ames (Jim) McNeece was a Southern man, born 1885 in Invercargill, NZ, to his Irish born parents, James Snr and Miss Flinn. He was one of four siblings - three brothers and one sister. His father was a gardener in Ireland and subsequently, when he arrived in NZ in 1877 onboard the 'Wiltshire', he went on with gardening trade in Temuka and Geraldine before settling in Invercargill and marrying Miss Flinn in 1883. In 1893 he was appointed store man for J.H. Kirk & Co and then in 1899 he purchased a lodging house called 'The Retreat'. James' father spent time on the local council and was an active member of the Ancient Foresters Order (which was a flourishing Freemasonry society in the 19th century).
James was educated at 'Middle School' which opened in 1873 and was the first school to be established in Invercargill. When he wasn't playing rugby in his later years, he kept himself fit and busy as a farmer. It's not clear at this stage if he married or had children.
Rugby quickly took its hold of James at the local club named 'Waikiwi' which is still in existence today with its red and black colours. He grew as a tall, strongly built and athletic all round forward who became an All Black towards the end of his career and after a somewhat erratic representation in Southland sides.
Despite his size, speed and lineout out jumping and goal kicking ability he played only 10 times for Southland during the 1905-13 seasons. His brother, Alex, also a talented footballer and a three quarter, by contrast played 32 times for Southland over much the same period.
The brothers were together, though, in one of Southland's best performances in the early years of the 20th century: the 13-8 win over Australia in 1913. James was also in the Southland side
beaten in 1908 by the touring Anglo-Welsh. McNeece's effort in Southland's win over the touring Australians finally gained him national recognition. After playing for the South in the interisland match he was included in the All Black side which played the Australians in the two tests following the departure after the
first test of most of the country's leading players on the tour of North America. There was some criticism of the omission of McNeece and another Southlander Jimmy Ridland from the North
American selection. Ridland was an All Black in 1910 and was also one of the 'First XIII' - sadly losing his life in the last week of the war.
Interesting to note here, that four of the 'First XIII' All Blacks killed, all played together at some stage: McNeece, Taylor, Downing and Black, between 1913 and 1914. Taylor was also to die the day before McNeece - at the same location in Belgium!
Even with the return of all those players McNeece was again in the South Island side in 1914 and retained his All Black place for the tour of Australia. Playing as side rower or breakaway
in the old 2-3-2 scrum formation, McNeece was a big success in Australia, playing in nine matches and scoring two tries and appearing in all three tests. This however was to be the last
rugby test match for more than six years, as the outbreak of war saw many players leave for overseas duty. Not all rugby stopped during WWI. Representative games were played at home and
matches were also played between service teams from the various allied countries.
McNeece was also a capable cricketer and was a Southland representative in that sport, too.
Joining the army and heading off to Europe in late 1916, McNeece joined the NZ Division in early 1917 which was based at Etaples, France. During the time it had been established there shortly after Gallipoli, it was steadily being brought up to full strength and recuperating after the battle of the Somme. It is unlikely that McNeece saw any action until June 1917. His Battalion, 2nd Otago Regiment, was heavily involved at the battle of Messines in which the NZ'rs were successful in capturing from the Germans who had maintained a hold on this strategic little Belgian town for two years. Finally after the defeat of Gallipoli, NZ tasted a fine victory.
Just before this event, it is most likely that McNeece witnessed the largest non-nuclear man-made explosion in history which occurred in the wee hours of the 7th June. Along the 16km front, the British forces had tunnelled under the German lines and laid a staggering 454,000kgs of explosives! The simutaneous explosion killed an estimated 10,000 Germans and rendered many of the remaining soldiers completely dazed. Despite this however, the next 5 hours was spent in ferocious battle conditions with the town eventually falling to the NZ'rs at 0730hrs for the price of 16,000 casualties. It was reported that the NZ'rs then cut the trouser buttons off the German prisoners (7000) in order to keep their hands occupied while being led away.
McNeece would have spent the next two weeks at Messines working to set up the necessary infrastructure while the Germans indiscriminantely launched counter attacks and regathered themselves, however that wasn't to be. Instead, he was wounded on the morning of the attack of the 7th and was taken to a field hospital over the Belgian/French border. Exactly two weeks later on the 21st June, James 'Jim' McNeece succumbed to his injuries and was buried in the small French cemetery of St Sever, Rouen. He wouldn't have even been aware that his old rugby mate and fellow All Black, Reginald Taylor, had died the day before back at Messines while working on the communication trenches.
While we haven't yet looked into surviving relatives in NZ, we do know that there appears to be only one person with the surname of McNeece living here and they are in Napier.
IF YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT JIM McNEECE, PLEASE CONTACT US AT
All Black statistics courtesy of the NZ Rugby Museum:
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'All Blacks At War: The First XIII'
Sydney aged 28 Rank Private, 2nd Battalion, Otago Regiment Serial Number 27561 Died Thursday, 21 June 1917, Messines, Belgium Age 31 Grave St Sever cemetery, Rouen, France, Ref: P.2.G.3B
Born 24 December 1885, Invercargill Parents James McNeece (father), Collingwood, Invercargill. Education Middle School. Physical 1.88m 92kg Province Southland Rugby Club First made All Blacks from Waikiwi. AB# 199 Position Loose Forward All Black Debut 6 September 1913 v Australia, Wellington aged 27 International Debut 13 September 1913 v Australia, Dunedin aged 27 Last Test 15 August 1914 v Australia at
The All Black Games that McNeece played.
(+) = substitute; (-) = replaced
13 Sep vs Australia at Dunedin 25-13
20 Sep vs Australia at Christchurch 5-16
1 Jul vs Wellington at Wellington 14-19
11 Jul vs N.S.W. at Sydney 27-6
18 Jul vs Australia at Sydney 5-0
22 Jul vs New England at Armidale 35-6
25 Jul vs Queensland at Brisbane 26-5
29 Jul vs Queensland at Brisbane 19-0
1 Aug vs Australia at Brisbane 17-0
8 Aug vs N.S.W. at Sydney 25-10
15 Aug vs Australia at Sydney 22-7
Points scored for the All Blacks
t c p dg pts
vs N.S.W., 11 Jul 1914
vs Australia, 18 Jul 1914
Test Record by Nation
P W D L t c p dg pts
5 4 - 1 1 - - - 3
5 4 0 1 1 0 0 0 3
All Black 1913
Middle School present day
All Blacks 1914
St Sever cemetery, Rouen, France
James McNeece Snr
Invercargill War Memorial
1 - - - 3
1 - - - 3
2 0 0 0 6
Britain v Southland 1908
Or visit another of the 'First XIII'
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