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Arthur Wilson

Arthur James Wilson was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on December 29th 1886 the son of Henry and Emily Wilson. After attending the Glenalmond School Wilson, not uncommonly for a young man from that area, decided to become a mining engineer, a decision that would take him to the South West of England as he entered the Camborne School of Mines to begin his professional education. Although at times he was to play for Northern, most of his rugby talents were lavished on his new home in Cornwall .  Whilst there he would play for Camborne, Camborne School of Mines and Camborne Students. It was also not long before Cornwall itself looked to his services, a county for whom he would eventually be capped seventeen times in all.

It was whilst in Cornwall ís colours that some of Wilson ís most memorable matches occurred. Cornwall ís 1908 County Championship campaign culminated in their reaching the final for the first time in the counties history. Their opponents on the day came from close to Wilson ís North Eastern roots as Durham continued an impressive run of form in the championship during what was to be their ninth consecutive appearance in the final. The match itself was played on March 28th 1908 at Redruth, Cornwall at least having the benefit of a home fixture if not enjoying the pedigree of their opponents. A good crowd of seventeen thousand turned out to watch the game that was held on a fine spring day.

During the first half of the game the Durham forwards were able to hold their own against their Cornish counterparts, but their backs were playing far below their usual standards, passing poorly and letting many scoring opportunities go to waste. In contrast the Cornish backline were playing well and took every opportunity offered to them, even whilst playing behind a pack that were unable to provide much in the way of clean ball and indeed both of the Cornish tries in the first half were due to the clever interplay that the Cornish backs managed to manufacture. With the change of ends, and with Cornwall now having the advantage of a gentle slope on the pitch their forward play improved. From this point on there was very little remaining doubt as to who would take the title, with Cornwall eventually romping home by seventeen points to three.

1908 also saw the Olympic Games held in London . Rugby Union was hardly to be the gala event at the games to the point that even New Zealand and South Africa had declined to field sides for the event. With bickering going on between the home unions as to the composition of a Great Britain team, and whilst also not wishing to disrupt the domestic international season, the event ran the very real risk of descending into farce as the holders of the Gold medal, France, withdrew at the last moment leaving the very real possibility that the Australians would claim the Gold by default. To avoid this, and possibly with an eye on Englandís own international season, the Rugby Football Union approached Cornwall as the incumbent County champions but at the same time not overly endowed with current international players, to take on the challenge. Ironically enough this offer was made the day after they had lost to the touring Australians at Camborne by five points to eighteen.

With little real prospect of success Cornwall accepted the challenge and with Wilson in the side travelled to London and the waiting Australians with an almost party atmosphere, stopping in Plymouth on their way and taking a tour of London on the morning of the match. They were also to dine with the Cornish members of the House of Commons after the final had been played. It was almost, perhaps, with some air of inevitability that they arrived on October 26th at an almost empty White City stadium on a dark, miserable afternoon for the Olympic Final. Conditions were far from ideal, not least due to the swimming pool that ran down one side of the pitch and inevitably acted as a sort of magnet for the match ball which frequently required fishing out. The game itself was as one sided as may have been feared as the Cornish side failed to find their stride against the dominant Australians. Despite some good rushes by their forwards the Cornwall backs were generally lethargic and handled the ball badly, making mistakes that their opposition were all to happy to capitalise on as they cantered to an easy thirty two points to three victory and the Olympic Gold.

Despite the disappointment of the Olympic final there was one prize that Arthur Wilson was to be awarded the following season that had thus far eluded him in the form of an international cap. Picked to play for England on February 13th 1909 against Ireland at Lansdowne Road this was to be Wilson ís only international recognition during a fast match played in ideal conditions. Ireland had the better of the game, at least territorially, and such was the strength of their pack for the first twenty five minutes that their victory seemed assured. With England defending poorly it was only the equally dismal form of the Irish backs that kept the visitors in the game. With the start of the second half Wilson and his fellow forwards at last settled into their task and gained ascendancy at the set piece, keeping Ireland on the back foot for much of the rest of the game and allowing England to sneak a not particularly accomplished or well deserved win at Lansdowne Road, their first there since 1895, by eleven points to five.

With his studies at Camborne completed Arthur Wilson travelled the world, working as a mining engineer in South Africa and a tea planter in India before returning home to do his bit for King and Country and enlisting in the Royal Fusiliers as a Private during World War One. He met his fate in Flanders on July 3rd 1917 as the third battle of Ypres , more commonly known as Passchendaele, raged. Strategically the battle was supposed to serve several purposes. If successful it would cause major German casualties and hinder both their Submarine and air campaigns against the allied forces. In any case it would tie up enough German troops to prevent their exploitation of severe French moral problems in other sectors. So was the plan. In reality despite several massive attacks the allied forces never managed to gain much advantage as they struggled through the mud. Despite this the damage caused to the German forces meant that it could be claimed as a victory of sorts, but one that came at the cost of Arthur Wilson and almost countless thousands of his comrades in arms.


"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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