Sunday, 7 August 2011

Charlie's Last Test (2011)

He’d overcome everything life had thrown at him. In fact he was used to it by now; but it never weakened his resolve or passion for his country. Nor did it dampen his desire to be the best.

Growing up, he was always a big lad; it was almost a natural progression that he’d end up playing Rugby. Like many Rugby players of his generation, he was an avid boxer. However he soon realised he was more than an aficionado, he was genuinely gifted.

He progressed seamlessly through the amateur boxing ranks to attain the New Zealand Amateur Heavyweight Championship. It was of no surprise that he was regarded as one of his generation’s best prop forwards in Rugby.

However, one fateful day in 1910, he was alleged to have kicked an opponent in a maul. The prefects running the game looked down on this behaviour sternly and subsequently suspended him from the game for two years.

Never one to give up, he crossed codes to the new professional game; Northern Union. Within a year of plying his trade in the 13 man game he was invited by the Australian Rugby League to join them on their upcoming tour to England, at the end of the 1911 season. He happily accepted.

Charlie Savory wasn’t the only Kiwi touring England with the Australian Kangaroo’s. He was joined by fellow forwards Arthur ‘Boller’ Francis and George Gillett, and by halfback Frank Woodward.

On the tour Savory was a delight, widely praised for his singing ability as much as his rugged, no-nonsense, tough play on the field.

Upon returning home from the tour, Savory became a leading prop forward in the New Zealand local competitions. But his constant run-ins with the judiciary tainted his reputation, so much so that he was mistakenly identified as kicking an opponent in a game in 1912. The Auckland Rugby League promptly banned him from the game for life; however he was granted an appeal by the New Zealand Rugby League and was exonerated.

Still, he forged on. In 1914 he made his test debut for his beloved New Zealand against England. The Kiwis lost 16-13, running out of time as they fought their way back from an 11-3 deficit at half-time.

But his toughest test was just around the corner.

Again, playing against a crafty opponent on their home ground, he knew once again he would have to lead the way for his team mates, as he had done in every contest prior.

The journey to the fateful battle was slow and cumbersome. It was cold and wet. The sky was bleak. Even Mother Nature was against them.

He’d been here many times before. He wasn’t about to let it get the better of him now.

He looked at his team; they were all silent, committed, ready for action. He’d never seen the boys so intense, so focussed. He knew they’d be giving their all. He couldn’t give any less himself either.

The journey ended and they all disembarked their taxi and made way for the field.

The damp footing grabbed his attention first; things couldn’t get any worse surely.

He looked ahead with a grim determination, preparing himself for another bruising encounter. In what seemed like no time at all, it was game on.

He could hear the cheering, jeering and buzzing atmosphere all around that broke an almost eerie silence which had encapsulated them all just moments ago.

Unnervingly, he put his hand up to lead the way, his prized possession right now, sitting firmly in his hands as he charged forward at great speed. His large muscular solid frame intent on causing some hurt.

Then the defence hit him from out of nowhere. He didn’t feel the pain at first, just the oxygen being sucked from his lungs.

He kept trying to run but his feet felt stuck in the heavy earth. Then they hit him once more, bringing him down.

Never before had he been dominated so easily in a physical encounter, these were truly worthy adversaries.

He rolled onto his back, his mind willing him to stand up.

He rose to his knees, slowly regaining his feet. Then the pain began rapidly infecting his body. As he clutched at the pain in his chest and looked down at his bloodied hands, he was shot again, for the last time, in the head.

Lance Corporal Charles Savory died at Gallipoli that day, May 8, 1915.

Lest We Forget

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