Christmas Births and Deaths
The world knows Christmas Day. It is probably the best-known date on the calendar, which gives happenings on Christmas day an added meaning. That includes birth and death.
Mind you, sometimes it may be not quite so good – the one-present-instead-of-two syndrome for those born on Christmas Day, and it must take a special kind of nuisance to die on Christmas Day.
We are looking at some star players who were born on the day of the star of Bethlehem – and a few that started their journey into eternity on that day.
In the very first rugby test match there was a player born on Christmas Day. He was Charles William Sherrard, born in London on Christmas Day 1849. He was a forward in the first two tests, against Scotland in 1871 and 1872. He was a soldier, serving in the South African War and ending with the rank of colonel. He died in 1921.
He was not the first-born international player. That was probably Arthur Gibson who was born in Hampshire on 14 July 1844. He died in 1927, one of a few survivors of the 1871 test still alive at the time of the centenary in 1923 of William Webb Ellis’s supposed act of inspiration of taking up the ball in his arms and running with it.
Sherrard was not the first to die. The first to die, it seems, was John Macfarlane of Scotland who died in February 1874. He was in the Scottish pack in the first two internationals, 1871 and 1872, and at halfback in the third in 1873. Macfarlane was born in Jamaica, educated in Scotland and more usually a halfback than a forward. The next to die was William Brown, the Scottish fullback from Glasgow Academicals, killed by a train near his home on 24 March 1875, just 16 days after he had captained Scotland against England. At that match there was a record crowd of 7 000 spectators.
One of the international rugby players born on Christmas Day had a name to commemorate the event – Christmas Davies who was born in Llanelli in 1916. He was better known by his second name – Howard. He played fullback for Wales on either side of World War II. The only other Welsh player to play on both sides of the war was Haydn Tanner.
Two Christmas babies had parents who were subtler – Arthur Noel Finlay of Australia, born in 1903, and Lancelot Andrew Noel Slocock of England, born in 1886, who was killed in France in 1916. Even subtler were Nigel Starmer-Smith’s parents. He was born on Christmas Day in 1944 and had Christopher as his second Christian name.
Sam Strahan, the All Black lock, was also born on Christmas Day 1944. Sadly he and Starmer-Smith did not play in a test against each other.
In 1908 James Davey, a halfback, played for England under LAN Slocock’s captaincy. Davey was also born on Christmas Day – in 1908. Maffer Davey, a Cornishman who played for Redruth, spent several years in the gold mines of the Witwatersrand and captained Transvaal, 1904-06. He returned to Cornwall and won a silver medal for rugby at the 1908 Olympic Games when Cornwall represented Great Britain.
Lock Jan Pickard and wing Donald Cameron were both born on Christmas Day 1927 and did not play against each other either. The only time Donald Cameron played against the Springboks was for Glasgow & Edinburgh in 1951, but Pickard, who was in the Springbok touring team, did not play in that match.
Other Springboks born on Christmas Day are Paul Visser (1903), Johnny Bester (1917) and Rampie Stander (1944).
The nearest any other Springboks came to a Christmas birth were Noel Howe-Brown, born in 1884, Cliff Riordan, born in 1885 and Bert Kipling, born in 1903. They were all born on Christmas Eve. Chubb Vigne, born 23 December 1868, Gysie Pienaar (1954) and Piston van Wyk (1943) were also close – 21 December.
Other international players born on Christmas Day were
• Tom Blatherwick of England (1855). He played in one Test, against Ireland in 1878. It was the only try he scored in his nine Tests.
• Bernard Middleton of England (1858). He played for England twice, both times against Ireland, in 1882 and 1883
*Frederick Margrave (1858) played twice for Wales in 1884. Born in Llanelli he died there 87 years later.
• George Davies (1875) of Swansea, a centre or fullback, who was knocked out in scoring a try for Wales against Ireland in 1900.
• Harold Wheatley of England (1912). His brother Arthur, also an England forward, was born just before Christmas. The brothers played together three times for England, in 1937 and 1938, Harold a prop and Arthur qa lock behind him. They were partners in a haulage firm, A Wheatley & Sons.
• Clive Currie, the All Black fullback (1955). He played in two tests in 1978 till a broken jaw in the match against Wales ended his tour.
• Stuart Roy (1968), the Welsh lock, was at the 1995 World Cup and played his only international as a late replacement against Japan.
• Rowen Shephard (1970), Scotland’s attacking fullback.
• Mark Mapletoft (1971), England’s flyhalf in one test
* Kevin Simms (1964), England at centre, a medical doctor
There were 620 players chosen for the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year. None was born on Chruistmas Day but there werre two just a day later. They were the Italian veteran Leonardo Ghiraldini with over 100 caps for his country, and two Togans – prop Latu Talakai who plays in Australia and fullback Telusa Veainu who plays in England. Talakai was born in Tonga, Veainu in New Zealand.
Died on Christmas Day
There are some players who, like Charlie Chaplin, have died on Christmas Day:
• Cecil Davies of Wales, a prop who was an RAF pilot when killed in action in 1941. He played against England in 1934
• Philip Newton of England (1946), who played against Scotland in 1882. He was 86 when he died.
• Thomas Harvey of Ireland (1966), the Anglican Bishop of Cashel who played cricket for the Gentlemen of Ireland. He was in the Irish pack eight times from 1900 to 1903.
• Henry Morkel of South Africa (1969), one of 10 Springbok Morkels, who was a wing in Australasia in 1921
• Tom Aitcheson of Scotland (1977), a fullback in three Tests in 1929.
• Ernest Harding of England (1980) of the Royal Navy who played against Ireland in 1931.
*Sam Strahan died in 2019, just four days before Christmas, just four days before his 75th birthday, Christmas Day 2019.