From The Vaults

03 January 2022
#FromTheVaults – Australia Jersey, 1947-48

In 1947, the Australian rugby union team embarked on a nine-month tour to Britain, Ireland, France and North America. This jersey was worn on that tour - it bears the squad number of the New South Wales fly-half, Neville Emery.

The 1947-48 tour was the Australian team's first visit to Britain since the ill-fated tour of 1939 when the team had arrived at Plymouth the day before Britain's declaration of war on Germany - all the matches were cancelled and the Wallabies boarded their ship back to Australia two weeks after they had arrived. Among those players was flanker Bill McLean who, having seen action in Borneo during the war, returned to Britain as Australia's tour captain in 1947. The tour included five Test matches - against Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England and France.

The sixth match of the tour, against a Combined Services team, was held at Twickenham. In 1939, McLean had seen the stadium filled with Air Raid Precautions equipment; this match would be his first opportunity to play rugby on the Twickenham pitch. However, in a cruel twist of fate, a serious leg break during the game ended his participation in the tour. The captaincy passed to centre Trevor Allan, who had just turned 21. He led the team in all five Tests and they achieved wins over Scotland, Ireland and England. The Australian try-line was uncrossed by any of the Home Nations.

The Australian team had first worn green jerseys in 1929, but wore a darker green colour for the 1947 tour. It was not until 1961 that they first wore gold jerseys to avoid a colour clash when they played against South Africa. Originally, the collar would have been white, but the green dye has run causing the fabric of the collar and parts of the Australian coat of arms to appear yellow. On the reverse of the jersey is the faint trace of number 11. This was the squad number of fly-half Neville Emery who played in all five Tests.

During the war, Emery had served in the Royal Australian Air Force, stationed in England with 467 Lancaster Bomber Squadron. He became vice-captain of the RAAF rugby team which toured England, Scotland and France at the end of the war. Emery was selected to play for Australia ten times between 1947 and 1949. His jersey is a recent donation from the family of England flanker Micky Steele-Bodger, who played against the Wallabies during their tour and probably swapped jerseys with Emery after one of the matches.

Following their final Test against France, Australia faced the Barbarians at Cardiff Arms Park as a fundraiser for their homeward journey via Canada. They were the first international team to play the Barbarians and it became a long-running tradition that visiting southern-hemisphere sides would play the invitational team at the end of their tour. The Barbarians won 9-6 and following the match Australia's injured tour captain Bill McLean was awarded honorary membership of the Barbarian Football Club. He responded: 'It is an honour that rugby men all over the world try to achieve and I am very proud of it'.