Voices from the Past

Rugby player, soldier, All Black

Sgt Charles Brown was one of only a few rugby players and soldiers who played for the All Blacks both before and after World War I, and his prized All Black cap is part of the National Army Museum’s collection.

Like many rugby greats of his era, Brown interchanged his rugby jersey with a soldier’s uniform at a time when there was no rugby at home, and Army rugby was world rugby.

As a halfback he enjoyed a long first-class rugby career, firstly for his province, Taranaki, where by the age of 21 he had played 52 games, and was captain of the 1914 Taranaki side that took the Ranfurly shield from Auckland, the team who had held the prestigious trophy since its inception in 1910.

Brown played two international matches against Australia for the All Blacks in 1913, in the same season – despite being pakeha – he also made a guest appearance for the New Zealand Maori in a benefit match also against Australia.

Brown served most of World War I as a corporal with the Field Engineers and was later promoted to the rank of sergeant. Brown donned the New Zealand Army Rugby colours playing for the NZ Division team that won the Somme Cup in France 1917. After being part of the services team in Britain that won the prized King’s Cup in 1919, he captained this side on a tour of South Africa, the first time a national side had ever toured there.

After the war, Brown regained his place in the All Blacks in 1920, playing matches in New Zealand as well as touring Australia. Though primarily a halfback, Brown was multi talented and played at fullback and even hooker on tour.

When he retired in 1922, Brown had played 95 first class matches; a very high number for a player of his era. After finishing as a player Brown continued to be heavily involved in the game as an administrator and coach at both club and provincial level. He was also a selector for Taranaki, on the North Island selection panel, and later, in 1944, a New Zealand selector.

This story is one of many coming soon in the new exhibition titled, “Khaki & Black: New Zealand’s Rugby Supremacy in Times of War” which opens on 26th August 2011.