Recalling the visit of the 1947/48 Wallabies
By Phil Westren - November 2011
Having an archive interest and recently invited to call by the Penlee House Museum, Penzance, to cast my eyes over old rugby photographs, I was particularly interested in one particular photo image kept on file which was taken by the late Harry Penhaul and is part of the museum's 'The Penhaul Collection'.
The said photograph clearly relates to the visit to Cornwall of the Australian international rugby football team, 'The Wallabies', who based themselves in Penzance from 27th August - 15th September, 1947, ahead of their 1947/48 tour of Great Britain, Ireland, France, Canada and the USA.
I immediately recognised a number of faces in the photograph and both the museum and myself would appreciate confirmation of additional names, if anyone out there recognises anyone!
Names of individuals I am able to identify are those of Fred Jarvis, Rex Carr (Secretary of the Pirates), Trevor Allan (the vice-captain of the Wallabies, who was aged just 20).
Barrie Bennetts (President of the Cornwall RFU), Bill McLean (captain of the Wallabies, in the brimmed hat), Councillor J. T. Trezise (the Mayor of Penzance, wearing glasses in the middle), Jack Jenkin (Treasurer of the Pirates), player Nick Shehadie (kneeling, who is now a 'Sir' who has an OBE and is a former Lord Mayor of Sydney)
Tommy Cotton (Chairman of the Pirates), Norman White, Mavis Lawry (President of the Pirates) and W. J. Robbins (Secretary of the Cornwall RFU).
The boy in the photograph is thought to be a son of Tommy Cotton (someone will surely confirm this!)and the gentleman standing to the right of the Mayor is apparently Alec Beechman, who was the local MP at that time.
Besides Bill McLean and Trevor Allan there are a number of other players pictured that I can also put names to, including Eric Tweedale who is standing in the middle near the back next to the player with the moustache.
A number of people will remember Eric making a nostalgic return to Cornwall in April, 2009, when, along with his daughter Kay and son-in-law Bob, he stayed with friends Betty and Simon Rodda at the Cliff Hotel, Penzance.
During his visit Eric was also invited to present one of the trophies at the Pirates end of season Awards ceremony, when it was a case of one international prop forward meeting another, as young Luke Cowan-Dickie, who had recently played for England U16s, received the 'Monckton Cup for Achievement'.
The opportunity was recently taken to send Eric the 1947 photo which he found fascinating to look at, having never seen it before. My thought was that it was taken when the tourists arrived at the Penzance Station, but this needs confirmation.
Eric noted that Rex Carr was in the photograph, who he confirms did a magnificent job as organiser of proceedings to help make their stay such an enjoyable one. On receiving the copy he immediately circulated it to Nick Shehadie and Arthur Buchan at a Wallaby reunion held earlier this month. There were 40 ex Wallabies in attendance and all were greatly interested in the photo, but there are only six surviving members of the 1947/48 tour, namely Nick, Arthur and Eric from the forwards, and Max Howell, Terry MacBride and Kevin Bourke from the backs.
In May of this year the Sydney media made a great deal of news that Eric, at 90, was the oldest surviving Wallaby. However, a Gordon Stone was then unearthed alive and well at 97 years of age, having played one test against New Zealand in 1938!
Eric was not in the slightest bit miffed, as John O'Neill, the CEO of the Australian Rugby Union, had presented him with an autographed Australian jersey and he was also earlier this year proudly elected as a 'Rugby Legend' by the ARU.
Looking back to that 1947/48 tour there is so much to recall with reference to tourists who had journeyed to our shores for a little over five weeks aboard P. & O.'s “Orion”, arriving in London on Sunday 24 th. August, and then Penzance by the Wednesday, where they were to stay for nearly three weeks to finalise their preparation.
It was with great pleasure that the Borough welcomed the tour party to the Duchy, there a very close connection between Cornwall and Australia. In an official statement Mayor Trezise, Barrie Bennetts and Mavis Lawry wrote that thousands of our tin miners went out to try their luck, and to settle in the mining districts of Ballarat, Bendigo, Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill, and took with them their love of rugby football.
Large numbers of Cornishmen had also been honoured to serve alongside Australia's splendid troops in Gallipoli, Tobruk and countless other theatres of service. The statement also mentioned that Cornwall would be unable to entertain the visitors “as we would like to”, it a time when virtually all food rations were cut, our islands still recovering from six years of war.
However, the tour party were comfortably housed in the Marine Hotel (now 'The Lugger'), the comment also made that that the food and hospitality were first class!
Extracts from Australian papers record that the Pirates arranged a wide range of entertainment to host the 'Wallabies', and lifelong friendships were forged. Swimming, golf, sailing, bowling, squash, cricket and billiard facilities were placed at their disposal, with the tourists also admitted free to cinemas, dance halls and theatres.
When training at the Mennaye Field each morning there was a live Wallaby named 'Digger' (lent by London Zoo at the Pirates request) that was housed alongside the ground, and which on one occasion mysteriously escaped - helping fitness levels to be upped when it was apparently chased all over Penzance!
The Wallabies first game was played at the Recreation Ground, Camborne, on the 13 th September, 1947, against a combined Cornwall & Devon team that had been selected by a joint committee of the two county unions under the chairmanship of Barrie Bennetts, a try-scorer in Cornwall's historic first County Championship Final win against Durham in 1908 who was also capped twice by England in 1909.
There were reckoned to be in excess of 20,000 people crammed in the 'Rec' when the teak-like flanker Bill McLean led his team out to face the combined counties side skippered by Redruth's Les Semmens (Redruth). The Wallabies were well held by the west country forwards on the day but the speed and sureness of their backs gave them an ultimately deserved 17-7 points victory.
A Wallabies tour that started at Camborne would end over five months later with a game against the University of Stanford, at Palo Alto, California. The overall playing record was P 41, W 35, L 6, For 712, Against 276.
Of interest, as a 'Thank You' from the Aussies for the wonderful time they were given during their three weeks stay in Cornwall, they presented the Pirates with Digger's stuffed equivalent, 'Walter', which still holds a place of honour in the 'Westholme' clubhouse in Alexandra Road. If you haven't met him yet, then call by sometime, and introduce yourself!
Eric Tweedale At Westholme With 'Walter' In April 2009