Former Wallabies flanker George Smith has retired from rugby, ending a career notable for its quality and longevity.
Following here in part two of ‘The Lucky 29’ are the pen-portraits of the touring 1939/40 Wallabies. This being the amateur era, occupations given are at the time of selection, which some readers might find interesting.
Vay Wilson (b.1912), prop/lock, Queensland Uni/Queensland, 5 Tests. Tour captain. School Teacher.
A popular leader who was totally committed in everything he did. His quiet, thoughtful authority had a positive and calming influence on his players.
John Malone (b.1913), prop, Drummoyne/NSW, 3 Tests. Policeman.
The strong man of the team. Tough as old steak (his nickname) on the field and very personable off the field. Despite surviving the war, he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1947.
John Turnbull (b.1915), prop/lock, Easts/NSW, 0 Tests. Salesman.
A tough forward and yet another whose promising career was cut short by war.
George Pearson (b.1916), prop, Melbourne Uni/Victoria, 0 Tests. Theology student (Anglican minister).
Although considered a surprise selection, it was also thoroughly deserved. He was a hardworking forward who revelled in the tight stuff.
Alby Stone (b.1913), hooker, Easts/NSW, 3 Tests. Laboratory chemist.
Despite his portly appearance, Stone was a master striker of the ball. Became a popular ‘bon vivant’ on the Sydney rugby scene in retirement.
Nicky Barr (b.1914), hooker/flanker, Power House/Victoria, 0 Tests. Accountant. War decorations – MC, DFC (bar), OBE.
Quick around the paddock befitting a former flanker. Energetic and tireless. Was a highly decorated RAAF fighter ace in WW2, seeing combat in North Africa. Captured, escaped, recaptured and eventually escaped again to fight with the Italian resistance until the end of the war.
Mac Ramsay (b.1914), lock, Randwick/NSW, 4 Tests. Clerk.
Revelled in the tight being effective without fuss. The perfect team man. Joined the AIF and was captured near Rabual, he drowned in 1942 when his prisoner of war ship was sunk by a US submarine.
Bill Monti (b.1913), lock, Queensland Uni/Queensland, 1 Test. Dental student.
A wholehearted player and popular team man, Monti was also an accomplished heavyweight boxer.
Stan Bisset (b.1912), lock/number 8, Power House/Victoria, 0 Tests. Clerk. War decorations – MC, MID.
Fitness fanatic and tallest player in team. Likely to have been a star of the team. As an intelligence officer for his infantry battalion in the war, he was often deeply involved in every engagement. Cradled his dying brother Hal for five hours on the Kokoda Track while the fighting raged all around. Oldest living Wallaby until his death in 2010 at age 98.
Keith Windon (b.1917), flanker, Randwick/NSW, 3 Tests (one post-WW2). Clerk.
His more celebrated brother Colin was nicknamed ‘Breeze’ while Keith was known as ‘Windy’. It’s a shame the two brothers weren’t seen together in a Wallaby team. It would have been something to witness two tigerish, totally committed flankers harassing the opposition in perfect tandem.
John McDonald (b.1914), flanker, Toowoomba/Queensland, 2 Tests. Printer.
A tall, fast, vigorous flanker of exciting potential whose career was cut short like so many others. His son of the same name was a Kangaroo three-quarter 1966-70 and later chairman of the QRL.
Boyd Oxlade (b.1914, flanker, Eagle Junction/Queensland, 3 Tests. Salesman.
Son of rugged 1904 Wallaby, hooker Allen. Oxlade was a lineout specialist who probably played like the modern day blindside flanker.
Brian Oxenham (b.1918), flanker, Sydney Uni/NSW, 0 Tests. Medical student.
Not much is known of Oxenham other than he later became a radiology specialist.
Aub Hodgson (b.1912), number 8/flanker, Manly/NSW, 11 Tests. Salesman.
Fiery and rugged backrower who refused to take a backward step. Famous for several stoushes with South African opponents. Rawboned, country raised, eccentric player who was the ‘heart’ of any team he played in. One of our all-time best backrowers.
Bill McLean (b.1918), number 8/utility, GPS/Queensland, 5 tests (all post-WW2). Draughtsman.
From Australian rugby’s most famous family. His father Doug, brothers Dave and John, son Peter and nephews Jeff and Paul all played for the Wallabies. A rugged, brave, resourceful forward of rare technical skill who captained Australia post-war. Sadly, he broke his leg in the sixth game of the 1947/48 tour, ending his career. He saw service with the elite commandoes during WW2.
Mickey Gibbons (b.1913), scrumhalf, Norths/NSW, 2 Tests. Tour vice-captain. Clerk.
Courageous, technically proficient halfback. Excellent on-field organiser. Had an irreverent sense of humour and while the team was waiting for its audience with the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace, Gibbons orchestrated an impromptu game of two-up.
Cecil Ramalli (b.1919), scrumhalf, Wests/NSW, 2 Tests. Clerk.
Son of an Indian camel driver who settled in Australia. Possessed rare wizardry which was truncated by war. As a prisoner of war, Ramalli was in the same convoy (different ship) attack that claimed the life of teammate Winston Ide. His four years of captivity broke his health and he was rarely robust during his post-war life.
Welly Lewis (b.1912), flyhalf, GPS/Queensland, 4 Tests. Dentist.
Fast, courageous and versatile, Lewis was a wonderful link man who cleverly exploited space for his outside men.
Paul Collins (b.1916), flyhalf, Wests/NSW, 3 Tests. Clerk.
Smart and resourceful backup flyhalf, possessing flair in attack and dour in defence.
Vic Richards (b.1911), centre/flyhalf, Randwick/NSW, 5 Tests. Retailer.
A small, tough, nuggety and resourceful inside back who could cover centre, flyhalf and scrumhalf. Strong for his size with speed off the mark.
Winston Ide (b.1914), centre, GPS/Queensland, 2 Tests. Carpet fibre expert.
Son of a Japanese silk printer who settled to Australia. A robust, skilful centre. Joining the AIF and captured at the fall of Singapore, Ide drowned in 1944 when his prisoner of war ship returning to Japan was torpedoed by a US submarine.
Len Smith (b.1918), centre, Easts/NSW, 0 Tests. Journalist.
Smith was cruelled twice in his sporting life. Firstly, without playing a game in Britain or Ireland with the 1939/40 Wallabies then in 1948, as the incumbent national captain, being sensationally omitted from the 1948/49 Kangaroos touring team to England and France. Needless to say, he was a strong, penetrative runner and heavy tackler.
Des Carrick (b.1919), centre, Gordon/NSW, 0 Tests. Bank clerk.
Highly regarded, creative centre who could play both in and out equally well. Was the man who ousted Towers and the selectors thought he had a huge career ahead of him. Also an outstanding cricketer.
John Kelaher (b.1912), winger, Manly/NSW, 13 Tests. Salesman.
Accomplished winger who received rave reviews in South Africa (1933) and New Zealand (1936). He was a lightning fast crowd pleaser with an effective swerve and a sound defender.
Max Carpenter (b.1911), winger, Power House/Victoria), 2 Tests. Wholesaler.
A brilliant all-round sportsman who excelled at a high level in tennis, hockey, track sprints as well as rugby. Also a competent goalkicker. Possessed explosive speed and excellent positional sense.
Vaux Nicholson (b.1917), winger, QueenslandUni/Queensland, 0 Tests. Law Student.
Talented, speedy winger who was the son of 1904 Wallaby Fred, also a winger. Later became a noted judge in Queensland. Despite surviving four harrowing years as a prisoner of war in Malaya, many years later he died tragically in a motor vehicle accident along with his daughter.
Basil Porter (b.1917), winger, Randwick/NSW, nil Tests. Salesman.
A small, but blindingly fast winger. Not much is known of him other than he defected to league at the end of the war.
Ron Rankin (b.1914), fullback/centre, Drummoyne/NSW, 7 Tests. School teacher. War decorations – DFC, Croix de Guerre (France/Belgium).
Began life as a centre before evolving into a first-class fullback possessing a touch of brilliance and a prolific goalkicker. Joined the RAAF in the war where he distinguished himself in combat.
Mick Clifford (b.1916), fullback, St. George/NSW, one Test. Teacher student.
Highly regarded and dependable according to the profile of a fullback of his day. Also a competent goalkicker. Killed in an aircraft training accident in 1943.
If I had to pick a 3oth player to round out the team, it would have been the tough Queensland lock Graham Cooke, who was named John Eales’ partner in the Wallabies Team of the Century in 1999.
Graham Cooke (b.1912), lock, YMCA/Queensland, 13 caps (7 post-WW2). Miner.
Powerful and rawboned, his playing style was copybook All Blacks, thus his nickname ‘Kiwi’. Apart from Tony Miller, enjoyed the longest career of any Wallaby, 1932-48.
Owed his omission to a leg injury sustained early in the final trial match, rendering him a passenger. The selectors failed to take into account his previous record, although the competition for positions was decidedly ‘hot’.
So there you have it, the ‘Lucky 29’ selections whose tour would turn out to be anything but lucky.
The team was well received by media interests of the day, who felt that those chosen had deserved their selections over previous champion names such as centres Cyril Towers and Dave Cowper, scrumhalf Jan McShane, backrowers Russell Kelly and Owen Bridle, prop Wild Bill Cerutti, hooker Eddie Bonis and especially lock Graham Cooke.
A likely first XV might have evolved as follows – Rankin, Carpenter, Ide, Richards, Kelaher, Lewis, Gibbons, Hodgson, McDonald, Windon, Bisset, Ramsay, Malone, Barr, Wilson (c).
The team actually played just one game, against the British Indian Army on their return journey when they berthed in Bombay. The 10 players who had never worn the Wallaby jersey were given their one game in the then green Wallaby jersey, winning easily 21-0.
The team was as follows:
Mick Clifford, Basil Porter, Des Carrick, Len Smith, Vaux Nicholson, Paul Collins, Mickey Gibbons (c), Bill McLean, John McDonald, Brian Oxenham, Stan Bisset, Bill Monti, George Pearson, Nicky Barr, John Turnbull. Reserves: Winston Ide, Cecil Ramalli, Keith Windon, John Malone.
Then it was back to Australia, enrolment in either the Army, Navy or Air Force and off to meet their very different destinies.