FLASHBACK: April 1946

Australian and New Zealand Air Force men on the HMS Indomitable gave plenty of stick to members of the Great Britain Rugby League side, which was travelling ‘down under’ for the first Post War Lions’ rugby league tour.

The hastily arranged tour only went ahead when the aircraft carrier, Indomitable became available for the British side, which was captained by Gus Risman, one of 11 Welshmen in the squad.

The Brits were given a reception at Australia House in London, before the ship sailed from Plymouth in Devon.

When the British party boarded they were told accommodation had been set aside for 25 men, but there were 32 in the Lions’ squad. Some players were forced to sleep six to a cabin. Twenty six of the players stayed in the petty officers’ quarters and the remainder in the officers’ quarters.

The ship sailed to Fremantle in Western Australia, via Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Aden and Colombo.

Daily Telegraph (England) correspondent, Eddie Waring from Dewsbury in Yorkshire, accompanied the touring party.

Waring wrote that the players were continually told how they would be ‘cleaned up’ during their tour of Australia and New Zealand.

“The ‘prophets’ are Australian and New Zealand Air Force Men who make up a big proportion of the 400 odd passengers,” Waring wrote.

Just before departing the UK, Risman was appointed player-manager of Cumbrian club, Workington Town.

The touring party included Fred ‘Ginger’ Hughes from Workington, a Welshman, whose son Emlyn would go on to captain England in soccer.

I heard Emlyn speak at a Rugby League Writers’ function in Manchester in 2002 and he regaled the audience with tales of his early ‘football’ career – in rugby league.

In one match he marked the incomparable Roger Millward, and when ‘Rodger the Dodger’ gave young Hughes a lesson in rugby league, ‘Ginger’ Hughes yelled from the stands: ‘Stick to soccer, son.”

Emlyn also told the story about the Great Britain team’s five day train trip from Perth to Sydney.

“The train went so slowly at times, the players would get out and run alongside to keep fit,” he said.

Great Britain won the series against Australia 2-0 (the First Test was a 8-8 draw), but lost the only Test in New Zealand. The 1946  side remains the only team from Britain not to lose a Test in a three match series in Australia. The 1946 side won 21 of its 27 matches in Australia and New Zealand. Besides the Test loss to the Kiwis, the other losses on tour were to New South Wales South Coast in Wollongong; Newcastle; Queensland in Brisbane and West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island in Greymouth.

Gus Risman

Gus Risman

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