Timing is everything in Rugby but if ever there was a mistimed tour it was the Wallabies 1939 visit to Britain – beginning with an optimistic farewell aboard their ship, the Mooltan. This occasion was attended by an enthusiastic Billy Hughes, the Australian Prime Minister during the First World War.
A ten-month 28-match tour was planned but none of this was to be. The day after the Australians sailed into Plymouth Harbour, Britain declared war on Nazi Germany and all matches were cancelled as the nation flipped over into war mode.
Before their ship back home was organised the Australians pitched in by filling sandbags for defences around the team lodgings – the Grand Hotel at Torquay. They were rewarded for this by having chauffeurs provided, who took them on a pub-crawl around the West Country.
The team was also introduced to King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, where the captain Vay Wilson, a mathematics master, was introduced to the Queen as a “choirmaster”, to the great amusement of the Australians.
A feature of the return journey was the erratic patch taken by their ship – constant “zig zagging” to avoid being lined up by any German submarine whose captain did not appreciate the finer points of rugby.
Image caption: Australian Rugby Union Team (Wallabies) left Australia to play England but war was declared the day after they arrived. They returned to Australia two weeks later.
Copyright: State Library of New South Wales