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As the memorabilia team are going through the archives, there are many stories yet untold of days past. In the forthcoming months we hope that we can bring some of them back to life. One such tale is that of Charlie Saxton MBE.
Charles Kesteven Saxton was born in Kurow, Canterbury, New Zealand on 23rd May 1913 and was educated at Otago Boys’ High School in Dunedin, where he became a member of the school’s 1st XV rugby team between 1931 and 1932 and was coached by former “All Black” captain, coach and referee Jimmy Duncan who represented the national side from 1897-1903. Under Duncan’s tuition Saxton developed an outstanding dive pass as scrum-half, that became a feature of his play.
An Otago representative in 1935, Saxton had to compete with another top halfback in H J Simon (a 1937 All Black). He moved to South Canterbury during the 1937-38 season and soon came to national prominence with a fine display against the 1937 Springboks, some of whom rated him the best half-back in New Zealand.
All Black representation came in Australia in 1938 where he played in all three test matches as part of a particularly strong All Black backline. As the incumbent test half-back and captain of the South Island of New Zealand in 1939, he would have been the strongest of candidates for the 1940 All Black tour of South Africa had not World War II intervened. In Southland in 1939 he further demonstrated his captaincy qualities by leading the province in a successful 23-4 Ranfurly Shield challenge against Otago.
Saxton’s finest qualities as a rugby player, his courage and ability to lead by example, were features of his career as a soldier and he rose to the rank of Major with the 19th Armoured regiment.
At the conclusion of World War II he captained the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force “Kiwis” team on their 1945–46 tour of Britain and Europe. They were soldiers and were selected after active service in North Africa and Italy and, in some cases, after lengthy spells in prisoner of war camps in Italy, Austria and Germany.
Their contribution to rugby was twofold: They resuscitated international rugby after World War II and they played a brand of rugby that set new standards of innovation and entertainment, in much the same way as the 1905 Original “All Blacks” had. Although Saxton was the only “All Black” among the 1945-46 “Kiwis”, such was the quality of their play that 16 of the team of 31 later did play for the “All Blacks”. The tour was organised by Lt. General Bernard Freyberg VC, with the Kiwis playing 33 matches in Europe, winning 29 and with two draws and two losses. They scored a formidable 605 points and conceded only 185. They beat the full international sides of England, Wales and France and lost just one international, to Scotland. Freyberg’s stated aim was for the team to play bright, open football, with victory not the most important factor – a mantra that would horrify some later “All Blacks” coaches and captains!
The opening match of the tour was played against Swansea at St Helen’s on 27th October 1945, the tourists winning by 22 pts to 6 pts in a game more characteristic of a Barbarians fixture. The jersey shown here was donated to the club by Charlie Saxton on this day.
On Easter Monday in 1946 Charlie Saxton, along with fellow “Kiwis” H E Cook and R L Dobson was “invited” to play for Swansea in the traditional Barbarians Easter fixture on 22nd April 1946. Saxton was afforded the honour of captaining the “All Whites” team that day. This not only gave him his one and only appearance for Swansea but also one of his last appearances as a rugby union player. His “Kiwi” Stablemate Dobson scored one of Swansea’s 2 tries in a 6 – 11 loss to the “Babas”.
Though his playing career ended with the “Kiwis” tour his rugby involvement certainly did not. He coached the Pirates club side of Dunedin, selected and assisted with the coaching of the Otago team 1948-57, served on the NZRFU council 1956-71 and was manager of the extraordinarily strong and successful 1967 “All Blacks” in Britain and France. He was president of the NZRFU in 1974 and elected a life member in 1976. He wrote, in conjunction with the Rugby Union “The ABC of Rugby”, a coaching book that stressed the three Ps, Position, Possession and Pace. In 1978 he was awarded the MBE for services to Rugby.
He was not only a rugby player, but also a decent cricketer. An opening batsman and occasional wicket keeper, Saxton played seven first-class games for Otago between the 1934-35 and 1938-39 seasons. He scored 226 runs at an average of 17.38, with a high score of 37.
One of New Zealand’s best-loved rugby legends, Saxton owned and ran a menswear shop in Dunedin for many years where he died on 4th July 2001 aged 88 from complications brought about by emphysema.
Saxton did not die a millionaire, but he did leave thousands of friends throughout the rugby world including those who turned up to watch him play in the famous “All White” shirt.
Not bad for a “One Match Wonder”!!
So who did the NZEF jersey presented to Swansea actually belong to? Well that’s another fascinating story…
By Paul Tabram – Chairman of Swansea RFC Patrons & Supporters Club.