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New Zealand Rugby remembers Messines

New Zealand Rugby     08 Jun 2017    

New Zealand Rugby is remembering the Battle as part of our ongoing recognition of WW100 milestones.

The Battle was one of the most significant for New Zealanders on the Western Front, with the New Zealand Division – supported by British and Australian divisions – playing an extensive strategic role. By the time the New Zealand Division was relieved on 9 June, there had been 3700 casualties, including 700 dead, with All Blacks Jim Baird and George Sellars amongst those killed.

In 1913 when they both made their All Blacks debuts, Baird was a teenage centre from Otago while Sellars was a more-experienced hooker from Auckland, who already had campaigns with the Maori All Blacks to his credit. They didn’t get to play together but their selection and their service illustrate the ability of rugby to bring people together from different backgrounds and the contribution that the whole of New Zealand made to the war effort.

Jim Baird

James Alexander Steenson Baird, better known as Jim, made his All Blacks debut after just two first class matches for Otago, with his rugby career cut short by injury and war.

Baird was born in Dunedin in December 1893. He attended Caversham School and played for the Zingari-Richmond club, entering senior rugby at 18 years of age. Baird worked at the Otago Chain Company as a machinist.

In 1913, he was called up to replace the injured Eric Cockcroft for the Test against Australia at Carisbrook. He was retained by the selectors for the next Test but was unable to play due to injury. He missed the 1914 season due to illness and following the then-NZRFU’s decision to cancel provincial matches did not play again at the first class level.

After enlisting in June 1916 and shipping out with D Company of the Otago Infantry Battalion, Jim Baird joined the Otago Regiment as a private in March 1917. He died of wounds received at Messines. He was 23 years old.

George Sellars

George Maurice Victor Sellars was one of the toughest front row forwards to play the game in New Zealand, and one of the finest - reports of his death have him carrying a wounded comrade to safety when he was killed in Messines.

Sellars was born in Auckland in April 1886. He attended Napier St School in Auckland, becoming a shipwright upon leaving school. He was a first-choice selection for Auckland from 1909, having played for the Ponsonby seniors since 1906.

In 1910, Sellars was selected to be part of the first Maori All Blacks side. He toured Australia with the team and played four matches on tour. He played again for the Maori All Blacks in 1912 and 1914. In 1913 he made his All Blacks debut against Australia in Wellington and went on tour to North America, where he played 14 matches in the USA and Canada. He was not available for the All Blacks in 1914 because of his work.

Sellars enlisted in May 1916 and sailed in September that year. He later joined A Company of the Auckland Infantry Battalion, which was part of the New Zealand Division that attacked Messines Ridge. He was killed on the first day of the Battle, aged 31 years.

Marking the milestones


With WW100 milestones being marked locally and internationally through to the end of 2018, New Zealand Rugby has identified key milestones with rugby connections around which commemorative activity will be anchored, including increased recognition of Anzac Day during home Investec Super Rugby matches, marking the deaths of the first All Black in battle in August 2015 and of Dave Gallaher, Captain of the 1905 All Blacks side in October 2017. For more information about what New Zealand Rugby is doing, see nzrugby.co.nz/ww100

For more information on Baird and Sellars, click on each man’s online profile and Last Post: Rugby’s Wartime Roll Call by Ron Palenski (2011) New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, Dunedin.