Let us remember rugby’s War Dead

Today’s image celebrates a game of rugby played between South African and Australian military personnel in Beruit, Lebanon.


In less than a month the World will again watch as the top Rugby playing Nations battle it out for the William Web Ellis Trophy as the Rugby World Champions of 2015.


Maybe we should pause for a moment and remember the numerous rugby players from all nations that died during the two World Wars.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has a special pamphlet “Rugby’s War Dead” that deals exclusively with the topic. Included in the pamphlet is one South African Jacky Morkel.


Jan Willem Hurter Morkel, better known as “Jacky” was born on 13 November 1890 in Somerset West where he attended the “Hottentots- Holland” school. He later made his debut for Western Province as Outside Centre.


At age 22 Jacky was selected for the 1912 – 1913 Springboks tour of the United Kingdom and France as Outside Centre and played in all five tests:
23 November 1912 against Scotland at Inverleith, Edinburgh. Springboks won 16 – 0.
30 November 1912 against Ireland Aviva Stadium (Lansdowne Road), Dublin. Springboks won 38 – 0. Jacky scored two tries.
14 December 1912 against Wales at Millenium Stadium (Cardiff Arms Park), Cardiff. Springboks won 3 – 0.
04 January 1913 against England at Twickenham, London. Springboks won 9 – 3. Jacky scored a try.
11 January 1913 against France at Le Bouscat, Bordeaux. Springboks won 38 – 5. Jacky scored 1 trya and two conversions.


The 1912 – 1913 Springbok side was the first Southern Hemisphere team to achieve a “Grand Slam” of five wins against the four Home Nations and France.


When the first World started in September 1914 Jacky, although employed in an industry deemed essential to the war effort, joined the South African Mounted Commando’s as a Private and served with the 1st Mounted Brigade. Van der Venter Scouts, Mounted Commandos, S.A. Forces in German East Africa.


“Men and women from all over the Commonwealth answered the “call to arms” during both wars. Many of them died fighting in remote regions or in smaller campaigns that were equally important to the overall war effort. No matter where or how they died, their graves, memorials and names are still cared for by the Commission.


Sickness and disease were a constant problem for troops fighting in this harsh environment and on the 15 May 1916 Jacky died of dysentery. He is buried in Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery in Tanzania. The entry for him in the International Roll of Honour shows how highly he was thought of: “He upheld in the worthiest possible manner the teachings of the rugby game….and his case will stand for all time as a shining example to his countrymen.”


Other International Rugby players killed during the World War and included in the pamphlet are:
Major Blair Inskip Swannell – Australia. Served with the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the Gallipoli Campaign during World War One.


Vice Admiral Norman Atherton Wodehouse – England. Served as Gunnery Officer on board HMS Revenge during the battle of Jutland with the Royal Navy during the First World War. During the Second World War he was recalled and in 1941 was commanding a convoy to South Africa when the convoy was attacked by German Submarines. He ordered the convoy to scatter and his ship was never seen again. He is commemorated on the Liverpool Naval Memorial.


Lieutenant Marcel Burgun – France. Saw service in Europe with the French Air Force during World War One.


Captain Robert Alexander – Ireland. Saw service with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Europe during the Second World War.


Pilot Officer Donald Gordon, Cobden – New Zealand. Saw service with the Royal Air Force during World War Two.


Surgeon David Revell Bedell-Sivright – Scotland. Saw service with the Medical Unit of the Royal Naval Division during the Gallipoli Campaign of the First World War.


Lieutenant John Raymond Evans – Wales. Saw service with the Parachute Regiment in North Africa.


Please down load the pamphlet “Rugby’s War Dead” from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website.  It is a must read for every rugby lover.

Story for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Lgr Charles Ross based on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s pamphlet “Rugby’s War Dead” and the “Springbok Rugby Hall of Fame”.


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