Gallaher's great legacy brought home at last
“The thing that really drew me in is Dave’s legacy. He was a man of real loyalty and I think he had a great sense of fairness. His upbringing was fairly tough and later in life he was quite concerned with the welfare of orphans. He was involved in a group in Auckland that helped orphan boys and he was concerned about their welfare.
“He wanted boys to stay interested in football and spoke to the rugby union about having tours for schoolboy teams. So it is entirely appropriate and he would love to see the growth of the game in the area where he was born.”
There is a cinematic element to Gallaher’s life. He was just five when his family left for New Zealand on board the Lady Jocelyn, presumably shedding the common second “g” in the surname at the arrival port and settling into a typically tough emigrant upbringing. He recovered from a physically frail childhood and began to excel at sport and soon became a key figure, first in Auckland and then in New Zealand rugby. But he also earned commendations for fighting with the national army in the Boer War.
His All-Blacks career lasted just three years, 1903-1906 and, at 6ft and 13 stone, he played both at prop and wing forward. But it was his captaincy of the Originals team which toured in 1905 which distinguished him. His subsequent death at Passchendaele then elevated him into a mythological figure. Just seven years after his death, the 1924 Invincibles team took time to visit his grave. The next official All-Blacks visit was not until 2000 but in the meantime, Gallaher’s grave became the most visited in the Nine Elms cemetery where he lived.
“Anton Oliver made a presentation to the team one year when they were in France talking about Dave,” Elliot explains. “And in 1905, that was the first time a New Zealand team travelled to this part of the world and the first time an All-Blacks captain was seen. It was important in terms of influencing how New Zealand was perceived and how they played the game. Dave was a Boer War veteran and knew what it was to take these men to the other side of the world and go about their business for a few months. He really was the man to lead that team and the success and the way he led the team we still see the influences of that now.”
When Elliot was researching Gallaher’s life, he discovered that his deportment in the war shed almost as much light on his character as his exploits on the rugby field. “He was killed just before the real horror of Passchendaele on October 12th. He was killed on the morning of the fourth leading a group over the top when a shell came in. He was buried by the Ypres Menin Road initially before being moved to where he is now at Nine Elms.
“The one thing I found out through the men in his platoon – you look down the list of who these guys were and their ages and occupations and you can see that they very much would have respected Dave. By all accounts, he looked after them and was concerned about their welfare.
“He never played at being top brass. He was a famous All-Blacks captain but they were in the trenches together. He was 43 then. He didn’t have to go. . . He was exempt – married with a child – but he had this loyalty and he saw a lot of guys he had coached going to war and heard reports of All-Blacks or Ponsonby players losing their lives. And I think he might have found it quite hard just to sit on the sidelines.”