It was George Orwell who described sport as war minus the shooting, but of course it's not really. Sport can bring out the worst in us in terms of venality and selfishness and impetuosity but it can also highlight the best in a person's character and even in many cases develop it.

More than 18,000 New Zealanders made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I (the population of New Zealand in 1918 was 1.15 million), and it's those who we remember today, Armistice Day, the 100th anniversary of the end of a war often described as "great" but which was a mechanised catastrophe of bloodshed and waste.

Of those 18,000 who died, a terribly large number and huge in proportion to our population then, 13 were All Blacks, including 1905-06 Originals captain Dave Gallaher.

Gallaher, who was born in Ireland, is relatively well known to Kiwis and especially rugby supporters because of his special role with the team after whom the All Blacks were named. His name is given to the shield for which Auckland's clubs play for and the trophy contested between the All Blacks and France.


He was 43 when he died in Passchendaele in Belgium in 1917. Gallaher wasn't conscripted due to his age but he volunteered after losing two brothers in the war. It's little wonder the All Blacks often visit his final resting place when they are in Europe. The word "sacrifice" is often used in these pages but it seems trite when compared with Gallaher's or that of his countrymen.

Ten All Blacks - Gallaher, Frank Wilson, Robert Black, George Sellars, James Baird, Reginald Taylor, James McNeece, 'Jum' Turtill, Ernest Dodd and Jimmy Ridland - died on the Western Front. Ridland, a Southland blacksmith, died on November 5, 1918, only six days before the end of the war. Albert Downing and Henry Dewar died in Gallipoli. Eric Harper died in Palestine.

The sacrifice of those men and all of the others has been recognised by Eden Park, a place where the All Blacks have enjoyed so much success over the years and a place, too, which houses New Zealand's smallest Returned and Services Association.

A large poppy has been painted on the pitch into which have been placed many white crosses remembering the sacrifices and duty of all those who fought in World War I which ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Lest we forget.

Dave Gallaher

Dave Gallaher is buried at Nine Elms Cemetery in France. Photo / Photosport
Dave Gallaher is buried at Nine Elms Cemetery in France. Photo / Photosport

Gallaher is among the most imperishable legends of All Blacks rugby. He led the first landmark national team, the Originals, on their extraordinarily successful tour of Britain and France in 1905-06. Gallaher, the inspiring rugby captain and one of the deepest thinkers on the game of his era, was born in Ireland, and came to New Zealand as a child. The family farmed at Katikati in the Bay of Plenty before moving in the 1890s to Auckland, where he became a stalwart of the Ponsonby Rugby Club. Because of his service in the Boer War, as a corporal in the Mounted Rifles, he missed the 1901-02 seasons in New Zealand. He was big for a forward of that era at 1.83m tall and 84kg. In his early career, he was a hooker in the 2-3-2 scrum and, after playing for the North Island in 1903, it was in that position he was chosen for that year's tour of Australia. By then, Gallaher was nearly 30 but that tour was to be the start of an illustrious four seasons in the national side. He played his first four matches as a hooker but for his final four, including the test - the first played by New Zealand against Australia - he was moved to wing forward. Gallaher died on October 4, 1917, of wounds in the early stages of the efforts to secure Passchendaele.

Frank Wilson

A school teacher, Wilson was not just a talented rugby player but a superb all-rounder in other sports and in music and horticulture. He excelled at cricket, tennis, swimming and gymnastics, and was one of Auckland's fastest track sprinters. He was called into the All Blacks side to tour Australia in 1910 when a number of original selections were forced to withdraw. He played in the preliminary match before the boat journey across the Tasman, drop-kicking a goal in the 26-17 win over Wellington. He was chosen for the opening match in Australia against New South Wales, but late in the match, twisted his knee and was put out of the tour and the game itself for good. No sooner had World War I broken out than this gifted young man enlisted and quickly became an officer. He fought at Gallipoli, before losing his life during the Battle of the Somme in France in 1916 aged 31.

Ernie Dodd

A hard-working front row forward or hooker in the old 2-3-2 scrum formation, Dodd was the first member of the Wellington College Old Boys club to represent New Zealand. Dodd formed a formidable front row pairing at club and provincial level with Eric Watkins. They were in the Wellington side which played the 1905 Originals before they left to tour Britain and France. Dodd played 45 games for Wellington during 1901-05 before his job as a clerical worker with the New Zealand Shipping Company saw him transferred to Timaru. He was given life membership by his WCOB club before departing. Dodd was out of the national reckoning until 1905 when, with the Originals on their way to Britain, he and Watkins played together in the second New Zealand team which met the touring Australians in an official test in Dunedin. Though in his late 30s, Dodd served in the war but was killed in France in 1918.

Hubert "Jum" Turtill

Turtill was one of the first of New Zealand's leading players to switch to the new code of rugby league, or Northern union as it was then known. After appearing for a combined Canterbury and South Canterbury selection against the touring Australians in 1905, Turtill was included in the New Zealand team for the only international in Dunedin. Though New Zealand's leading players were, by this time, on their way to Britain for what became celebrated as the Originals tour, the match in Dunedin has always carried full test status. Turtill, who had been considered unlucky not to have made the British tour, was one of New Zealand's best players against Australia, but that was to be his only All Blacks match. After the 1907 inter-island match, he joined the 'rebel' All Golds side on their trailblazing and historic tour of Britain. He played in five of the internationals in Britain and then in 1908 was captain against Australia. He confirmed his switch to rugby league in 1909 by joining the famous Lancashire club, St Helens, for whom he played until the outbreak of World War I. He lost his life while serving with the British Armed Forces in France in April 1918 at the age of 38.

Jimmy Ridland

Ridland was a typically hard-nosed Southland forward. He could play in most positions, though it was at hooker that he appeared in international rugby. He was chosen for the All Blacks tour of Australia in 1910, playing six matches, including all three tests. Ridland died from his wounds in the final week of the conflict in France.

James McNeece

McNeece and his brother Alex were together in one of Southland's best performances in the early years of the 20th century, the 13-8 win over Australia in 1913. McNeece's effort in Southland's win over the touring Australians finally gained him national recognition. He was included in the All Blacks who played the Australians in two tests following the departure after the first test of most of the country's leading players on the tour of North America. He died of wounds in the advance on Messines in Belgium in June 1917.

George Sellars

Sellars was a member of the first official New Zealand Maori team, in 1910, and became an All Black in 1913, when he toured North America. He was a regular in the Auckland front row during 1909-15, when he joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and went to war. He was the first of three Ponsonby All Blacks to be killed in action - Dave Gallaher and Bill Carson (World War II) being the others. A renowned tough guy, he played in the great 1909 Ponsonby side, one of five men in the pack who had been or would be All Blacks. His consistently strong performances for his club and province caught the eye of the All Blacks selectors in 1913 - no national team having being selected since 1910. A member of the side to North America, he played against Australia at home before leaving. On tour he was one of the leading players, and one of the busiest, appearing in 14 of the 16 matches. Sellars was killed at Messines, Belgium, while carrying a wounded comrade. He was the first of three All Blacks to lose their lives in that battle within a fortnight. Wing forward Reg Taylor was killed on June 20, while Jim McNeece died of wounds a day later. On the same day as Sellars was killed, another 1913 All Black, James Baird, died of wounds in France.

Bobby Black

Black's speed and acceleration made him an asset as a first five-eighths. Top performances for the South Island in 1912 and 1914 (from the Buller union) won him a place on the All Blacks tour of Australia in 1914. He played in six of the matches on tour, including the first test, and scored three tries. But by the time the side had returned, war had broken out. After his early enlistment, Black had the chance to reappear in first class rugby briefly in 1915 for what proved to be the last time. He became a corporal in the Otago Mounted Rifles. In September 1916, aged 23, he became one of the many casualties of the Battle of the Somme.

Reg Taylor

Taylor, a vigorous footballer in the much-debated wing forward position, was an outstanding member of some strong Taranaki sides between 1910 and 1914. In 1913, Taylor had been in the Taranaki side which lost narrowly to the touring Australians. He was then selected for the All Blacks to play against Australia in the last two tests of the three-match series. After the first test, the main All Black players went off for their tour of North America. The outbreak of World War I brought Taylor's career to an end. Taylor left New Zealand in 1915 to serve in the war, and in 1917, he was killed in action in Belgium at the age of 28.

James Baird

In 1913, Baird made two appearances for Otago, having played senior club rugby with Zingari-Richmond the previous season at the age of 18. He was brought into the All Blacks as a late replacement for the 1913 test at Carisbrook against Australia when South Canterbury's Eric Cockcroft withdrew late with injury. Baird received a call-up because he was the closest leading player at hand. The All Blacks won 25-13 and Baird was selected again for the next test in Christchurch but withdrew with a hand injury. Baird died, aged 23, in 1917 from wounds received in action in France.

All Blacks killed during World War I

Albert Downing, died August 8, 1915, Gallipoli, aged 29

Henry Dewar, died August 19, 1915, Gallipoli, 31

Frank Wilson, died September 19. 1916, Somme, 31

Robert Black, died September 21, 1916, Somme, 23

George Sellars, died June 7, 1917, Messines, 31

James Baird, died June 7, 1917, 'France' (Messines?), 23

Reginald Taylor, died June 20, 1917, Messines, 28

James McNeece, died June 21, 1917, Messines, 31

Dave Gallaher, died October 4, 1917, Passchendaele, 43

'Jum' Turtill, died April 9, 1918, France, 38

Eric Harper, died April 30, 1918, Palestine, 40

Ernest Dodd, died September 11, 1918, Havrincourt, France, 38

Jimmy Ridland, died November 5, 1918, France, 36

Information and images are courtesy of the New Zealand Rugby Museum