UH Rugby during the World War 1 years

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WW1 Centenary Poppy

Research shows that the “Upper Hutt Rugby Football Club” was first formed in 1906 and that its affiliation with the Wellington Rugby Union which commenced in 1909, lapsed from 1917 until re-affiliation in 1919. This situation requires explanation and obviously resulted from the impacts of World War I and the country’s “response to the Empire’s Call”.

The Military Service Act passed on 1 August 1916 had made all healthy New Zealand men of military age (20 to 45) liable for active service overseas.

At this point the WRFU decided to confine the playing of Rugby Football in Wellington, to players under 20 years of age.

Insofar as the Upper Hutt Club was concerned it can be established that it participated in the Wellington Competition for the 1915 and 1916 Seasons – Third Class 1915, which included the Wellington and St Patrick’s Colleges 1st XVs, and First Class 1916 at which time the “under 20 years of age” restriction came into effect.

The newspapers of the day did not carry very much information re the matches involving Upper Hutt, only Fixtures and sometimes Results. However the Free Lance on 14 July 1916 reported as follows:

From Free Lance 14 July 1916 by “Touchline.

Of interest is that games played at Upper Hutt over these two seasons were all refereed by Mr. E H Pelling, the father of Everard Edward Henry Pelling, aged 18 years, a member of “D” Company, 5th Regiment, one of the seven victims who died as a result of the explosion at Messrs Benge and Pratt’s store in March 1914.

Another Pelling with a Club connection is Brian who was a member of the 1958 Senior Second side, winners of the grade championship and the Harper Locke Shield and the right to challenge Oriental for the promotion relegation game, lost 11 – 14.

In looking for evidence that Upper Hutt was active in the 1917 season I have found a report in the New Zealand Times, 30 May “Complaint was made by the Athletic Football Club that a member of the Upper Hutt Football Club’s team was over age. The schoolmaster at Upper Hutt supplied information that the boy was 16 years of age, and this was accepted as satisfactory.” In any event Upper Hutt did not have any teams entered for the 1917 season and joined with the majority of other Clubs in going into recess.

There is no evidence of Upper Hutt RFC having teams entered in WRFU competitions in the 1917 and 1918 seasons. The following article appearing in The Sun, 27 June 1917 outlined “Wellington Rugby Union’s Trouble” with this:


“Owing to the stoppage of football and the absence of most of the players, the Wellington Rugby Union cannot find the money to keep up its payments for Athletic Park. Nearly L3000 is owing. The yearly cost for rent and rates is L600, while the union’s income is nil. An appeal is now being made to all supporters of Rugby to come forward and save the ground by investing in a ticket scheme to raise funds. The Park was originally the property of a private company, but some years ago it was taken over by the Wellington Rugby Union.”

The Trentham Camp Teams

For the War years Rugby in Upper Hutt was dominated by the Trentham Camp teams.

It was reported on 13 March 1915 that 3 senior teams from the soldiers in camp would be got together to take part in the WRFU’s matches during the coming season.

The Trentham A Team (E. Roberts, Wellington, Captain.) The New Zealand Free Lance 28 May 1915.
The Trentham C Team (F. Wilson, Auckland, Captain) The NZ Free Lance 28 May 1915.

All went well for the Trentham teams until July when all its teams had to be withdrawn from the senior championships because of an epidemic in the overcrowded Camp, which at its peak, on 8 July, there was a total of 859 men in the medical facilities.

Until that date its teams had been performing well. The Round late in May saw Trentham A win 17 Poneke 12, Trentham B 11 – 6 over Wellington and Trentham C 6 – 3 over Oriental.

For Trentham the 1915 Club Season concluded as follows:

The following from The Observer 8 April 1916 explains the situation with regard to the Trentham teams competing in the WRFU Competition:

A meeting of the sub-committee of the Auckland Rugby Union was held during the latter end of last week, to consider the position of the Rugby game during the coming season. It was resolved to submit a series of resolutions to a conference of club delegates, to be held shortly , based on the Union’s proposal that during the coming season no player of over twenty years of age shall participate in senior football. Amongst the resolutions proposed to be submitted to the delegates will be an alteration to several of the existing rules, to bring these into line with the existing circumstances, and also to assist in the government of the various contests during the coming season. Rugby players have so nobly responded to the Empire’s call that these suggested alterations have not been made to freeze out men eligible for enlistment, as very few of the old senior players remain, but have been found necessary owing to the depletion from the ranks of players generally. The position in Wellington in Rugby circles, will be somewhat different to that of other districts, and was explained to a “Post” reporter by Mr D. Weir, president of the Wellington Rugby Union recently. He stated that the course to be adopted as far as Rugby in this province was concerned would come up for discussion at the annual meeting of the union next week. Wellington was in quite a different position to the other unions, as the men at Trentham had made a request for football to be continued. There were quite a lot of senior players who had attempted to enlist, but had not been passed by the medical men because of twisted knees, varicose veins, and other complaints, and yet they were able to play football. It was for the union to decide whether it would give these men an opportunity to play, and so comply with the request from Trentham. The union did not want players who were eligible for active service. 


For the 1918 season it was determined to throw the senior competition open to all available players. I do enjoy the reference in the following to “Bill Masseys Boots”. It would seem that “no quarter given” was as relevant to our soldiers on the Battlefields as on the Rugby paddock.

Free Lance 27 June 1918 by “Touchline”

Trentham Camp played a number of representative matches over the period of the War.

The first of these was against Auckland at Eden Park on Friday 11 June 1915 won by Trentham by 15 points (C Weston mark goal and penalty goal, G Murray penalty goal, F Wilson try and Paul try) to 5 Lang try converted by Stewart. The attendance was 7,000 with takings of nearly 300 Pounds in aid of the Hospital Ship Fund.

In the 1918 Season 2 games were played against Canterbury, the first at Wellington won 27 – 12 by Canterbury, the second at Wellington won by Trentham 14 – 8.

The 1918 Season for Trentham concluded with a match against the Wellington Representative side:

Dominion 28 September 1918. Result: Trentham 40 Wellington 3.

A Conclusion

There has been much speculation and uncertainty as to the Club’s founding date. I think I have clarified the situation in this latest research.

1906: Upper Hutt Star Team formed to play informal matches. Comprised mainly Railwaymen.

1909: Upper Hutt Rugby Football Club affiliated to Wellington Rugby Football Union playing in the Third Division.

1917- 1918: Club in recess.

1919: Club re-affiliates with WRFU.

Looking at this in a formal sense the Upper Hutt Rugby Football Club (Inc) Club could/should have celebrated its Centenary in 2009.

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