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Rugby and war are often described as major influences in defining who we are as New Zealanders. This book is a new twist on an old theme.
To dismiss this book as ‘just another rugby book’ would be doing it a serious disservice. Everyone has a story to tell and Matt Elliott does this very capably for the over 90 men who both played for the All Blacks and, either before off after, served in World War 1. Although following the narrative of individual sporting and wartime careers becomes somewhat repetitive, there are certainly some intriguing stories. The remarkable account of Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) Henry Essau Avery is one such tale.
Liberally distributed within the player’s biographies are some superb snippets and anecdotes. Former M.P. John A Lee’s account of playing rugby (John was a soccer player), in an article for Chronicles of the NZEF in 1916 is a classic example: ‘A man needs to be a centipede to play rugby decently, and every leg shod with a pair of tens.’
As a rugby enthusiast I was a little disappointed that the All Blacks involved in World War 2 were not give similar treatment. Perhaps that story has been told elsewhere, but the likes of Fred Allen, Charlie Saxton and Bob Scott – to name but three – deserve to be remembered as War Blacks, such was their influence for decades after the war.
While this book may attract only the dedicated bunch, for the serious collector it is a must.
Reviewed by Robin Hughes
by Matt Elliott
Published by Harper Colllins NZ