Wallaby Warrior - Tom Richards
The World War I diaries of Tom Richards
Greg Growden
May 21, 2013

Just before the outbreak of the First World War, an Australian traveller W.M Early wrote to the Sydney Mail newspaper: "With a party of tourists, I was sitting outside a small café in a Spanish village on the Pyrenees Mountains when a lanky individual covered with dust and carrying a swag, strolled up and called for food and wine in a strange mixture of Australian and French."

"He had been playing rugger with an English team against France. He left the team at Marseilles and went for a stroll into Spain. He was then making his way back along the south coast of France through Northern Italy, over the Simplon Pass in Switzerland, to Paris and back to England - all alone on foot and carrying a swag in real Australian fashion."

It was none other than one of Australian rugby's mightiest forwards, the star of the first Wallabies tour of the United Kingdom in 1908-1909, and whom The Times of London pronounced: "If ever the Earth had to select a Rugby Football team to play against Mars, Tom Richards would be the first person chosen."

Tom Richards … the great rugby troubadour, the code's first true globetrotter and the ultimate Wallaby Warrior was a masterful footballer, traveller and soldier. He used rugby as his passport and his escape, to the extent that he represented teams in four countries - Australia, South Africa, France and England - and is the only Australian-born Test player to have also appeared in the British & Irish Lions colours.

His extraordinary feats will be celebrated in coming weeks when the Wallabies and Lions tussle for the second time on Australian soil for the Tom Richards Cup. Both the Wallabies and Lions can be proud he had a foot in either camp because his was the most extraordinary of lives that involved countless twists and unexpected circumstances. As John Griffiths wrote in his book on the Lions, Richards was "probably the most interesting Rugby player to win Test caps for the Lions."

Competition: Win one of 10 copies of Wallaby Warrior by Greg Growden.

A fair call too, considering that he represented Transvaal, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Midland Counties, Toulouse, Biarritz, Queensland, North Queensland, Manly, even coached France in one international against Wales, was crucial in winning Australia an Olympic Gold medal at the 1908 London games, and was the first Wallaby to score a Test-match try.

A man, who was named in the London Daily Mail in the World's Greatest XV from players observed between 1868 and 1908, Rusty even introduced surfing to France.

Not surprisingly when war was declared on Germany in 1914, he was on the road, managing the Manly rugby team during a country tour of New South Wales. He was among the first to enlist.

His was an eventful war, being involved in the landing of Gallipoli (even photographing the moment) and on the Western Front, where he won the Military Cross for outstanding courage under German fire. He was successful in a daring mission, which pushed the front back more than 250 metres.

Rusty was also a talented, committed, observant and often frustrated writer. Reared in the tough Queensland mining town of Charters Towers and concerned about his lack of education, Richards was dedicated to improving himself via the written page. Despite the demands of wartime, he endlessly tried to make some sense of it all, working diligently on his expansive war diaries, where he chronicled virtually every part of his army life in which he felt himself to be a "misfit" and a "strange cove".

In his four years at war, he wrote in his diary virtually every day, the only lapse being during several days of fighting at Bullecourt on the Western Front when he was trying to ward off a German attack. He occasionally wrote in the morning, mainly in the evening, sometimes jotting down a few hundred words, often becoming immersed in long essays that regularly applied the blowtorch to himself, the British superiors and the often stupid acts of the Australian soldier.

His revealing war diaries, which even include vivid descriptions of rugby matches played in Egypt and France, provide a telling description of what occurred under the high stress of battle.

Wallaby Warrior by Greg Growden is published by Allen & Unwin

© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.