From The Vaults

20 September 2021
DD and RA Howie – Scottish brothers from Kirkcaldy

On January 20th 1912, the first player to be capped from the Kirkcaldy rugby club in Fife took the field at Inverleith for the first of Scotland's four matches in the 1912 International championship.

The Kirkcaldy club was founded in 1873 and initially joined the Scottish Football Union in 1885. After their ground had been taken over for other activities, the club re-joined the SFU in 1894 and went on to win the North of Scotland Cup three times in five years at the turn of the century.

David Dickie Howie was born in May 1889 and educated at Kirkcaldy High School where, in addition to being a forward in the School XV for three years, he showed exceptional athletic prowess in winning the elite Nairn Cup as the school's champion athlete for 1903. Following his schooling, he became a farmer on the family holding at the Grange, near Kirkcaldy and played rugby for his local club.

Kirkaldy was not one of the fashionable Scottish clubs so it was difficult for its players to attract the attention of the national selectors. An early indication of David Howie's potential was shown when he was picked to play for the Scottish Provinces against the Anglo-Scots in December 1909 and for the North of Scotland against the South in the 1910-11 season. His rise to international recognition continued when he played for the Whites in the final trial at Inverleith in January 1912. Although the Glasgow Herald was somewhat disparaging about his play, stating that he was "little in evidence and did nothing to prove his quality", the selectors fortunately disagreed and picked Howie as one of eight new caps, four of them in the forwards, to face France at Inverleith.

David Howie was to win seven consecutive caps over the next two seasons as a rugged and dependable forward, following his very successful debut in front of 16,000 spectators in the 31-3 victory over France. His appearances included the 16-0 defeat by the touring South Africans in November 1912 but he was dropped during the 1912-13 Championship after a home 0-8 defeat against Wales.

On the Monday after the Welsh match, the Scottish Referee gave a glowing testimonial to Howie's performance:

"Perhaps the best of a disappointing lot was the Kirkcaldy representative, Howie. He never flinched, stuck to his guns like a hero, and was never far away when wanted."

However, the selectors were not impressed with the overall Scottish performance and made five changes for the match against Ireland. The Dundee Courier was particularly scathing at Howie's omission from the Scotland team and asserted:

"The only change that will occasion any surprise is the dropping of Howie, the Kirkcaldy forward, and the only representative of the North in the side. Howie has all along been regarded as one of the finest forwards in the kingdom, and his invariable fitness to stay a hard game has often been commented on."

As it turned out, Scotland beat Ireland convincingly without Howie who was unable to regain his place in the national side the following season due to injury.

There were to be no further opportunities for him on the rugby field as he enlisted in September 1914 in the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry at Kirkcaldy. After being commissioned in the Highland Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), he trained in England before embarking for Egypt in August 1915. Posted to Turkey, he caught pneumonia during the evacuation of troops from the Gallipoli peninsula and was admitted to the Anglo-American Hospital in Cairo. Very ill and suffering from delusions, David Howie died on 19 January 1916 of 'self-inflicted revolver wounds, whilst temporarily of unsound mind, due to the delirium of pneumonia'.

David Howie's brother, Robert, was born nine years after his brother in June 1898 and was to be one of Scotland's longest-living internationalists. He too served in the Highland Brigade of the RFA near the end of World War One and on his return in 1919 resumed his life as a farmer and his rugby playing career as a forward for Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh University alongside the great winger Eric Liddell.

He played for the North of Scotland against the South in the 1922-23 and 1923-24 seasons and was then chosen in the Scotland side to play the Rest in December 1923. A thumping 33-0 victory for the Scotland side in the trial ensured that Bob Howie would win his first cap in Paris on 1 January 1924 in a match played at the Stade Pershing because Stade Colombes was flooded.

This was to be a wonderful season for him. After taking part in all four internationals in which Scotland won two of their matches, Bob Howie was chosen to tour South Africa with the British Isles team. It was a tour in which many players suffered injuries but Howie was described as having come through the tour "unscathed". One of only two players to play in 15 matches on tour including all four test matches, the other being the Scottish forward Neil Macpherson, he scored his only try in the match against Border in East London.

Although he was not chosen against France for the first international of the 1924-25 season, he was recalled to play a significant role in the remaining three matches of a campaign which led to Scotland's first ever Grand Slam. No trials could be played in Scotland before the 1926 Championship matches due to appalling weather and Bob Howie was not selected to play in the opening match against France in January.

After seven matches for Scotland, his representative rugby career was over. His subsequent involvement in Scottish rugby included serving on the Scottish Rugby Union from 1929 to 1931 and being President of the Kirkcaldy Rugby Club. He was also one of five survivors from the 1925 Scottish team who lived to experience Scotland's second Grand Slam in 1984. He died in May 1992, one month short of his 94th birthday.


  • Into Touch - Nigel McCrery (Pen & Sword Books Limited 2014)
  • Lions in Africa - Schoeman & McLennan (Flyleaf Publishing, Somerset West 2021)
  • Midlands First and Latest - John Methven (HB Rutherford, Scotland 1989)
  • Rugby Football Internationals Roll of Honour - EHD Sewell (TC and EC Jack Ltd, London 1919)
  • Scottish Rugby - Kenneth R Bogle (Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh 2013)

About the Author - A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005 and is the co-author of the RFU's 150th anniversary book 'England Rugby 150 Years'.