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Lyrics record just how ‘invincible’ they were!

In the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection is a sheet of music titled, the “All Blacks”, dedicated to the British Isles tour of 1924 – 1925. The music was composed by Roy Spackman, with lyrics by R.R. Woodcock and according to the title page, sung by Australia’s songbird Gladys Moncrieff.

The sheet music, salvaged from the ceiling in the old AARD Motor Service Ltd office on Station Street, Napier, shows the ravages of time. For a long period it had lain on the floor, gathering dust, subjected to climatic extremes and the misfortune of a leaking roof. Consequently, when gifted by Anona Montgomery, daughter of R.R. Woodcock, it was badly stained, dirty, torn at the corners and along the spine.

For all its signs of being undervalued through lack of care, this sheet of music is a significant piece of historical ephemera connecting the New Zealand All Blacks to Hawke’s Bay and strangely enough to rugby arch rivals, Australia.

Lyricist, Mr Woodcock along with Ben Anderson was instrumental in forming AARD Motor Services Ltd, a Napier transport firm in 1917. Woodcock became one of the company’s major tour drivers, one of his main assignments being to take visiting artists, such as Gladys Moncrieff, to various towns throughout Aotearoa New Zealand for stage performances.

Composer, Roy Spackman was born in Napier, 1887 and grew to prominence as music master at Napier Boys High School and organist at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church. He also became well known for his many musical compositions. Later in his career he was appointed as organist at Knox Church, Dunedin and music master at both Otago Boys and Otago Girls High School.

Gladys Moncrieff, Australia’s beloved 1920s songbird, was so successful in musical theatre and recordings that she was known as ‘Australia’s Queen of Song’ and ‘Our Glad’. Contemporary critics wrote of the purity, richness, power and wide range of her voice, her conviction of style and her clear enunciation.

It would have been during her 1918-1919 tour of New Zealand that Woodcock had the privilege of driving Gladys to her many performances and through this connection they became firm friends. With his encouragement, she agreed to perform the song during her many concerts throughout Aotearoa as well as in Australia.

The music and lyrics commemorate the September 1924 – February 1925 New Zealand rugby union tour of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Canada. The team, nicknamed ‘the Invincibles’ was, according to George Tyler, before they left for England in July 1924 on board the SS Remeura, the weakest New Zealand had fielded. George’s opinion, although erroneous, provided some gravitas as he was a national hero having represented the All Blacks as hooker during 1903–1906.

Prior to the United Kingdom trip the All Blacks toured New South Wales – the 11th tour by the New Zealand National Rugby Union team to Australia. The photograph on the front cover of the music sheet was taken in Wellington by Crown Studios on their return. Captain of the side was C Badeley (second from left in front). Next to him is Mr SS Dean (manager) and then follows J Richardson (vice-captain). When the team headed to England there was a change in captaincy to Cliff Porter although, due to injury, he only played 17 of the 32 games which included one test match (against France). During the remaining games, the team’s vice-captain Johnstone Richardson (Jock) took over the captaincy.

The team numbered among its top players George Nēpia, (who played in all 32 tour matches), Bert Cooke and brothers’ Cyril and Maurice Brownlie. Of interest was, that during the test against England, the first player ever to be sent off during a test match transpired when Cyril Brownlie was sent off by the Welsh referee Albert Freethy.

During the tour, the Invincibles played 32 games including four test matches, one each against Ireland, England, Wales and France, and were successful in winning every game scoring 838 points in total, with a paltry 116 in total scored against them.

The lyrics and music were written after the team returned. The two verses and chorus read:

“When you left New Zealand’s shore, for old England so far o’er the sea,

As the ship left the quay, and we bade au revoir, we wished you victory.

You had a name to uphold for us all, and we waited to see how you’d fare,

When you won every match, how proud we were, of the way you played over there.

All Blacks!  All Blacks! From New Zealand’s sunny shore,

All Blacks!  All Blacks! Nineteen twenty four!

You have reached the height of fame, how we cheered each score,

Honour to each one of you, All Blacks, twenty-four.

When you reached old England’s shore, then we waited to see how you’d fare.

Folks talked little else, it was, who won the match, we trusted you over there.

We knew you had some tough games in store, there was something to wipe off the slate,

And your actions on field and off were the same, we are very pleased to relate.”

When the team returned to Aotearoa they were enthusiastically greeted by thousands of Kiwis, being touted as the best All Black team of all time. In Aotearoa rugby annuals, Invincible the 1924 team were and Invincible they remain to this day.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper on 26 November 2022 and written by Gail Pope, Social History Curator at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Image credit: Sheet music “All Blacks”, 1924-1925 [31703]

28 November 2022

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