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'All Blacks At War: The First XIII'
Regiment Serial Number 29720 Died Thursday, 7 June 1917, France Age 23 Grave Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension Ref: CCE 3B265
The All Black Games that Baird played.
(+) = substitute; (-) = replaced
13 Sep vs Australia at Dunedin 25 - 13
Points scored for the All Blacks
Baird did not score any points for the All Blacks
Test Record by Nation
P W D L t c p dg pts
1 1 - - - - - - - 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 0
ames Baird at this stage early into researching this project proves to be one of the more challenging characters in terms of background details. But what we have uncovered so far helps to paint a picture of a very young man from the suburbs of Dunedin, New Zealand, who was dedicated to any task given to him, be it working in a machine shop, stepping up to the call of the All Blacks at late notice, or taking up arms against adversity.
James was listed as being a machinist for the local Chain company in Andrews St, Dunedin, prior to enlisting into the army, Caversham's (a Dunedin suburb) male workforce was characterised by skilled tradesmen with British origins. They brought with them strong craft traditions and ideas about the organisation of work. There was a strong correlation between these skilled workers and Protestant religious identification. They played a major part in the development of unions and the rise of labour-oriented political parties on 'the Flat'. James would have worked amongst the tangled clutter of the south-west end of the Hillside Workshops.
To play just three first class games and for one of them to be a test would be an impossibility in modern rugby. But in the early part of the 20th century the sort of career Otago's James Baird had in representative rugby was not all that uncommon. In 1913 Baird made two appearances for Otago, having previously entered senior club rugby with the Zingari-Richmond club based in Dunedin the previous season at the age of 18. Clearly he was a centre of considerable promise but the circumstances which led to his one test cap in what proved to be his last match were fortuitous.
He was brought in as a late replacement for the 1913 test at Carisbrook against Australia when the original choice, South Canterbury's Eric Cockcroft, was forced to withdraw late with injury. Travel being much more difficult around New Zealand at that time, Baird thus received a call-up because he was the closest player on hand. He and another 19 year old, Bill Francis were to become the very few 'teenagers' to ever play a test for the All Blacks in history. Alex McDonald, the NZ skipper, was the last of the Originals to play test rugby.
Baird obviously played satisfactorily at least for the All Blacks won comfortably 25-13 and he was selected again for the next test in Christchurch which NZ lost 5-16. This was not only the first ever test played at Lancaster Park, but also NZ's first test loss at home! However James found himself having to have to withdraw from playing with a hand injury & also missed the next test at Eden Park which he was selected for.
That ended Baird's rugby for the 1913 season and in 1914 he was unable to play any rugby because of illness. World War I then broke out. Six of the All Blacks who played in this 1913 series were killed in the First World War.
The First World War 1914-1918 was perhaps the most devastating single event to affect the people of southern Dunedin in the study period. New Zealand as a nation suffered the highest per capita casualty rate of any country involved in the war. Otago was particularly hard hit. Its population was older and had a smaller proportion of eligible men of recruiting age. Nonetheless Otago was expected to provide the same number of men as the larger provinces to the north. This recruiting burden fell largely on urban Dunedin, including its densely populated southern suburbs. The Otago Infantry Regiment was also involved in some of the worst fighting of the war. The 'unlucky Otago's' suffered more dead than any other New Zealand regiment. (Source: Sean Brosnahan, Otago Settlers Museum)
Ironically, James would have trained with the Otago reinforcements at another Dunedin sports ground, Tahuna Park, not far from the one he played his only All Black test at in 1913, Carisbrook.
Prior to enlisting into the army for overseas duty, James was already with the No. 2 Company Engineers.
James embarked onboard the HMNZT 66 'Willochra' on 16 October 1916 bound for Devonport, England via Cape of Good Hope. He eventually arrived in England 9 weeks later on 28 December 1916. Quite remarkably, Dave Gallaher's brother, Henry Gallagher (he left the 'g' in his name) was on the same ship. One wonders if they knew each other... Henry died 24 April 1918 during the German spring offensive. After more training at Sling Camp in England, he arrived in France on Feb 1st 1917.
On June 7, 1917 at 3:10am New Zealand and Irish divisions fought alongside Australian and British counterparts at the Battle of Messines Ridge in Flanders, Belgium. The battle was considered one of the few outright Allied successes on the Western Front in WWI, but the losses were no less significant. The NZ division suffered 3,660 casualties (killed, missing and wounded) and the Irish 4,102 (498 killed). Of the 700 Kiwi soldiers killed, three were All Blacks: George Sellars, James (Jim) McNeece and Reginald (Reg) Taylor. All Black numbers 182, 199 and 202 respectively.
The fourth All Black to die as a result of that battle, James Baird, died from wounds to his hands, buttocks and nasty abdomen penetration wound, later on in France on the same day in June. The other story that exists seems to suggest that he did in fact die in Belgium (Messines) but was buried just over the border in France. Most likely, James was wounded during the exchange of artillery fire on the 6th and moved to the 1st Australian casualty clearing station in Bailleul, with the intention of then moving him to the base hospital at St Omer. Whatever the case, James was aged only 23 when he died. Too young some would argue to be an All Black but most would agree - too young to die. He was buried at the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, which is a town only a few kms over the border between Belgium and France. His posthumous awarded medals were mailed to his cousin, E. Starkey back in Dunedin.
As the ANZACs took the town of Messines itself as a result of the battle, the Irish took the town of Wijtschaete just a few kilometres further round the ridge. Just recently the Irish national rugby team had a minutes silence prior to a test match to remember their fallen players 90 years on.
IF YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT JAMES BAIRD, PLEASE CONTACT US AT
All Black statistics courtesy of the NZ Rugby Museum:
JAMES BAIRD SOLDIER 1916
JAMES ALEXANDER STEENSON BAIRD
Born 16 December 1893, Dunedin Parents Not known Education Possibly Cavernsham, Dunedin
Physical 5' 9" - 168 lbs
Province Otago Rugby Club First made All Blacks from Zingari-Richmond, Dunedin, 1913 AB# 190 Position Center Three-quarter
All Black Debut 13 September 1913 v Australia, Dunedin aged 19 International Debut 13 Septemeber 1913 v Australia, Dunedin Rank Private, 4(D) Company, 1st Battalion, Otago
A CAVERSHAM MACHINE SHOP
CARISBROOK PARK RUGBY GAME
AN OTAGO REGIMENT 1916 IN FRANCE
ANZAC's STUDY MODEL OF MESSINES
NZ CASUALTY CLEARING STATION NEAR MESSINES
CAVERSHAM MEMORIAL SCHOOL GATES
ANZAC SERVICE CAVERSHAM 1929
JAMES' RESTING PLACE TODAY - BAILLEUL, FRANCE
JAMES BAIRD ALL BLACK 1913
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