Ranji: The All Black playing in Europe during WWI

Ranji: The All Black playing in Europe during WWI

Arthur Wilson, known as Ranji, was 30 when he volunteered for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, joining the Rifle Brigade in France.

After enduring the horrors of trench warfare and a spell in hospital, Ranji was fit to play the French in Paris in 1918.

Ranji was vice captain of the New Zealand division team and, although not Maori, he lead the haka. There was a big crowd, an American officer as referee, and under Ranji's watchful eye Major General Russell's daughter, Violet, set the ball rolling.

Expected to win easily the Trench Blacks, as they were called, scraped home with a 5-3 victory over the French.

Ranji and his siblings were born in Christchurch. Their father was West Indian from Barbados, their mother English. There were four boys and they all looked so alike.

Ranji was also a keen cricketer. It's thought he was nicknamed Ranji after the first Indian to play cricket for England, star batsman Kumar Ranjitsinhji.

In 1907 Ranji was selected as a forward for the North Island team, and the next year Ranji was an All Black playing the Brits before a crowd of 10,000 at Athletic Park. He was described as a relentless tackler, playing with tigerish dash.

But in a club game with his brothers, Billy and Sim, Ranji, captain of the Athletic Club team, found himself in trouble. There was a fight. Billy was injured.

A Poneke forward, Duilio Calcinai, left the field with a broken jaw, and Ranji was charged with assault in the Vincent Meredith trial.

It was a lively court case. Twelve witnesses said Ranji hit Calcinai and 12 said he didn't. The three Wilson brothers looked so alike no one could decide who threw the punch.

Ranji was acquitted.

Seven years later Ranji's in France as the war grinds on. He spends time in hospital suffering from trench foot.

Then in September 1918 he was wounded in the Battle of Havrincourt. On his way home the ship stopped in South Africa. There was rugby, but not for Ranji.

Ranji returned to Wellington eventually becoming an All Black selector. He never married and died in Lower Hutt aged 67.