Lawrence Wright describes playing rugby in North Africa

Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Wright was a doctor in the Medical Corps. He left New Zealand for the Middle East on board the hospital ship Maunganui in August 1941. After a short time at Maadi Camp near Cairo, Lawrence was posted to 2nd (NZ) General Hospital at Helwan, before the hospital moved to Gerawla, near Mersa Matruh on the Mediterranean coast. At Gerawla he helped set up the hospital, but was also sports officer, responsible for making a rugby field.


Sports officer, that was another of my duties...We had a patch of ground there, sandy ground, and we enlisted the aid of a South African bulldozer driver who ran over the ground with his machine in exchange for two bottles of beer which of course was priceless in those days. He levelled it off then we had various working parties – voluntary – to pick the stones out. The biggest job was getting goalposts because there wasn't any wood in sight anywhere. So one morning ...I borrowed this truck and sent some of the boys off and said, 'Don't come back until you've found some rugby posts.' They returned later in the day with what I suspect was a telegraph pole-where they got it I haven't any idea and I wouldn't dare to ask in case we'd interfered with the total communications of 8th Army, although it wasn't 8th Army in those days. They split this pole up into four...and we erected the goal posts...

We were all set to play this game against the Transvaal Scottish, the South African team. Word of this spread rapidly through the Division which was at Baggush which was only about ten miles nearer Cairo than we the game was played...We had a great crowd up from Baggush and all the sisters turned out.... I can't remember the score ... but it was a good old-fashioned game. None of us very fit. Fortunately the chap who ran the water point – he wasn't a member of our unit but he was attached to us for rations and quarters – and he was a very good forward. He made some stirring runs and we were trailing along in his wake because we weren't fit enough to keep up with him.... It was quite pleasant tackling, I remember, because the sand was soft.... It's the only time I've ever played against the South Africans.

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