This week it’s been 100 years since the bloody battlefield death of the country’s first All Blacks captain. Today, as the national team run on to the field at Buenos Aires, our rugby players pay tribute. Shabnam Dastgheib reports
DAVE Gallaher’s family say they’re proud of the Kiwi hero’s legacy.
And they’re especially thankful that New Zealand is still celebrating his life a hundred years after his death on a World War I battlefield.
Gallaher, who was the captain of the 1905 All Blacks, the Originals, died on October 4, 1917 after he was shot in the head during one of the country’s bloodiest campaigns ever.
All Blacks great Sir Michael Jones said it was important to remember the ‘‘ultimate sacrifice’’ made by Gallaher, and the 13 other All Blacks who died in the Great War.
‘‘As a reference point for All Black rugby it’s still just as powerful today as it was for my era, and for Sir Colin Meads’ era, because the story keeps getting passed down,’’ said Jones.
‘‘Its relevance is so real for every generation. Certainly in terms of the All Black folklore, the story stands out. It will remain a very defining aspect of the All Black story.
‘‘The ultimate sacrifice they paid speaks to the importance of the jersey and everything it embodies.’’
Former All Black captain Wayne ‘‘Buck’’ Shelford, who is himself ex-military, having served 11 years in the Navy, will be leading a tribute haka at Eden Park on Wednesday.
‘‘I believe it does a lot of good for some of our All Blacks to actually see what these guys did for our country,’’ Shelford said.
‘‘Because that’s what you’re doing when you’re playing sport. You’re serving your country, and representing your country around the world.’’
Gallaher’s great-grandson, Mike Tubbs, 49, said his family would never forget the sacrifices the great man and rugby player made back then.
‘‘On a personal level, I’m proud of what my great-grandfather and the others did for New Zealand during the war, giving their lives,’’ said Tubbs.
In the 80s his grandmother, Nora – Gallaher’s only daughter – used to take him along to rugby matches and events at Eden Park where his great-grandfather was usually honoured. Tubbs said his family looked up to Gallaher, but none of them was ever as ‘‘competent’’ a rugby player as the legend.
Great-niece Kay Carter, 80, said Gallaher was always a talking point for the extended family when they gathered at family reunions. ‘‘Everybody is proud of David.’’
This week Gallaher’s name will once again light up the field.
At Eden Park on Wednesday, a giant poppy and 492 personalised white crosses will be erected on the field to honour each of the men killed at the Battle of Broodseinde in the months-long Passchendaele campaign in Belgium.
Another 13 crosses will honour the All Blacks who lost their lives in World War I.
Warbirds will fly past, the New Zealand navy band is scheduled to play, and several haka, including one by the Defence Blacks and one led by Shelford, will be performed.
Gallaher and the men who fought in the Battle of Broodseinde gained a kilometre of territory and took the Gravenstafel Spur, opening up the way to Passchendaele.
The victory was rare in a war that was mostly fought in the trenches but also came at a great cost – the loss of hundreds of men including Gallaher, who was the oldest and most famous All Black casualty of the war.
Several former All Black captains such as Richie McCaw, Tana Umaga and Sean Fitzpatrick have all paid tribute to their predecessor over the years. Most of them have also either visited his grave or his birthplace in Ireland.
‘‘He died in the First World War and we as a team recognise he was the figure of the legacy that started where we are today,’’ McCaw said. ‘‘Over the years we’ve always made sure we understand and pay respects to that.’’
However, McCaw was quick to recognise that Gallaher wasn’t the only All Black killed.
‘‘There’s a few of them that were part of the All Black club that gave their lives in the First World War. We’ve talked about that . . . about the guys who died. It’s something we remember as a team and Kiwis in general.’’
‘‘We get all worried about pressure but it makes what we do seem insignificant really.’’
As the captain of the first New Zealand national team to tour Britain, Gallaher had a huge influence on shaping the mindset and grit of the current day All Blacks.
He was known for never backing down in the face of a threat, big or small. This attitude led the Originals to an almost clean sweep during the 1905 tour of the British Isles.
An immigrant who arrived in
Nearly 500 personalised white crosses will be placed on Eden Park to mark the Kiwis who died in the Battle of Broodseinde. Dave Gallaher was one of them.