ McLaren, p19
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Bath, p109
  20. ^ Smith (1980), pg 40.
  21. ^ a b c Rugby Heroes who went to War BBC Online Matthew Ferris, November 2008
  22. ^ Richard Williams player profile
  23. ^ "Mowatt Mitchell". The Rugby History Society.