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The 36th Battalion: a record of service of the 36th Battalion with the Third Division in the Pacific

I — Rugby Football

Rugby Football

Rugby found many supporters in the battalion, and featured prominently in our life, wherever circumstances permitted. I am sure that some of the matches played will long be remembered. Though some of the grounds on which we played were far from good, who will forget those two wonderful grounds at Suva—Albert Park and Nasova Field? These two were indeed better than most New Zealand fields.

From March 1942 to August 1943, football was played almost continuously, inter-company competitions on Wednesday afternoons and inter-units contests on Saturday afternoon. Company teams were fairly evenly matched, so that one was always certain of a keen and vigorously contested game.

In the inter-unit contest the battalion fifteen, though unable to claim an unbeaten record, did play football of a consistently high standard. The selection of the first team was no easy matter, and though there were many subsequent changes, it is interesting to note that many who played in the first game still represented the battalion in the last game, that memorable match against the 29th Battalion in New Caledonia.

On 3 March 1942, the battalion scored a win in its first inter-unit game. From then on the standard of play improved, and continued to do so until our move from Fiji, and toward the end of the season we were able to field a team that played rugby of New Zealand page 92inter-provincial standard. Though the inter-unit competition was not completed before our departure, we were in a favourable position, and might possibly have emerged the winners.

Games that will long be remembered are the two matches played at Albert Park against a fifteen from HMS Leander. Here football was seen at its best. The pack, led by W. E. Thompson, played an outstanding game and more than held their own against the heavier Leander forwards. The backs handled well and took advantage of every opening—the result of the training and coaching provided by Jim Dempsey, ex-league player and undoubtedly the best back who has ever played in our fifteen. At this stage the battalion was field-ing a back line which functioned as well as at any time in its history.

Here are the results of the games played in Fiji:—
v. Div. HQWon 13-9
v. 34th BnWon 6-3
v. RoversWon 19-8
V. S/L BtyLost 5-6
v. 52nd BtyWon 18-15
v. Bde. UnitsWon 8-0
v. "HMS Leander"Won 6-3
v. 2nd FDFLost 4-5
v. 34th BnWon 9-8
v. S/L BtyWon 21-0
v. RoveraLost 5-6
v. "HMS Leander"Won 12-3
v. "HMS Leander"Won 11-9

On Norfolk Island the position of rugby as the leading sport was seriously challenged, and inter-company football created more interest than inter-unit, because of the lack of opposition caused through the smallness of the force.

Teams playing on their own grounds usually won the matches because of their greater knowledge of the many irregularities of the fields. Anson Bay Field—B company's home ground—was almost completely covered by a thick mat of buffalo grass, and for some considerable time only B company knew of the less thinly covered areas where running was possible! Nobbs' paddock—the home ground of C company—had such an uneven ground that, until visiting teams learned its tricks, they were inevitably beaten. At the ground shared by HQ and D (S) companies, Bailey's paddock, visiting wing three-quarters soon found that the easiest path to the goal line was down the centre of the field, and not down the side lines. Inter-unit matches, though not of a high standard, were played regularly, and the battalion fifteen maintained leadership without a great deal of effort, and was able to claim an undefeated record. We were fortunate here in having R. W. Nieper, ex-Southland and Otago rep., a versatile player capable of filling a place in the forwards or page 93the backs equally well, whose knowledge of football proved invalu-able in the training of the fifteen.

In New Caledonia inter-company football showed a consistent improvement, with a greater number playing rugby, with the result that both companies and battalion were able to field A and B teams. Inter-unit contests commenced soon after our arrival. Two rounds of the competition were played, and in both rounds the battalion fifteen finished second.

The matches which created the greatest interest were the two against the 29th Battalion, the winners of the championship. The first game drew a large crowd, as the result would settle a controversy as to the better team which had begun in Fiji. Both teams were fit, and, as had been anticipated, the game was a fine exhibition of football. Highlights of the game were the sweeping rushes of the battalion pack, and the breakaways of Eastwood, the 29th's speedy wing three-quarter.

The second match drew an even larger crowd as a win would have placed us as leaders in the competition. It was without doubt the best game the battalion fifteen ever played. The two teams were as follows:—

29th Battalion.—Burke, McKenzie, Swinburne, Barlow, Gillespie, Conder, Waugh, Wright, Campbell, Meadows, Jordan, McDonald, Thurston, Bolt.

36th Battalion.—Thompson, Duncan, Werner, Forsyth, John-stone, Chilcott, Armstrong, Lister, Baynes, Glen, Chilton, Quinn, Blackmore, Nieper.

Here is a description written by the battalion reporter at the game:

'From the outset of the game the 36th proved the superior forward team and realised it. They kept the ball among themselves to stage spectacular dribbling and passing rushes. However, they were competing against Barlow who was having a field day as far as penalties were concerned. Through the entire game the 29th did not once cross the 36th line. In. the early stages 36th. Battalion forwards were all working with sting and determination, and led a rush on to the 29th line, the ball passing through several hands to Thompson who scored. Wagner converted. Later Barlow kicked two penalties for the 29th and also kicked a field goal, giving the 29th a lead of 10-5 at half-time.

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'Again, in the second half, the 36th forwards displayed even greater initiative and determination, leading rush after rush on the 2.9th line, some almost three parts of the length of the field, sweeping ball and all before them. From two such positions Duncan scored, and immediately after Nieper went over. Neither kick succeeded. Lister attempted a drop-kick, but did not get time for careful aim. From a penalty a considerable way out Barlow again converted for the 29th. The 36th forwards lost none of their dash, despite the heat and hard play, keeping the ball in the 29th quarter for the rest of the game.'

These are the results of the games played in New Caledonia:—
v. 34th BnWon 6-3
v. 7th Fd. AmbWon 14-0
v. 37th BtyWon 16-0
v. 29th BnLost 17-9
v. Bde HQWon 8-3
v. 4th RMTWon 14-8
v. 34th BnWon 8-0
v. 7th Fd AmbWon 20-10
v. 4th RMTWon 10-0
v. 29th BnLost 13-11