From The Vaults

27 January 2023
Remembering Allan Muhr

Muhr played in an unofficial match for the French XV against Bective Rangers, the Irish club side, at Parc des Princes in March 1905. He went on to play for France in their first three international Test matches. Their first Test was a defeat, 8-38, against the All Blacks on New Year's Day 1906.

France's second match was against England. Played at Parc des Princes in March 1906, the result was another loss, 8-35, but in the 54th minute Muhr became the first French player to score a try against the English team. In January the following year, England hosted France at Richmond. Again, Muhr scored the first French try of the day, contributing to a French fightback that levelled the scores at half time, though six second-half England tries led to a 41-13 victory for the hosts.

He also refereed rugby matches, including two French Championship Finals - both between Stade Bordelais and Stade Fran├žais - at Parc des Princes in April 1906 and at Bordeaux in March 1907.

Muhr was a multi-talented sportsman whose interests and abilities extended beyond the sphere of rugby. He played tennis in the French Championship and became France's Davis Cup captain in 1912. He also enjoyed amateur motor racing and he played at a Parisian football club. He even attempted to establish baseball in France and attended the founding Congress of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation.

In 1924, France hosted the Olympic Games and, along with Pierre de Coubertin, Muhr played a prominent role in organising the competition. Rugby union was still an Olympic event at this time and the final was contested by France and the USA, as it had been in 1920. A string of injuries, allegations of foul play and the police escort required by the victorious USA team may have been factors in rugby union's subsequent omission from the Olympic Games.

This was not the only hard-fought rugby match Muhr would have witnessed between his adopted homeland and the country of his birth. Of a match between the two countries at the Inter-Allied games in 1919, he is reported to have said that the on-field violence was "probably the best anyone could do without a knife or revolver".

When World War II broke out, Muhr was 57 years old, living in Paris with his wife, Madeleine, and their son, Philippe. Again, he volunteered as an ambulance driver, as did his son. During the German occupation of France, they took refuge in the village of Sayat in the Auvergne, where the occupying forces came to believe that they were assisting the French Resistance. Muhr and his son were arrested by the Nazis - Philippe was later released, but Allan was deported to Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, where he died of septicaemia on 29th December 1944.

repatriation

This watch, confiscated from Muhr when he was imprisoned, has been recently returned to his relatives in the USA through the repatriation programme of the Arolsen Archives, the International Center on Nazi Persecution. The family have kindly loaned it to the World Rugby Museum for display in our exhibition, Allez Les Bleus, where it represents the life of an extraordinary sportsman and provides a chilling reminder of a dark period in European history.