By Phil Westren, Cornish Pirates’ media officer
The visit made to Cornwall by the 1947-48 ‘Wallabies’ has often been highlighted, and over the years a number of players in that particular tour party have also on occasions revisited a place where there were happy memories to recall.
Ahead of their 1947-48 tour of Great Britain, Ireland, France, Canada and the USA, the Wallabies based themselves in Penzance from 27th August – 15th September 1947. Their captain was Bill McLean, Trevor Allan was the vice-skipper, and a star winger was one C.C. Eastes, who was known as ‘Chuck’.
Chuck’s son John and grandson Darren are presently in the United Kingdom to support Australia in the Rugby World Cup, and taking time out to head to Cornwall they called by the Pirates ‘Westholme’ clubhouse, just out of interest, to see where Chuck trained back in 1947.
Club archivist Phil Westren and Zoe Leray were delighted to welcome the Australian pair, who had arrived unannounced and were on a sportingly-hidden high following Australia’s convincing win against England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Surveying the Mennaye Field ground and then the clubhouse John and Darren were taken aback to see how much information there was on file in relation to the 1947-48 tour, including a wonderful photo of wing Chuck, seen in full flight at Camborne, when he starred for the Wallabies in their 17-7 points victory against Cornwall & Devon.
Looking back to that 1947-48 tour there is so much to recall with reference to tourists whose journey to our shores took a little over five weeks aboard P&O’s “Orion”, arriving in London on Sunday 24 August, and then Penzance by the Wednesday, where they were to stay for nearly three weeks to finalise their preparation. It was with great pleasure that the Borough welcomed the tour party to the Duchy, there being a very close connection between Cornwall and Australia. In an official statement, Mayor Trezise, Barrie Bennetts and Mavis Lawry wrote that thousands of our tin miners went out to try their luck, and to settle in the mining districts of Ballarat, Bendigo, Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill, and took with them their love of rugby football. Large numbers of Cornishmen had also been honoured to serve alongside Australia’s splendid troops in Gallipoli, Tobruk and countless other theatres of service. The statement also mentioned that Cornwall would be unable to entertain the visitors “as we would like to”, it a time when virtually all food rations were cut, our islands still recovering from six years of war. However, the tour party were comfortably housed in the Marine Hotel (now ‘The Lugger’), the comment also made that that the food and hospitality were first class!
Extracts from Australian papers record that the Pirates arranged a wide range of entertainment to host the ‘Wallabies’, and lifelong friendships were forged. Swimming, golf, sailing, bowling, squash, cricket and billiard facilities were placed at their disposal, with the tourists also admitted free to cinemas, dance halls and theatres.
When training at the Mennaye Field each morning, there was a live Wallaby named ‘Digger’ (lent by London Zoo at the Pirates’ request) that was housed alongside the ground, and which on one occasion mysteriously escaped – helping fitness levels to be upped when it was apparently chased all over Penzance!
The Wallabies first game was played at the Recreation Ground, Camborne, on 13 September 1947, against a combined Cornwall & Devon team that had been selected by a joint committee of the two county unions under the chairmanship of Barrie Bennetts, a try-scorer in Cornwall’s historic first County Championship Final win against Durham in 1908, and who was also capped twice by England in 1909.
There were reckoned to be in excess of 20,000 people crammed in the ‘Rec’ when the teak-like flanker Bill McLean led his team out to face the combined counties side skippered by Redruth’s Les Semmens. The Wallabies were well held by the westcountry forwards on the day but the speed and sureness of their backs gave them an ultimately deserved 17-7 points victory.
A Wallabies tour that started at Camborne would end over five months later with a game against the University of Stanford, at Palo Alto, California. The overall playing record was P 41, W 35, L 6, For 712, Against 276.
Of interest, as a ‘Thank You’ from the Aussies for the wonderful time they were given during their three weeks’ stay in Cornwall, they presented the Pirates with Digger’s stuffed equivalent, ‘Walter’, which still holds a place of honour in the ‘Westholme’ clubhouse in Alexandra Road. If you haven’t met him yet, then call by sometime, and introduce yourself – John and Darren did!
Back to Chuck, he was unfortunately injured after playing just eight matches on the tour, and his loss was described as a ‘tragedy’, because everyone who played against him or saw him play commented on his skill and fitness, as surely one of the best three-quarters of all time.
Chuck served in the RAAF, and besides representing Australia played for the Manly club and for New South Wales. Unanimously elected the first President of the Sydney RUC, other honours included being President of NSWRU, a Vice President of the Australian RFU, and Manager of the Wallabies side that toured South Africa in 1969. He was a recipient of the Queen’s ‘Silver Jubilee’ Award, and was also, in 1977, made an MBE.
Having passed away back in 1995, aged 70, Chuck was inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame in 2013. That was a proud occasion for the Eastes family, including his wife Anne who is still alive and is the only surviving lady Life Member of the ARU.
As for son John, like his dad he too is a former Manly player, who also had a spell playing for Harlequins in the early 1970s. Contacting the Pirates following his visit, John commented:
“Thanks for the hospitality extended to me and Darren. It was fabulous to be shown around your great, and proud club, and I can’t believe there are such extensive records from a tour that took place so long ago.”
“Our visit provided a truly memorable experience. No wonder dad spoke so highly of his time in Cornwall and the hospitality that was extended to him and his fellow Wallabies.”