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George Dobbs

George Eric Burroughs Dobbs was born on July 21st 1884 in Castlecomer, County Kilkenny the son of Joseph and Mary. Initially he was educated at St Stephens Green School in Dublin before winning a mathematical scholarship to Shrewsbury . Whilst at school he captained their association football eleven, but by the time that he passed into the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich he had converted to the fifteen a side game of Rugby Union. Completing his studies in March 1904 he was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.

Rugby was a love that he would take with him through the early part of his career. At times he would play for Plymouth Albion, Devonport Albion, Llanelli and Devon . By 1906 his skills as a versatile forward, playing as often as not on the flank, had come to the notice of the national selectors and his Irish heritage aside he was picked to play for England gaining his debut cap against Wales at the Athletic Ground in Richmond on January 13th of that year. This was a period where England as a side were far from the decisive force in International rugby as they still struggled to overcome the schism with the Northern Union in 1895, since which their prowess and results had been far from spectacular. Bar a draw in 1904 they had not beaten the Welsh since 1898. In these days before England found their home at Twickenham the side was unsettled and the Welsh, who would go on to share the title this year, a stern challenge. Fro the kick off this prove to be a difficult match for the men in white as they spent almost the first half of the game lodged in defence in their own half and as often as not in their own twenty five. England were playing a conventional eight man pack with seven backs whilst the Welsh had converted to the New Zealand style seven man scrum allowing the extra man in attack. Even with this numerical advantage in the tight the England forwards were sorely pressed, their underperforming backs outclassed by the sharp Welsh halves and three quarters. With the Welsh fullback playing a canny tactical kicking game that gave his own pack some respite whilst forcing the English to retreat in defence the result never really looked in doubt, even though in the second half the English pack, Dobbs included, threw everything that they had into the common cause. After the game, which resulted in a sixteen points to three win for the Welsh, there was some controversy about the referee, A Jardine of Scotland, and it was considered, in the English press at any rate, that at least two of the four Welsh tries could have been disallowed which would have made the score more representative of the play, but even so the Welsh would have remained worthy winners.

Dobbs retained his place for England ’s next match against the Irish, also a ‘home’ fixture but this time played at Leicester on February 10th. In front of a ten thousand crowd the weather for the crowd was awful, rain turning the pitch into a quagmire. Ireland, also playing with seven men in the forwards adapted to the conditions far better than the English and played a far more cagey game, keeping the ball in close and only passing it wide when they absolutely had to. Again the England backs were far from what may have been hoped for and the forwards, although more competitive in the tight then against the Welsh and winning the shove on occasions, were outpaced by the lighter more agile Irish pack who were supreme in the lose. As with the Welsh game there was never any real doubt as to the final result, at one point the Irish led by sixteen points to nil, and although the English did manage a mini comeback to leave the final score a sixteen points to six they were again well beaten.

This was Dobb’s final international, his cap tally for England remaining frozen at two, although he was shortly after invited to join the Barbarians for their Easter tour to Wales. As with his England career this was an unhappy tour for Dobbs in terms of the results at least as he played twice for the Barbarians, loosing to Penarth by five points to nil on April 13th 1906 and to Cardiff by a far larger thirty eight points to nil whitewash the day after.

Dobbs final major representative honour came the year after when he was selected to represent the Army against the Royal Navy. At this time there was as yet no annual fixture between the two services, this would not start until 1909, and the Army had only founded its own Rugby Union in 1906. The only previous meeting between the two sides had been in 1878 when the Navy had been victorious by eight points to five. Today’s match, held at the Queens Club in Kensington was to be a close affair. The Army boasted in its side several players who were capped internationals, Dobbs included, but the Navy had picked its team almost entirely from the United Services club in Portsmouth , whose experience of each others play allowed them to combine far more effectively than the more scratch nature of the Army side. Both teams played well in an exciting game and at half time the Army led by seven points to five. In the end the Army missed a kick in the final minute that would have stolen victory, but as it was they lost by a single point by fifteen points to fourteen. It was generally accepted that this was a fair result, the Navy more fluent n their play.

After serving both in the United Kingdom and Singapore by the outbreak of war in 1914 Dobbs went to France as a lieutenant. During the retreat from Mons in the first months of the conflict he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour by the French for his work, and was soon after promoted to Captain following his with a brevet Majority in 1915. He was now serving in the Royal Engineers Signal Service, a branch that would later become the Royal Corps of Signals and was an area of warfare that was undergoing a rapid change as motor cycle despatch riders, radio and telephone communications made direct links between the troops at the front and their commanders to the rear far more direct than had been previously possible. Dobbs served with distinction, being mentioned in despatches on three occasions before being appointed assistant director of signals and receiving the temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel in November 1916. During a brief lull in the fighting between the battle of Messines Ridge and the third battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele, Dobbs was hit by a shell whilst prospecting a new cable trench in the front line on June 17th 1917 near Poperinge in Belgium . He died from his wounds later that day and was buried at Lijssenthoek, close to the front line but also at the extreme range of the German artillery which led to its use as a medical clearing station.


"The Complete Who's Who of England Rugby Union Internationals", R Maule,  Breedon 1992

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© D A Hunter, 2009
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