“FOR HEARTH & HOME” – THE COMMUNITY RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
In the years following the Boer War (and in the long shadow cast by the Russian invasion scare of the 1880’s), a national movement gathered momentum in New Zealand to encourage young men to become members of the National Defence League, a Branch of which was established in Wellington, in 1907.
The League believed that “in order to secure sound defence – in other words, a citizenship that will be capable of defending its ideals, privileges, and institutions – it is necessary to build up the highest type of manhood, and consider that one of the best means by which this can be done is by developing “community spirit,” and with it a love of country and high ideals.” It focused on boys for four to five years after leaving school, with the objective that “that every able-bodied citizen should be a good shot and sufficiently drilled and disciplined to take his place in, an effective organised force when the defence of his country requires it.”
Following the conclusion of the Great War, the League considered that the creation of a “Community Club” in Wellington was a way for youth to recognise that returned soldiers were role models for youth, “to teach them what the horrors of war really were” while also noting that “if it ever became their misfortune to have to fight, it was in their own and the national interests that they should do it well,”
Sensing Rugby Union as a valuable tool to reinforce these ideals in addition to the military drills undertaken by its members, the Wellington Branch of the League formed “The Community Rugby Football Club” in 1921, for the benefit of Territorials and Senior Cadets of the No. 5 Group (Wellington City and Suburbs).
The Club was based in the former Defence Stores, on the corner of Buckle and Taranaki Streets, occupying the upper floor of the building formerly used for the storage of ordnance. The Club raised over 1,000 pounds to occupy the building, approval being granted by the then Minister of Defence, Sir Heaton Rhodes. (Today, the building has been demolished to form part of the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park).
The Club had a formidable governance structure, with the Patron being Robert Alexander Wright, Mayor of Wellington from 1921-1923 (and later a Member of Parliament for the Reform Party and Minister of Education). The President was Joseph Pentland Firth, Vice-President of the National Defence League and former Headmaster of neighbouring Wellington College.
The Club was admitted as a member of the Wellington Rugby Union in 1923, entering teams in the Intermediate and Fifth Class teams for the union’s competitions, with the newspapers noting that the teams attracted “considerable attention by reason of their uniform – khaki jerseys and pants. These represent the King’s, or “service,” colours, of which the members are justly proud, and they look particularly well on the field.”
That year, the Club boasted over 300 members, however their endeavours on the rugby field were not so noteworthy, with the Club coming fourth-last in the 1923 Club Championship, accumulating a paltry 4 points.
At the end of the season, the Club proposed an Intermediate Grade match where their players combined with those of the Olympic Club to play a composite team comprising the winners and runners-up. The Club’s 1923 side comprised: Thomas. Tregonnlng, Whitt, Wilkins, Pitkowsky, Yates, McGee, Dickson, Woods, Jennet, Columb, Jelling, Palmer, Barrow- McGrath, Milanta, Bouttell, Lawson and Matthews.
The following year, the Club could only field an Intermediate Grade team, which conceded 111 points in four fixtures. The Club defaulted its later season matches, owing to player unavailability, with no team put on the field the following year.
The Community Club itself remained in existence until 1928, notably holding successful Military Tattoos at Newtown Park in 1924 and 1927.