When David Gallaher's statue was unveiled at Eden Park, it was fitting it was raining - there was more than a touch of pathetic fallacy as New Zealand commemorated one of their great players and founders of the All Blacks who fell in the trenches of the Great War.
Born in Ireland, Gallaher travelled to New Zealand with his family in May 1878. His rugby career started in Ponsonby - his All Blacks cap is in their clubhouse still to do this day - and he then played for Auckland in 1896. In 1903 came the call from the All Blacks to tour Australia. He played both hooker and at flanker and when the now historic 1905 tour of Great Britain came about, he was a shoe-in as captain.
After avoiding mutiny on the boat journey over as some player took umbrage with the number of Auckland players in the team, he played 26 matches on the tour as they won 31 of their 32 games. They scored a remarkable 976 points conceding just 59.
By that time he had already fought in the Boer War and was awarded the Imperial South African War medal for his efforts. When he returned from the 1905 tour, he married soon after and that was meant to be him settled in New Zealand. But then came the outbreak of World War One which brought tragic news from the front.
Gallaher was far too old for the war, he was 42 when he learned of the deaths of two of his brothers. He sought revenge, and his date of birth on the file when he enlisted had him three years younger than his real age. After getting through Ypres he turned attention to the Passchendaele offensive and at that stage was captain of the Second Auckland Regiment. On October 4, 1917, he led his men over the top in an assault on Gravenstafel-Abraham Heights but a wayward piece of shrapnel found its way through his helmet. It proved to be fatal.
Probably unbeknownst to him, on that fateful day he was fighting alongside my great uncle, Allan Salamonson, then aged 19, who was part of the Canterbury Infantry Regiment. Allan, who was a storeman in Port Ahuriri, was never meant to go to war, he had respiratory issues which had prevented him from joining up but peer pressure eventually saw him follow his friends and enlist on January 2. He then journeyed from Wellington to Devenport in the UK on a vessel named Tofua. He arrived on July 20 and was involved with the same offensive as Gallaher on October 4. He too was injured when he took multiple wounds to his upper right leg and it eventually proved to be fatal. He died on October 15 with the official post-mortem saying he "died of wounds".
When Gallaher lay on his deathbed, legend has it the man on the pallet next door, an Australian named Edward Fitzgerald was asked by the Irish priest who the man lying there was. "That is Dave Gallaher, captain of the 1905 All Blacks".
Gallaher is buried in grave No. 32513 at Nine Elms British Cemetery, which is just west of Poperinge in Belgium. Allan in plot VIII.I.57 in a cemetery in Boulogne, 20 kilometres south of Calais and a lot further from his home on Charles Street in Napier.
Gallaher's legacy lives on now in the trophy named after him handed out to the winners of the Auckland club league and in his revolutionary book The Complete Rugby Footballer which he wrote alongside Billy Stead. His Irish roots are also marked by a ground in Letterkenny named the 'Dave Gallaher Memorial Park'.
For my great uncle, his legacy only lives on in our family but both, lying in graves far from home, gave their lives for us future generations and for that we should be hugely thankful.
|All Blacks Killed In Action During World War I|
|Name||Cap Number||All Blacks Caps||Test Career||Service|
|James Alexander Steenson Baird||190||1||1913||Canterbury Regiment|
|Robert Stanley Black||211||1||1914||Otago Mounted Rifles and Canterbury Infantry Regiment|
|Henry Dewar||175||2||1913||Wellington Mounted Rifles|
|Ernest Henry Dodd||83||1||1905||New Zealand Rifle Brigade|
|Albert Joseph Downing||176||5||1913-1914||Wellington Regiment|
|David Gallaher||97||6||1903-1906||Auckland Regiment|
|Eric Tristram Harper||112||2||1904-1906||Canterbury Mounted Rifles,|
|Autini Pitara Kaipara||0||NZ Maori||1910-1911||1st Maoris and New Zealand Pioneer Battalion|
|James McNeece||199||5||1913-1914||Otago Regiment,|
|Alexander James Ridland||164||3||1910||New Zealand Rifle Brigade|
|George Maurice Victor Sellars||182||2||1913||Auckland Regiment|
|Reginald Taylor||202||2||1913||Wellington Regiment|
|Hubert Sydney Turtill||139||1||1905||Royal Engineers|
|Frank Reginald Wilson||166||0||1910||Auckland Regiment,|
Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum