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Reginald Hands

Reginald Harry Myburgh Hands was born in Claremont , near Capetown , South Africa on July 26th 1888 the eldest son of Sir Harry Hands KBE and his wife the Lady Aletta Hands OBE. Educated at Diocesan College , Rondebosch in his native South Africa Hands went on to win a coveted Rhodes scholarship and made the long journey to Britain to continue is studies at University College , Oxford and read law in 1907. This path was soon followed by two of his brothers who both also became rugby blues at the university prior to the outbreak of the First World War.

Whilst at Oxford Hands soon showed his skills on the rugby pitch, although he was unable to break into the varsity side during his first year. Whilst a student he also showed his skills at Blackheath as well as playing for Middlesex. His chance to face Cambridge on the pitch came during his second year in a match held at the Queens Club on December 12th 1908. The one goal each draw if anything flattered Oxford as Cambridge had the better of the play as well as the more accomplished pack. Although Oxford ís forwards were large, and Hands was regarded as one of their better players in the fixture, they were beaten technically both in the scrum as well as the loose. It took an all round display of strong tackling in the second half to save Oxford from defeat.

With his first varsity match barely over Hands followed this just a fortnight later with his first match for the Barbarians, playing in a six points to three defeat to Cardiff on Boxing day. He toured with the Barbarians again the following Easter to Wales where he played a further two matches in the famous black and white hoops. Having beaten Penarth eight points to three on April 9th the Barbarians were faces with a resounding twenty two points to nil defeat three days later, once again against Cardiff .

During his final year at Oxford Hands was as busy on the rugby pitch as he doubtless was in his studies. Again picked for his university in the annual fixture at Queens on December 11th, and in front of a crowd in excess of fifteen thousand, Oxford presented a far different picture to the previous year as Ronald Poulton ran in five tries during a thirty five points to three victory. This result was all the more remarkable as at one point Oxford were down to just thirteen men due to injury. The Oxford forwards, Hands included, played a strong, precise game, this time overshadowing an underperforming and slow Cambridge pack. It was generally regarded as one of the finest performances ever seen in a varsity match.

Subsequently Hands again spent Christmas travelling with the Barbarians, losing to Newport on December 28th, before travelling to Leicester the following day and achieving a creditable nine points all draw. The previous season Hands had played for the South v England in a trial match, but had failed to catch the selectorsí eye. This time he again played in the trials, this time for England v the South as well as the Rest v England , and this time achieved a more favorable outcome. He was selected for a debut England cap on March 3rd 1910, travelling to Paris to take on the French at the Parc de Princes. During an excellent match, that England were hard pressed to eventually win by eleven points to three, the French played far better than had previously been seen, tackling well and showing some of their now well known flair. England ís technical superiority finally proved too much for the battling French; although this was a fixture that England had been expected to win with ease.

Handsí contribution during the French match must have been appreciated as he kept his place for the final match of the international season, again away from home and this time in Inverleith against Scotland on March 19th. In an unexpected result England won the match by fourteen points to five and although this score did not accurately represent the closeness of the game they were worthy winners. After a slow first half where Scotland by far had the better of the play, if not the score due to some poor handling by their backs, England ís pack began to assert themselves in the second period, proving too strong for the Scots as England slowly pulled away. Hands himself was noted as providing excellent support his team during the match in what for him was a good game. With the victory in Scotland England claimed the international championship, their first since 1892. But for a drawn game earlier in the season against Ireland it could have been their first ever elusive grand slam.

This proved to be the final match in Reginald Handsí all too short international career. Returning to Oxford he completed his law degree taking second class honors. The following Easter he again toured with the Barbarians to Wales , again losing to Cardiff by fifteen points to eight on April 15th 1911, as well as to Swansea two days later this time by eighteen points to eight. His eighth and final appearance for the club came the following day with an eight point to three victory over Cheltenham . Shortly after he was called to the middle temple of the bar and with his law studies over he returned home to South Africa . Here he turned is sporting prowess more towards cricket, playing a few matches for Western province as well as one test appearance for South Africa against the visiting MCC that the visitors won resoundingly by ten wickets in February 1914.

Reginald Hands enlisted shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in the First World War. Initially he served with the Imperial Light Horse in their campaign in German South West Africa . This was essentially a police action to round up German settlers in what is modern day Namibia . Transferring to the South African Heavy Artillery Hands was eventually posted to the western front and was seconded, with his unit, to the Royal Garrison Artillery. This provided support and the required firepower to the Infantry and normally comprised of a four gun battery for each infantry division, which were normally clustered into formations known as Royal Garrison Artillery Brigades. On March 21st 1918 the Germans embarked upon a final attempt to land a decisive blow before significant numbers of American troops could arrive at the front. Despite initial success this spring offensive failed as the Germans were unable to consolidate their gains due to the fragmentary, if novel, method of their advances where they attacked in small units hitting command and logistical targets rather than more heavily defended areas which were avoided. Reginald Hands was at this time a Captain and second in command of his battery. Wounded in action defending the line he succumbed to his wounds on April 20th 1918.


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

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© D A Hunter, 2008
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