Friday, 6 March 2015

The Warren Brothers - a Family Legend

Season 1912-13 was a great one for Glasgow Academicals, crowned Scottish champions with 17 wins from their 19 championship matches. Two Warren brothers were in that team. Jack, at 24 the oldest of the five - a cultured and fearless centre -  was approaching his peak and starting to interest the Scotland selectors.  George, a year younger and known to all as `Pudge', played outside his brother on the wing. With a devastating turn of pace, he too was rapidly building his reputation. The mesmerising passages of interplay between these two were memorably described by one contemporary observer as `scientific shows'. Off the field, they were polar opposites in personality: Pudge known for his irrepressible bonhomie and sense of mischief; Jack the classic stong, silent type.

Meanwhile, nineteen year old Thomas (`Tam'), the middle brother, was a promising full-back, turning our regularly for the Academicals' 2nd XV in his first year out of school, and already pushing for promotion to the firsts. His place at full-back in the school team had been inherited by the next of the brothers, Alistair.

The celebrated Academy (and, later, Academicals) rugby coach, J C Scott, had great hopes for Alistair. Having nurtured all the brothers through the early years of their rugby careers, in clubroom chat he was often urged to judge their respective merits. Jack has courage and strength, he would say, while George has got speed, and the youngest, Ronald, can turn on a sixpence; but Alistair has all of these gifts. It was his firm opionion that Alistair would have a long Scotland career and most likely be with the British Lions on their next visit to the antipodes.
Legendary coach J.C.Scott

Jack was the first of the brothers to be capped for Scotland. On a grey February day in 1914 he made his debut in a closely contested match against Ireland at Landsdowne Road in Dublin. Ireland won by two tries to nil (6-0 by the scoring convention of the times.). Ironically, Jack played on the wing that day, winning his place against stiff competition from - amongst others -  Pudge.

The Scotland team v Ireland at Landsdowne Road 28 Feb 1914. J.R.Warren back row, 2nd from right.

Scotland and Ireland would not meet each other again until 1920. Jack returned from the Great War with the rank of Major and a Military Cross to his name - the ultimate expression of the courage he had earlier shown on the rugby field. He had been wounded three times and gassed three times, injuries that took a lifelong toll on his health and ended any thoughts of a return to rugby.

Only Ronald, the youngest (and smallest) of the five, and too young to see war service, was to play rugby after 1914. Alistair was killed in 1916, on the first day of the first battle of the Somme. Pudge and Tam survived the war, but were not to return to the game they loved. So was born a great family legend of what might have been. It had at one time seemed very likely that at least four of the brothers would have been capped by their country. But Ronald was the only one to follow in Jack's footsteps. Remarkably in view of his size his international career was to span nine seasons.

My memory of Ronald in his 80s is of a tiny man, barely more than five feet tall. Gentle and courteous, he lived a quiet life with his equally tiny wife, Jean, who fussed around him like a hyperactive sparrow in their large house in Glasgow's Jordanhill. But even in old age he showed signs of the fierce determination that had seen him achieve his goal of international rugby. An experienced and skilled yachtsman, in his 70s he had taken his yacht out of dry berth for one final trip with Jean  - to St.Kilda no less!

No doubt with age Ronald had shrunk in stature.  But I have one of his Scotland jerseys, which has a chest measurement of 36". In the Scottish borders he was affectionately known as `the wee reed yin' on account of his ruddy complexion and ginger hair; but he was also feared for his elusive running, which brought him many spectacular tries - unusually in those days, from full-back. It requires quite a feat of imagination, by comparison with the physicality of today's professional players, to conceive of quite such a small man having played international rugby.  The game has changed a great deal since the 1920s, and not all for the better I would suggest. I can remember matches at school and club level in the 70s and 80s that were greatly enlivened by diminutive players who were slippery and elusive - the `demented ferret up a wee drainpipe' in the lingo of Bill McLaren. In the 1920s there was still room for such players at international level; sadly not now. Even back then the selectors must have had their doubts - Ronald was capped twice in 1922 and - although remaining a stalwart of Glasgow Academicals during the most successful period in their  history - did not return for his three further caps until 1930.

Ronald is pictured here with the Scottish championship winning team of 1925-26.  In this season they won all 19 championship matches. The photo includes eight Scottish internationalists.

The only Warren rugby player of note in the next generation was my father, Alastair. He returned from another war to form part of a new Glasgow Academicals team, and played several seasons. A hooker, allegedly once rated as the third best in Scotland, he remains the family's only forward.

Oli, David and Michael Warren at Murrayfield on 28 February 2015. (Photo: Margaret Warren)

To more recent times, and the photo above shows three latter-day Warrens gathering at Murrayfield on 28 February 2015. Oli (great-grandson of Jack Warren) and my brother David (grandson of JRW) both enjoyed rugby success at school. As for me, I lacked the family rugby gene, but enjoyed a few seasons and a few beers with Dumfries 4th XV. I would have liked to have had something good to say about the 101st anniversary match itself;  circumstances dictate otherwise. But the fact that it took place 101 years to the day since Jack's Scotland cap provided sufficient excuse for celebration, and a grand weekend was enjoyed by all.

Michael Warren

Notes,Trivia and Speculation

  • On 28th February 1914 Scotland also played an international football match. The result was Scotland 0 Wales 0.
  • I have a copy of a letter sent in 1960 from my father, AK Warren, son of Jack Warren, to his grandfather, 100-year old John Alexander Warren (`Old John'). He signs the letter `Alistair', not `Alastair'. I can only assume this is in recognition of his having been named after his late uncle Alistair.
  • Jack Warren was invited to take part in a trial for England, on account of his English mother. He politely declined.
  • The only instance of four brothers representing Scotland at rugby were the four Nielson brothers (William, George, Walter and Robert) in the 1890s. William played for London Scottish, George and Robert for West of Scotland and Walter for Merchistonians.)
  • Current English internationalist Manu Tuilagi has four brothers who have been capped by Samoa, and a fifth who has represented Samoa at under-20 level.)  Yet another brother, Olotuli, while sharing the imposing physique of his rugby-playing siblings, is well-known as a cross-dresser in Samoa and likes to be known as `Julie'. 
  • Between seasons 1921-22 and 1925-26, Glasgow Academicals were Scottish rugby club champions four times. Their only lapse was 1922-23, when they came a dismal second. During this 5-year period they won 111 out of 123 matches.
  • Four members of that great Academicals team of the 1920s, J.C.Dykes, J.B.Nelson, W.M.Simmers and H.Waddell gained 88 caps between them. This was a prodigious total at a time when there were typically only 4 international matches per season. 
  • Ronald Warren was also known in his playing days as `turkey', probably on account both of his ruddy complexion and pronounced proboscis, a common Warren feature.
  • The Scotland team on 28 February 2015 included one Glasgow Academical, Johnnie Beattie. Johnnie's father, John, also played for Scotland and was no.8 for Glasgow Academy when T. David Warren was scrum-half.
  • Timothy David Warren has always been known as David in the family, but at school was mostly known as Tim. The reason for this was that when younger brother David started at the Academy, I was called to see the headmistress, Miss Mackintosh. I was asked what he was normally called at home - was it Timothy or David? I replied with youthful indifference, "It doesn't really matter what you call him." So he became Tim. I apologise.
  • Guy Warren, a third cousin of Michael and David Warren, emigrated to New Zealand as a young man, where he played rugby at a high level, including - it is believed - representing South Island.
  • Scotland's try on 28 February 2015 was the first for his country scored by a very promising young centre, Mark Bennett. Expect more to follow - he has been likened to a young Brian O'Driscoll. (Update: this prediction was proved correct sooner than I expected - Bennett scored Scotland's try in their next match, against England at Twickenham on 14 March.)
  • Thanks to Sue Hopkins, one of Jack's three grand-daughters, for finding this remarkably well-informed account of the Warren brothers. I am happy to acknowledge this as the source of some of what I have written.
  • Other sources include "The Glasgow Academy 1846-1946" by Professor C.A.Campbell (Blackie & Son Ltd, Glasgow, 1946) and unpublished essays of A.K.Warren
  • Edinburgh recommendations: characterful village inn within easy reach of the city; trams to get you to Murrayfield; good beer; good scottish food, including best venison ever; amazing range of malts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I trained as a Civil Engineer at Warren & Partners - senior partner Ronald C Warren (1968 - 73). He was a very private person. His only son, Sandy, worked with us for some time before going to Australia where he, unfortunately, died from a brain tumour. Ronnie was completely bald and quietly turned blue when angry - hence the turkey reference, I believe. Ross Dow