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John Gwilliam

John Gwilliam
Birth nameJohn Albert Gwilliam
Date of birth(1923-02-28)28 February 1923
Place of birthPontypridd, Wales
Date of death21 December 2016(2016-12-21) (aged 93)
Rugby union career
Position(s) No 8
Amateur team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
Cambridge University R.U.F.C.
Edinburgh Wanderers
Gloucester RFC
Newport RFC
London Welsh RFC
Llanelli RFC
London Wasps
Barbarian F.C.
National team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
1947–1954 Wales 23 (0)

John Albert Gwilliam (28 February 1923 – 21 December 2016)[1] was a Welsh rugby union player and schoolteacher. As a "No. 8" he played international rugby for Wales and club rugby for Cambridge University, Edinburgh Wanderers, Gloucester, Newport, London Welsh, Llanelli and Wasps. He captained the Wales rugby union team when they achieved Grand Slam victories in the 1950 and 1952 Five Nations Championships.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

Early life

Gwilliam was born in Pontypridd, the son of Thomas Albert and Adela Audrey Gwilliam. He attended Monmouth School and went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1941 to read mathematics.[8][9] After spending a year at Cambridge, he was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment and saw action in Europe.[10] The historian Max Hastings reported an incident at Rathau where Gwilliam was carrying a small German soldier by the scruff of his neck. Asked why he didn't just shoot the man, Gwilliam purportedly replied "Oh no sir. Much too small".[11]


After the war, Gwilliam played rugby union for Newport for two seasons, and returned to study at Cambridge where he played for the University. After leaving Cambridge he became a schoolmaster, initially at Glenalmond College, Perth from 1949 to 1952, and while in Scotland played for Edinburgh Wanderers.[10]

He played in his first international game for Wales on 20 December 1947 against Australia. He went on to win 23 caps for Wales, including notable victories over Australia in 1947 and the All Blacks in 1953. Thirteen of these games were as captain, the first being in a win over England at Twickenham in 1950. Wales won the Triple Crown under his captaincy, but he was not available for the 1950 Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand.[10]

He taught at Bromsgrove School between 1952 and 1956, when he played for Gloucester, becoming the first Gloucester player to captain his country.[10] His last international game was against England on 16 January 1954. He was described "as physically imposing, quietly spoken, religious and austere – the phrase 'Cromwellian' tends to recur in descriptions."[12] In 2005 he was inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame.[13][14] He wrote a book Rugby Football Tactics[15]

He later became Head of Lower School at Dulwich College (1956–63) and Headmaster of Birkenhead School from 1963 to 1988, where he is remembered for his disciplinary standards and his religious views.[16][17]

Personal life and death

He married Pegi Lloyd George in 1949 and had three sons and two daughters. He lived in retirement at Llanfairfechan, Gwynedd. He died at the age of 93 in December 2016.[18] He was related to West Ham United and Wales midfielder Jack Collison.[19]


  1. ^ John Gwilliam player profile
  2. ^ "Description of the Grand Slams". Archived from the original on 8 December 2006. Retrieved 27 September 2006.
  3. ^ Article by John Gwilliam part 1
  4. ^ Article by John Gwilliam part 2
  5. ^ Parry-Jones, David (18 January 2003). "Gwilliam's legacy". The Times. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  6. ^ "Biography by Newport RFC". Archived from the original on 17 June 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2009.
  7. ^ Rugby Football History
  8. ^ "Obituary 21 January 2017". The Times.
  9. ^ "Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d John Theyers, "John Gwilliam, Captain of Wales", Gloucester Rugby Heritage. Retrieved 23 December 2016
  11. ^ Armageddon, Max Hastings
  12. ^ Richards, Huw (2004). Dragons and All Blacks: Wales v. New Zealand – 1953 and a Century of Rivalry. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1840189282.
  13. ^ Welsh Sports Hall of Fame
  14. ^ The Independent 15 May 2005
  15. ^ Rugby Football Tactics. Stanley Paul. 1958. ASIN B0000CK1YB.
  16. ^ "Copy of John Gwilliam's "Who's Who?" entry from Birkenhead School website". Archived from the original on 11 January 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2006.
  17. ^ 90th birthday tribute from Birkenhead School Archived 31 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Former Wales captain John Gwilliam dies, aged 93", News and Star, 22 December 2016
  19. ^ "West Ham star Jack Collison puts Zola skills in a Wales shirt". Daily Mail. London.

External links