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The rugby and sporting career of 


Earnest James Unwin, 1912 - 2003

(Rosslyn Park, Eastern Counties, The Army, Barbarians, England and British Lions)



Jim Unwin was one of the great Corinthian sportsmen of the 1930s, He received his early education at Haileybury and then his military training at Sandhurst where he was a triple Blue at rugby, cricket and hockey. This all-rounder’s profile was to continue throughout his sporting career as he played county cricket for Essex and represented Suffolk in the Minor Counties competition. But it was in rugby union that he was to excel..................................  



...................................As a commissioned officer in the Middlesex Regiment he had already played for the Army in the Inter-Services tournament and was a renowned club player for Rosslyn Park before he made the first of his seven appearances for the Barbarians on the Easter tour of 1935. He became a great favourite with the Baa-Baa’s; the following year he scored a hat-trick of tries against Penarth and three days later scored twice against Swansea at St Helen’s..........................


....................................His first taste of top-class representative rugby was in the closing months of 1935 when he played three times against the touring All Blacks (illustrated playing against London Counties). He made a good impression on his opponents when scoring a try for the Combined Services against them at Aldershot. Two of the All Blacks, C J Oliver and E N Tindill, later wrote a book on the tour and they noted that Unwin “was a very fine player, being of good physique and over six feet in height. He ran round his [opposite number] Hart on a number of occasions and always looked dangerous when in possession”..................................


.............................Unwin was still uncapped by England when he was selected to go on a British tour of Argentina in the summer of 1936. This was an important odyssey often overlooked by historians of British Lions tours. Managed by Douglas Prentice, who had led the Lions to Australia and New Zealand in 1930, and captained by the outstanding scrum-half Bernard Gadney, the British team played 10 matches in Argentina and attracted large crowds and extensive publicity in the local papers......................................



...............................In a team of seven English, two Scottish and two Irish internationals, Jim Unwin played as well as anyone. He opened the tour in spectacular style by scoring four tries in the team’s 55-0 victory over Buenos Aires Football Club. It was reported in ‘The Buenos Aires Herald’ that “Unwin was a very great power in the three-quarter line, and his pace and swerve made him most difficult to stop…and he handled very well”. This was praise, indeed, in a touring party that included (such) established stars of the game such as Prince Obolensky and the mercurial Scot, Wilson Shaw. As the tour progressed he was to score five tries in one match against Pacific Railway A C and another hat-trick against Belgrano. In all he scored 17 tries, including one in the 23-nil British win over Argentina on 16 August 1936 . The compliments came thick and fast with the ‘Herald’ noting at various times that he “was probably as fast as anything seen on local grounds” and also that “as usual [he] stood out among the three-quarter line and was a most difficult player to stop”........................................


 ........................................Unwin returned to the United Kingdom and duly won his England cap in 1937. Under the captaincy of South African test cricketer Tuppy Owen-Smith, England travelled to Murrayfield needing to beat the Scots to secure the Triple Crown. Jim scored the first try in the 6-3 victory which saw England crowned champions. This scoring habit continued as he claimed another pair of tries in the three matches of the next season’s International Championship. It was no surprise when he was selected for the next British tour, this time a fully-fledged official trip to South Africa in 1938.  


.....................................The Lions of 1938 entranced South Africa with their back-play. This was hardly surprising as they had Vivian Jenkins at full back, threequarters of pace and ingenuity like Roy Leyland, Bill Clement and Elvet Jones and brilliant half-backs such as the Englishman Frank Reynolds and the legendary Welsh prodigy, Haydn Tanner.

Appropriately, Jim Unwin scored the first two tries of the tour against Border at East London and the ‘Sunday Tribune’ reported that “Unwin on the wing for Britain will score many tries on this tour. His two today were classic efforts. The first of them was a dazzling in and out run in which he beat two or three men with only inches in which to work, and to score the second he put in a lightning burst for the line, handing-off Bunny Reid before running around”.  

The hand-off was one of Unwin’s trademarks. He was also a drop-kicker of some prowess and was to contribute one such effort in the important 17-9 win over Transvaal at Ellis Park in Johannesburg . The hard grounds of South Africa suited him and he was always a threat as a try-scorer. The ‘ Cape Times ’ praised him, admitting that “the [opposing] wing who keeps this swerving runner in check will have to be good”. Not many opponents did as Unwin finished the tour with two Test caps and nine tries in 15 matches................................



................................Like many others, Jim Unwin’s international career was curtailed by the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939. He continued to play rugby whenever his military duties allowed, appearing in two Red Cross internationals against Wales in 1939-40 and two more Services’ internationals against Scotland and Wales in 1943. He also won selection for the England & Wales combined team against their Scotland & Ireland counterparts in the Four Countries’ match of 1939 and played twice for the Barbarians in the early years of the war. Jim Unwin retired from the Army in October 1949 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and joined the family business of corn and seed merchants and farmers................................   




by Andrew Hambling (Haileybury Archivist) 

Always a talented all-round athlete and games player he really excelled as a cricketer. As a young boy he proved a skilful bowler, playing in the Lawrence House team during his second year and then for the School 1st XI for three years -1929-1930-1931. He also played Hockey for the XI though Hockey was never as important as rugger or cricket***. Everyone was expected to do boxing and he reached the finals of his weight in his second term. Of the minor sports he enjoyed Fives (The School 1st VI). In the pre-squash years Fives was a popular game. He also played Rackets and ran in the final of the Medley House race in 1931. It is curious that rugger should not have figured quite so strongly in his career though he was a three-quarter in the House XV in 1928 (his second year aged 16). He played quite regularly in the XXX (2nd team) during his last rugger year (1930) and in November he was selected for the XV. He scored the only, and the winning, try against Harrow and he scored against Dulwich in a match they lost. He also scored in the Cock House that year, having scored four tries in the semi-final. Lawrence, his House, lost the final narrowly. In reports he seems to have been a wing with a sharp burst of speed but generally a steady player and I doubt if anyone then would have forecast his distinguished later International career. He was awarded his XV colours in 1930, the last of the XV. We have had a couple of Internationals who never made the School XV and Unwin was not quite that, He was a Corporal in the Cadet Force and a House Prefect and left to join the army. 

***According to the official souvenir of the 1938 British Rugby Team's visit to South Africa Jim also played hockey for an English Public Schools XI


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Jim is pictured on the left hand side of the bottom row, we believe this photograph to be the Lawrence house team photo at Haileybury School


The Haileybury School hockey team, Jim is seated on the far right.


College football fixtures signed to the front cover by 13 including Jim and the 4 old colours, Greenwood, Cole, Nicholls & Parton


Haileybury Fives team, Jim is second from the right in the back row.


Competing in the high jump at the College sports 28th March 1931






The Royal Military College Sandhurst was the next stage of Jim's continuing education. Early morning parades, polishing boots, square bashing, gymnastics and weapon drill were the regular lessons on Jim's timetable as the British Army prepared him for the inevitable hostilities. However, it wasn't all work and no play, there was a fine tradition of sport in Sandhurst and rugby was top of the agenda, especially the annual clash with the Royal Military Academy Woolwich. Jim was to play his part in the College's domination of this fixture during the early 1930s crossing his opponents goal line for his customary inclusion on the score sheet.


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Early days at Sandhurst


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Early morning start


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In the papers - Jim is at the telegraph in the uniform.


Jim's Sandhurst cap


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Sandhurst College v Woolwich Academy 1931 match programme, signed menu & match report. Jim scored the first & last tries in a record 36-0 victory.  

(WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0024 & 0025 & 0034)

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1932 match action 

(WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0028, 0033, 0029,)

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Jim makes the papers the next day & match report from the Rugby Football Annual

(WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0022a, 0034)

Athletics Army style, note the 'recruits beneath the hurdles holding them down, Jim is far left leading the race.



Jim tackling an opponent, playing here for United Services Portsmouth





Jim represented the Army in  Inter-Service matches on ten occasions. In true Unwin style he scored on his debut against the Royal Navy on 3rd March 1934. He played for the Combined Services against in New Zealand in 1935 scoring a try in the final minutes, Services were to lose by the narrowest of margins 6 - 5 to Jack Manchester's All Blacks. It's unknown whether or not this was the only match in which he represented the Combined Services. He did however, play club rugby for United Services Portsmouth for at least one season, 1936-37, a newspaper reports him as being elected as vice-captain on his way home from the tour of the Argentine.


Opposition Date Venue Score  
Royal Navy 3 Mar 1934 Twickenham 16 - 8 In his first inter-services season for the army, Jim helped the Army retain the inter-services title for the third season in succession. The Rugby Football Annual describes Jim as 'a highly promising player' who in the opening match against the Navy made the opening for J.A Crawford to score the first try, then he 'broke through some half-hearted tackles to score the other'. 
Territorial Army 10 Mar 1934 Woolwich Stadium 12 - 6 The T.A outnumbered the Army by 5 internationals to 4 and out played the army in the first half but the army fought back and eventually took the lead and the game with two penalty goals by Kendrew. 
Royal Air Force 24 Mar 1934 Twickenham 14 - 3

Match report required

Territorial Army 23 Feb 1935 Taunton 18 - 3 Jim scored two tries in this victory over the 'part-timers'. The T.A had a better game than the score suggests and the match was played in 'heavy' going 
Royal Navy 2 Mar 1935 Twickenham 11 - 8 The 1935 inter-services championship was a three way tie in which the Royal Navy beat the RAF (13 - 8), the Army beat the Navy (11 - 8) despite finishing the game with only 13 players and the RAF rounded off the season in style by defeating the much fancied Army team (6 - 3). Jim again played in both fixtures. 


Royal Air Force 23 Mar 1935 Twickenham 3 - 6
Territorial Army 22 Feb 1936 Leicester 0 - 0 The weather was the deciding factor in this pointless draw, sleet and snow helped turn the ground into a quagmire. Jim was twice tackled short of the line by Marshall the TA full back who played a defensive stormer,
Royal Navy 6 Mar 1936 Twickenham 12 - 3

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Jim played in the centre against the Navy but was moved back onto the wing for the clash against the Air Force. The Army once again won the championship. 

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In this cartoon match report it looks as though Jim's shorts were torn during this match - see the illustration bottom centre

Royal Air Force 28 Mar 1936 Twickenham 16 - 5
Royal Navy 6 Mar 1937 Twickenham 14 - 3 Again the Army won the services championship, the Rugby Football Annual correspondent states that 'it was their solidity at forward and swift opportunism behind that enabled them to beat both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force in the decisive way they did.' In the first match against the Navy, the England selectors were out in force several contenders for international honours inclunding one EJ Unwin, he delighted all by scoring the first try of the Army's campaign, sent over by JH Marriott. The selectors duly impressed picked Jim for the Triple Crown match with Scotland on March 20th. the Army's final fixture of the season was against the RAF on April 3rd. For some unknown reason Jim missed this match, perhaps due to injury.
Royal Navy 5 Mar 1938 Twickenham 9 - 10 The Navy rested the Services crown from the Army's grasp with a 10 - 9 victory at Twickenham, Crawford converting Kirkby's try from almost the touchline to win the game. Jim played in both games.  
Royal Air Force 26 Mar 1938 Twickenham 15 - 7
Royal Navy 4 Mar 1939 Twickenham 6 - 6 In this season, the Army failed to record a victory in the Services championship, Jim appeared in the draw with the Navy but was missing from the line up in which his team went down 18 - 3 against the 'flyers'. 



Jim played three times against the 1935/6 All Blacks, the first occasion was for the Combined Services where he scored a try in the narrow 6 - 5 defeat, then twice for the London Counties, 2nd November where they lost 11 - 0 and on Boxing Day, 26th December 1935, the All Blacks winning comfortably on this occasion 24 - 5.



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Combined Services v New Zealand - 19 October 1935

Jim played against the 1935 All Blacks for the first time as part of a talented Combined Services team. Captained by AL Novis the Services were to lose by the narrowest of margins 6 - 5 to Jack Manchester's All Blacks. Late in the second half, scrum half 'Tinny' Dean broke away from the base of the scrum and put Jim away to score his sides only try. Knapman the full back converted but the Services couldn't break the NZ defence again to record a famous victory.   

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London Counties v New Zealand, 2nd November 1935. 


........exclaims the headline. Jim played in the centre in this 11 - 0 loss to Jack Manchester's All Blacks. Although playing out of position for the majority of the match Unwin plays a blinder and the paper is not short in it's praise for our man, even though he lost the ball as he was about to score a try. "A splendid opening by Dick with Unwin in close support, saw the latter reach the line only to lose the ball, as he was about to touch it down, through a fine tackle by MM Corner. Unwin was the outstanding back on the field, even though performing out of place, and often broke through the New Zealand centres."   

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This illustration is taken from Cliff Jones' book 'Rugby Football, first published in 1937. it shows "A fine picture of a wing three-quarter in action - E.J. Unwin about to round H Brown. Note the ball is carried under the right arm, leaving the left arm free for the hand off." The photo was taken during one of the London Counties v All Blacks matches at Twickenham.


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London Counties v New Zealand, 26th December 1935


The All Blacks had a comfortable win at Twickenham over the London Counties in their second fixture against the Counties on the tour. Jim had a quiet game, not seeing a lot of the ball, but he was picked out by the Daily Telegraph correspondent Howard Marshall who stated that 'Dick and Unwin had only occasional opportunities of showing how dangerous they could be'. The All Blacks scored 3 drop goals, two penalty goals and two tries to the Counties one converted try. Marshall again mentions that in the first half Dick and Unwin made ground for the counties with sharp dashes, the day however belonged to the All Blacks.

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Jim Unwin travelled to Argentina with the 1936 British team. Although tagged as a side that 'represented' Britain, the squad of 23 players was made up mostly of English players with a handful of Scots and Irish thrown in. The 10 matches on the tour were won easily as the British backs played havoc with the opposition on the hard and fast grounds of the host nation. Jim was in outstanding form on the tour end up the top try scorer with 18 tries including 5 in one game. 


In the days before the aeroplane, the only way for a touring team to travel was by ship. The outward journey for the 1936 British team was made on the Blue Star Line's Andalucia Star, a 15,000 ton liner / deluxe mail steamer. The team were accommodated in first class and several activities were available on board including 'race meetings'. Normal practice for rugby touring teams was light training, forward drills and team practice on the deck to keep the team in trim and prime them ready for an arduous tour. Sailing from London, during the 20 day journey the liner stopped off at the following posts of call Boulogne, Lisbon, Madeira, Teneriffe, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo before terminating at Buenos Aires.  

The Andalucia Star was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Africa on October 6th 1942 while travelling from Buenos Aires to Liverpool by the German submarine U107.   

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  Passenger lists, on board race meetings & celebration dinners

(WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0056 & 0057 & 0058 & 0059)

 The "Crossing the Line" ceremony on board the SS Andalucia Star, This is an ancient ceremony performed when a ship crosses the equator. Photo illustration - a fancy dress party on board

(WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0015 & 0054)


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The above illustration contains a preview of the tour, this appeared in the Buenos Aires Herald on 11th July 1936. The paper quoted the tour manager Douglas Prentice extensively, he said during the interview  "We shall have Obolensky, Boyle and Unwin, on the wing all very fast and strong runners". Boyle the Irish winger and Obolensky had both won first caps against the touring All Blacks while Unwin went on to win his first cap on his return from the tour. 


Jim played Opposition Date Venue Score   Reports
Yes Buenos Aires   Gimnasia - y Esgrima, Malodando, Buenos Aires 55 - 0 

(4 tries)

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Jim contributed 4 out of the 13 tries in his British Lions debut. The local team were outclassed and the local correspondent 'Northern' said of Jim "Unwin was a very great power in the three quarter line and his pace and swerve made him most difficult to stop." 
Yes Combined Argentine XV 18 Jul Buenos Aires 27 - 0 The opponents billed as Argentina 'A' were more formidable than the previous team met. Jim was shadowed closely by his opposite number, the Herald again quoted "Schiavio worried Unwin considerably, - and Unwin a wing three quarter that does not get worried easily, but the local player was fast and stuck to his opponent all the time." Jim did however manage to contribute to the team effort giving a scoring pass to both Boyle just after half time and assisting in the movement that saw Shaw score the last try.   
Yes Olivos 22 Jul Gimnasia - y Esgrima, Golf, Buenos Aires  27 - 3 

(1 try)

051-phX4.jpg (52657 bytes)  Due to heavy rainfall, the venue for this match was moved to the new G-y-E ground at Golf. Jim is pictured running with the ball in the 3rd photo, see left.

"Unwin played his usual hard game on the wing and varied his attack more than he has done so far.

not known Combined Argentine XV   Buenos Aires 28 - 0

045-Obo-pic.jpg (20859 bytes) Obolensky in action against the Argentine Pacific Athletic

Yes Argentine Pacific Athletic 29 Jul Gimnasia - y - Esgrima, Maldonado, Buenos Aires 62 - 0 

(5 tries)

The Lions set a new scoring record in this game, the previous high of 58 points had been scored by Raphael's team in 1910. The Herald attributed the score to an overall improvement in the team performance, the forwards in particular steamrollered the local pack. Jim's contribution was an excellent 5 out of the 15 tries scored, playing in the centre, the paper suggested that he starved Obolensky but also conceded that it would have made no difference to the score should he have passed.  
Yes Union de Rugby del Litoral 2 Aug Plaza Jewell, Rosario 41 - 0 

(2 tries)

Jim played in the centre in this game but was moved out to the wing when the team formation was rearranged after Pratten left the field. He scored 2 tries, the first when 'Hancock got away and kicked into the centre, where Unwin took the ball on the run and romped over'. Again the Lions were dominant but on this occasion their handling let them down and they failed to match the score of the previous match. 
not known Old Georgians   Buenos Aires 55 - 6    
Yes Belgrano   Buenos Aires 37 - 3 

(3 tries)

 Another good display by Jim scoring three tries out of the eight scored. 'Northern' the Herald correspondant sang his praises in the Monday edition of the English language paper 'Unwin as usual stood out among the three-quarter line. A most difficult player to stop.'  
Yes ARGENTINA 16 Aug Buenos Aires 23 - 0 

(1 try)

The match was marred by the chants of the 'soccer element' in the crowd which 'cast a slur on the game in Argentina'. Despite this and the occasional punch thrown by the locals, the British team ran out worthy winners. After scoring the second try of the match, our man Jim had to leave the field with injured ribs in the first half, his place in the backline was filled by Horden who had to be taken out of the pack . This somewhat weakened the back line, the Herald said "with all due respect to Horden, he is not an Unwin". 

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not known Comb Buenos Aires Suburban XV   Buenos Aires 44 - 0    



Back row: JA Waters (Selkirk), WH Weston (Northampton), RW Shaw (Glasgow HSFP), TP Cooke (Oxford University), A Obolensky (Oxford University), RE Prescott (Harlequins), JS Moll (Lloyds Bank), JG A'Bear (Gloucester), PG Hobbs (Army & Richmond), EJ Unwin (Army & Rosslyn Park), JA Tallent (Blackheath), HJM Uren (Waterloo), DE Pratten (Blackheath), Dr HLG Hughes

Middle Row: CE St J Beamish (RAF), PE Dunkley (Harlequins), TC Knowles (Birkenhead Park), BC Gadney - Captain (Leicester), FD Prentice - Manager (Leicester), PC Hordern (Gloucester), CV Boyle (Dublin University), 

Front Row: GE Hancock (Birkenhead Park), WO Chadwick (St John's College, Cambridge), JA Brett (Oxford University)

missing from photo TF Huskisson (Old Merchant Taylors)

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Photo taken during the tour at Buenos Aires with Sir Neville Henderson, HBM's Ambassador.


Tour report from the 1937/8 Rugby Football Annual published by Sporting Handbooks Ltd



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Jim's  Invitations, passes and dinner menu from the tour


Douglas Prentice (manager) & Bernard Gadney (captain)



1936 tour of Argentina Photo Album - This is a great photo album with approx 120 photographs. They tell the tale of the tour, the long voyage on the Andalucia Star, with stops in Lisbon, Madeira, Tenneriffe & Rio de Janiero. There are some photos of the matches on the tour and visits made to the golf club etc.
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The album


Photos are nicely set out. The first half has captions beneath photos.   The squad pose for the traditional photo on board the Andalucia Star  Dennis Pratten, Jim, Hughie & Robin Prescott in Portugal  Jim, Robin, John & Dennis wearing their Madeira hats together with some 'begging children' the Madeira hats are a regular feature throughout the tour.   Entrance to Rio harbour
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Team about to go bathing in Santos, Brazil Polo in Argentina   They drew good crowds at the matches   Lining up before the game   Line-out   Unscheduled stop for the 10.45 to Tucuman




According to Jim there was also an unofficial match against a Brazilian XV. He said that it was played on a cricket field with an artificial (concrete) square in the middle. The team won the match with a huge score, Jim seemed to think that he may have scored 17 tries in this match although other reports seem to indicate that it may have been Obolensky who scored 17 tries. 


With time to kill a plenty during a voyage, concerts & skits were a regular occurance. The above poem/story, penned by an unknown author features all team members names.

The team returned home on the Andalucia's sister ship, the Avila Star sailing from Buenos Aires on 26th August 1936 arriving in Tilbury, London on 17th September 1936. 

The Avila Star pre-deceased her sister ship by 3 months when she was torpedoed by a German submarine U201 on the 5th July 1942 also off the coast of Africa.    




Jim's great friend during the tour was Prince Alexander Sergeevich Obolensky. 'Obo' as he was known achieved immediate fame earlier that year on the 4th January when he tore apart the New Zealand defence to score two spectacular tries in England's first ever victory over a touring All Black side.

Born in St Petersburg, Russia on the 17th February 1916 he was the son of Princess Luba and Prince Sergei Alexandrovich Obolensky, an officer in the Tsar's Imperial Horse Guards. In only his second year, the family, fearing their safety during the Russian Revolution fled to England. Initially raised in Muswell Hill, London he was schooled firstly at Ashe Boys Preparatory School, Etwall, Derbyshire, then in 1929 he moved to Trent School, Long Eaton, Derbyshire. It was here that he learned his rugby alongside EL Burton & J Harrison, together they formed a three-quarter line that won high plaudits when in the 1932 invincible season the team amassed 539 points, conceding only 22. 

His education continued at Brasenose College, Oxford where he gained his blue in the 1935 Varsity match. His amazing try saving tackle in a scoreless draw gained the attention of the England selectors who offered him a place on the right wing in the final trial at Twickenham on 21st December . Jim was moved over to the left wing and Obo outshone his team mate to gain selection against the All Blacks. Obolensky was still a Russian citizen when he played against the All Blacks, it is said that the Prince of Wales when introduced to the young Russian before the match questioned his right to wear the red rose of England. 

Obolensky's two tries however turned him into an instant Englishman as far as the 72,000 crowd at Twickenham were concerned. The second, a diagonal run from deep inside his own half is considered by some to be the greatest try ever scored for England. The appearance of the 'Movietone News' cameras to record his feat helped to promote his achievement and resulting fame as the news footage was shown through the cinemas of England. 

The Prince played a further three times for England that season, failing to cross the try line again. He was selected for the 1936 British tour of the Argentine and is credited with having scored 17 tries in a single match against a Brazilian XV in an unofficial match. He continued his education at Oxford and in 1937 he joined Jim at Rosslyn Park. At the outbreak of the war he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. His last rugby match was for England in the war time charity match against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park on 9th March 1940.

Twenty days later while landing his Hawker Hurricane on a training exercise at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk he overshot the runway and broke his neck in the resulting crash. He died later that day, aged 24, becoming the first international rugby player to lose his life in World War II.   


Jim at the 1936 England v All Blacks dinner, the player pictured to his left is Peter Cranmer

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Pictured above is Jim's England v New Zealand 1936 dinner menu. Jim would have been attending the dinner as a travelling reserve. Obolensky has signed the menu 'May your shadow never ????? - Prince A Obolensky'*

* The personal message attributed to Obo could possibly be from Tuppy Owen-Smith whose signature also appears below this message





Apart from a short spell at Devonport Services, Jim played his club rugby exclusively for Rosslyn Park. The earliest we have found him in Park colours is a match against Bedford in 1932, he would have been 20 years old at the time. 


Rosslyn Park 1934-5

(This photo and match reports below courtesy of Rosslyn Park FC historian David E Whittam)




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v Northampton


won 21-10

v Richmond


won 32 - 0

v Richmond


won 21 - 13

v Oxford Uni 


drawn 11 - 11

v Old Millhillians 





Jim seen here scoring for Rosslyn Park against Guy's Hospital in 193



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v Bradford


won 6 - 3

v London Scottish 


lost 16 - 17

v Harlequins


lost 8 - 13

v United Services 


drew 3 - 3

v Northampton


won 21 - 10



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Rosslyn Park 9 - Richmond 11, 19th October 1946. - It's post war and Jim Unwin is back on the Rosslyn Park scoresheet again with a try in this narrow loss to Richmond. EJU gets gets a mention early on in this Sunday Times report by Dai Gent for his run with the ball that "required determined stopping" to prevent a try. We obtained this programme in New Zealand of all places and spoke to Jim about his post-war rugby. Jim thinks thought that this was a one off game and probably his last match. It was played while he was on leave from the Army. After the war he spent time in Germany then 2 years in Egypt. 




The Eastern Counties cap of Jim Unwin



Somerset v Eastern Counties 2nd Feb 1935. 

Jim and his brother Frederick are playing in this County Championship semi-final at Bridgwater. Jim has moved to the centre on this occasion. The RF Annual of 1935-6 states that Eastern Counties had three decent wings but only one centre. Eastern Counties lost this match 11 - 6 after leading 6 - 5 at half time. This was the first time that Eastern Counties reached the semi-final stage of the Championship. Somerset went on to play Lancashire in the final but were defeated at the Recreation Ground in Bath by 14 points to nil. The back cover of the programme advertises The Army v Territorial Army match to be played on 23rd Feb. Jim appears for the Army in this match and he scored two tries in the 18 - 3 victory. 

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MORE INFO - We require more information on Jim playing for Eastern Counties - can you help ?

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Jim's first trial was at Headingley in 1934, English trials during the 1930s took the format of those most likely to be selected playing in the England or 'Probables' team with those not in The Rest or 'Possibles' team. Three trials were played as a rule in Decemeber/early January, one in the North of England, one in the South of England and the final trial at Twickenham. Jim regularly played in the England/Probable team but for some reason was overlooked on numerous occasions until he finally won his cap in 1937, after starring in a Services fixture. His biggest disappointed was after two outstanding performance against the 1935 All Blacks he was overlooked in place of a young Oxford University student, one Prince Alexander Obolensky. Luckily for the selectors their judgement proved correct because Obolensky went on to destroy the All Blacks with two superb tries. 


An England trial team with Jim second from the right in the back row, on his shoulder is Prince 'Obo'

Jim's England Trial Cap


Jim's team underlined Date Venue Score  
England v Possibles 1 Dec1934 Headingley 25 - 13

Jim's first trial

Match report required

Probables v Possibles 15 Dec 1934 Falmouth 12 - 12

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Match report required

England v The Rest 5 Jan 1935  Twickenham 3 - 7

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In this trial preview, correspondent VG Davies warns readers that  'Unwin on the ring wing is a strong and fast runner who always takes an enormous amount of stopping'. The Rest ran out winners 7 - 3 which have been a worrying result for the England selectors. 

Match report required

Probables v Possibles 7 Dec 1935 Moseley 21 - 6

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England v The Rest 21 Dec 1935 Twickenham 26 - 12

For the last trial before the All Blacks international in 1936, Jim was moved to the left wing. It is interesting to note that Jim's place was taken on the right wing by his club mate at Rosslyn Park, Prince A Obolensky who went onto greater things in the match against New Zealand. Jim was eventually rewarded with a trip to the Argentine with the British team later that year

Match report required

Probables v Possibles 19 Dec 1936 Bristol 12 - 11

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The trial at Workington on December 5th was lacking EJU, he returned for the Probables XV on Dec 19th at Bristol. 

Match report required

England v The Rest 2 Jan 1937 Twickenham 16 - 0

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(RR-prenta19370102 & WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0080)

Once again Jim lined up in the England side which won convincingly against the rest, the above photo shows him collared by the opposition, he didn't however find himself against Wales in an England team which sported 7 new caps.

Match report required

England v Possibles 4 Dec 1937 Gosforth 18 - 11

Snow fell during the first half of this fixture

Match report required

Probables v Possibles 18 Dec 1937 Ipswich 23 -11

Match report required

England v The Rest 1 Jan 1938 Twickenham 13 - 11


This was Jim's last England trial, he did not appear in any of the 1938-9 season trials 

Match report required




Opposition Date Venue Score  
Scotland 20th Mar 1937 Murrayfield 6 - 3 (1 try) vS-37.jpg (18173 bytes) 066.jpg (63770 bytes)


Wales 15th Jan 1938 Cardiff 8 - 14 082.jpg (25882 bytes) 

Jim pictured on the left (with moustache) together with Cranmer & Heaton at the 1935 England v Wales dinner

Ireland 12th Feb 1938 Lansdowne Rd 36 - 14 (1 try)    
Scotland 19th Mar 1938 Twickenham 16 - 21 (1 try) s-38.jpg (47752 bytes) 51.jpg (127826 bytes)  



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A selection of telegrams received by Jim. It was common place in the 1930s to send a telegram of congratulations on selection. These are mainly from family, friends and colleagues relating to both British tours and international selection. 



We are not sure why, but possibly they grew mouldy after the flood at Jim's but his jerseys are no longer with us, just the badges. Above can be seen Jim's jersey badge collection, from left to right. 

We believe this to be Haileybury College, Army, London Counties, England (probably from his first international against Scotland in 1937), Wales, Ireland, South Africa, France (probably from the match against the French Army in 1940) & England War Time Charity.





Fresh from a 2 - 0 thrashing of the Wallabies and a 2-1 series victory over the All Blacks, (The 1937 Springboks were the first ever team to win a series in New Zealand) the Springboks were favourites to defeat the British touring team in the test series of 1938. Although both South African and British journalists alike predicted a close series despite the British team missing quite a few of the stars from the international championship earlier that year  


Terms & Conditions of touring, the rules and regulations, this 4 page leaflet outlines the rules of an 'Amateur' tour, a great insight into what's expected of the players.


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Travel (first class) & expenses, no professional contracts allowed.  Playing kit - "The practice of collecting jerseys by players in exchange for others of the opposing teams is forbidden. Discipline & tickets



Major HBT Wakelam laments the missing players in the South African magazine "The Outspan" - "One cannot help opening this trailer to the forthcoming tour of a British rugger side on a note of regret - regret that through business and other reasons we are unable to send out the real, full force of our rugger representation. I do not, in point of fact consider that the game in our islands is at the moment at a particularly high peak, but our recently concluded international programme has clearly indicated at any rate we have plenty of latent scoring power and, alas! our most brilliant gap makers and runners-in, men like RW Shaw and RCS Dick, of Scotland, W Wooller and Cliff Jones, of Wales, and FG Morgan, the sprinter from Ireland, have all had to be omitted. Many sterling forward names are missing too - HB Toft, the English hooker, who has secured almost a monopoly of the ball in the three big games this year, his fellow front row stalwarts, RE Prescott and the veteran RJ Longland, TF Hoskisson, WH Crawford, DLK Milman and W Vickery - in fact, one could write down a representative team of those staying behind ! It is a great pity, but with business and so on as it is an unavoidable one." 

Paul Roos the 1906 Springbok captain was also eager to point out the lack of stars in the British camp in the same publication "True, we regret the absence of outstanding me like Cliff Jones & Wooller, the star fly half and centre respectively, of Wales; Shaw, Dick & Crawford, the fly half, centre and loose forward who were mainly responsible for Scotland's unbeaten record this year; Server, England's speediest wing, and Toft not only England's but probably Great Britain's fines hooker."  he went on to opine that 'Boks should not be lulled into a false sense of security following the victory over the All Blacks "Reviewing the team as a whole I am confident that we shall be fully extended and quite possibly overshadowed in more than one test. One thing is very sure, and that is we must not allow ourselves to be lulled into security by our successes in the Antipodes. We are very proud of the record of 'our boys' there both on and off the field, and we appeal to them to 'go and do likewise' this season. 'Win or lose, play the open, bright type of football which you demonstrated so conclusively during your 1937 tour in Australia and specially in New Zealand' 

Jim however, was a definate first choice wing three-quarter for the tour, despite only four starts at full international level, a scoring record of 75% in these matches plus a fantastic total of 17 tries on the Argentinian tour 2 years previous left the selectors in no doubt that he was a potent scoring force waiting to be unleashed on the veldt. Wakelam sums up Jim and the English threequarters in his preview "Of the Englishmen, BE Nicholson, FJ Reynolds, JL Giles and EJ Unwin were first choices for this season's internationals and all are well worthy of their places." He goes on to say "EJ Unwin on the right wing will almost certainly be a No 1 selection. He may not be exceptionally fast, but, like Clement, he runs with rare determination and very few try scoring chances are allowed to slip by him. His defence too, is impeccable, for he rarely fails to bring his man down hard and low. Another county cricketer and a sub-altern in the Middlesex Regiment, 'Jim' Unwin was one of the party which recently toured the Argentine."  In the an article by R Cove-Smith, captain of the 1924 British tourists in South Africa he names Unwin in his 'first choice' line up of Jenkins, Clement, Nicholson, Macrae, Unwin, Reynolds, Morgan, Watkins, Travers, Inglis, Walker, Couchman, Taylor, Duff & Alexander. 

The team was captained by the experienced Irish forward Sammy Walker and managed by Major BC Hartley.




A collection of 3 autographed miniature Gilbert Match balls brought back from the tour by Jim, these balls were signed by the team and given away to their hosts during the tour. The newspaper report, illustrated bottom left shows tour manager, Major B.C. Hartley presenting the Mayor of Cape Town, Mr W.C. Foster with a ball. Only one of these is balls is illustrated below, we have identified autographs wherever possible but there is some fading and one or two of these autographs will be too faint to appear on the the photograph.


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Panel 1 - signed by Dancer, ???, Boyle, Jenkins, Duff, Leyland, Howard, Macrae, Mayne & Graves Panel 2 - signed by Taylor, McKibbin, Alexander, Jones, Clement, ME Morgan, Tanner, GJ Morgan, Grieve, ???? & Giles. Top panels - Major BC Hartley (Manager), HA Haigh-Smith (Asst Manager) & others

Match analysis - click on the camera icon for match reports

Jim played Opposition Date Venue Score   Report
Yes Border 11th Jun East London 11-8 059.jpg (38185 bytes)   Jim scored the first two tries of the tour, Jack Gage in the Sunday tribune describes his efforts. "Unwin on the wing for Britain will score many tries on this tour. His two to-day were classic efforts. the first of them was a dazzling in and out run in which he beat two or three men with only inches in which to work, and to score the second he put in a lightening burst for the line handing off Bunny Reid before running round."  
not known Griqualand West 15th Jun Kimberley 22 - 9 101.jpg (34910 bytes)


Yes Town & Country 18th Jun Cape Town 8 - 11 007.jpg (154674 bytes)  
not known SW Districts 22nd Jun Oudtshoorn 19 - 10 097.jpg (32094 bytes)  
Yes Western Province 25th Jun Cape Town 11 - 21 009.jpg (90406 bytes)  010.jpg (43883 bytes) 105.jpg (83174 bytes)  
not known Western Transvaal 29th Jun Potchefstroom 26 - 9 97-dm-wt.jpg (202561 bytes)


Yes Orange Free State 2nd Jul Bloemfontein 21 - 6 012.jpg (76899 bytes) 013.jpg (99155 bytes) 014.jpg (125487 bytes) 015.jpg (78227 bytes) 057.jpg (45734 bytes) 058.jpg (51948 bytes) (WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0011)  
not known Orange Free State 6th Jul Kroonstad 18 - 3    
No Reef 9th Jul Johannesburg 9 - 16 016.jpg (102884 bytes)   
not known Northern Transvaal 13th Jul Pretoria 20 - 12       
not known Cape Province 16th Jul Kimberley 10 - 3    
Yes Rhodesia 20th Jul Salisbury 25 - 11  
No Rhodesia 23rd Jul Bulawayo 45 - 11    
Yes Transvaal 30th Jul Johannesburg 17 - 9 018.jpg (109109 bytes)   021.jpg (30368 bytes) 022.jpg (85142 bytes)  
Yes SOUTH AFRICA 6th Aug Johannesburg 12 - 26   024.jpg (61803 bytes) 060.jpg (45913 bytes) 55.jpg (18977 bytes)
No Northern Provinces 13th Aug Durban 8 - 26 086.jpg (32094 bytes)  
Yes Natal 17th Aug Pietermaritzburg 15 - 11 061.jpg (82276 bytes) (WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0012)  
Yes Border 20th Aug East London 19 - 11    
No N Easterns 24th Aug Burghersdorp 42 - 3    
Yes E Province 27th Aug Port Elizabeth 6 - 5 025.jpg (72662 bytes)  027.jpg (80579 bytes)  
Yes SOUTH AFRICA 3rd Sep Port Elizabeth 3 - 19 1938 PASS Tramway.jpg (107679 bytes) 145.jpg (50574 bytes) (WRM-enpy-eju-1937-0066)  
No SOUTH AFRICA 10th Sep Cape Town 21 - 16  
No C Universities 14th Sep Cape Town


19 - 16    
Yes Combined Country 21st Sep Cape Town, 

Att- 5,000

7 - 12





This is an outstanding scrapbook, it was complied by David May, Cape Town 1938. Each player was presented with a scrapbook after the tour, we have seen two of these scrapbooks, both have come from former players. We a re assuming that David May is the baggage master or physio named as "Mack" in a 1938 squad photograph. He is pictured far left on the squad photograph below on board the Stirling Castle. 

The compilation of these scrapbooks was a mammoth task, 24 matches, each with a match report, sometimes 2 or three different newspaper reports covering each match. Plus there are tour previews, match previews and other extra reports, for functions etc. But 'Mack' had three weeks in Cape Town at the end of the tour in which to compile the books, considering he still had other duties as baggage master he must have been a dab hand with his scissors & glue. 

Unfortunately Jim's scrapbook suffered in a flood at his home, the photo aboard the 'Stirling Castle' shown below is that taken from another player's scrapbook, Jim's photo has been damaged beyond repair. The scrapbook is hardcover and measuring 47 x 32 cm:-



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Photo & autographs of the team on board the Stirling Castle, Unwin is standing in the middle row on the far right.  Article by Cove-Smith on the tourists with individual pictures & notes  Pre-tour photo & details of Jim Squad photo taken in Cape Town, the day after arrival in South Africa, Jim is far left in the back row. The cuttings in the scrapbook are extensive with several layers per page, they are very well set out  As early as 6 weeks prior to the first test the South African press are suggesting the Lions can win "If British forwards hold the South African pack. They should win the test matches for they have better backs than S Africa. This article pinpoints Unwin amongst others in the "Brilliant British back line"  Article by HA 'Boy' de Villiers after the two loses at Cape Town praising the potential of an 'over-rated' British side. 


Jim played in 15 out of the 24 matches, scoring 34 points. The last match against Combined Country was an unofficial match. Playing in the first two internationals, Jim missed out on the great victory by the Lions in the last test, his place being taken by Welsh Wizard Elvet Jones.  



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A set of cigarette cards was produced by the United Tobacco Company. The 62 card set features both the British Lions tour squad and the Springbok players who were likely to face them. Jim's card was number 34 in the set .





This specially made 1938 British Lions Photo Album has a few great action shots of tour matches and many candid photographs of the players on tour. There are 20 pages of photos, we believe that each player received one of these albums and that they were encouraged to take photographs by the management. Below are a selection of photographs from the album, however the full album together with a large number of unmounted photos can be viewed on a separate page. To view this page please click on the link below this section.


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 On board the "SS Stirling Castle"   Jim and a ssssssssnake   The locals welcome the Lions   at the waterfalls
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  A hunting we will go.   Real Lions, best viewed from inside a car   Action against Northern Transvaal. Danie Craven executing his famous dive pass watched by Roger Sherriff and Ferdie Bergh   Drop out - Jim is centre of picture


.................... More photos, this time miniatures in a loose wallet.


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  Training with a difference DIY lunch Roll call in training, Jim can be seen wearing his 1936 jersey  Meeting a dignitary prior to the Northern Transvaal match   Team visit to Cecil Rhodes grave   meeting the natives   meeting more natives   blazers & ties for this occassion



To view Jim's complete collection of photographs from the 1938 British Lions tour




A tour summary by the Cape Times concludes........ 

Yesterday at Newlands the British rugby touring team ended it's tour of South Africa with an unofficial match against a Combined Country side. The tour has proved to be the most successful in this country for 40 years - since Hammond's team was here in 1896. Our visitors return home with the proud distinction of having scored more points than any other team to visit South Africa , and of having scored more victories than any team since Hammond's.



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Biography & Xmas card featuring a portrait of Blair Mayne by Jack Courier


Blair Mayne (middle) with fellow Lion Duncan MacRae & Frank Mellish The Springbok Mayne killed hanging from the hotel window


The following is an extract taken from the biography of Blair Mayne, a team mate of Jim's on the 1938 tour. "The sharp contrasts, the chiaroscuro in the Mayne make-up, were beginning to appear. With the shyness went a propensity for schoolboys pranks. In Pietermaritzburg there was a grand dinner and ball for the visiting Lions. The ladies wore there most dazzling gowns, and the men were in evening dress. It was the kind of social occasion which Blair Mayne always avoided. Since schooldays he had never been at ease in mixed company other than that of his family; and at university none of his friends remembers seeing him 'chatting up' a girl. At the Saturday night 'hops', the informal dances at Queen's where the lusty and romantic young mixed and matched, he had never been seen on the dance floor. He was usually present, but would spend the evening among the males up at the bar. On the night of the Pietermaritzburg ball, he disappeared after dinner. The excuse he made later was that he did not wish to desert some new-found Afrikaner friends who were not in proper dress. It was late next morning when he strode through the hotel lobby, an extraordinary apparition, his dress-suit torn and filthy as though he had been scrambling through the ditches and thorn-bushes. Across his broad back was slung a bloodstained buck. Sammy Walker awoke to find Mayne standing over him and the springbok lying across the bed. Mayne had gone game-hunting with his Afrikaner friends and brought back a souvenir for his captain. In his history of Irish rugby, Sean Diffley gives an estimate of Mayne, on and off the field: 

Mayne was a Viking, a throwback to the ancient days of towering warriors, gentle and charming when in repose, but fierce and dangerous when aroused - and a "hyphenated" nuisance when he had a "couple of jars". His fierce dark physical outbursts may well have been the stuff of legend, but they were not always fun to those immediatly concerned, and they were a great cause of worry to his friends. There was the case of the Irish player for instance, who in 1939 , was thrown out of the window of the Swansea hotel by Mayne during the post-match celebrations. Witnesses were thankful that it was a ground floor window and that the player came to no harm, but it was not simply high jinks either that caused the incident, but the result of Mayne brooding darkly on something that is now long forgotten.'

This is confirmed by South African player who records that Mayne regarded the playing of the game as more important than the results, but also loved the physical contact of play." 

Jim also told me the story of dead Springbok, it seems that Mayne must have toured the hotel and visited all his team mates because Jim also woke up to find a dead Springbok in his bed. For further information on Blair Mayne visit the Blair Mayne Association website CLICK HERE and for information on Blair Mayne during the 1938 tour CLICK HERE

Blair Mayne was killed in a car crash in Ireland in 1955



Team Opposition Date Venue Score  
British Army French Army 24th Feb 1940 Paris 36 - 3

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This is one of the greatest sides ever assembled, despite the French team fielding 11 internationals, the tricolours could not compete with the speed and inventiveness of the British XV.  
England Wales 9th Mar 1940 Cardiff  

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War Time Charity International, this was the last match for the ill fated Obolensky who died 20 days later in a plane crash.
England Scotland 1943     Services International
England Wales 1943     Services International



Jim played county cricket for Essex, he was an all rounder as can be seen in the newspaper clipping below, scoring 145 not out and in the same innings his bowling figures were 2 for 37. He also played county cricket for Suffolk, he is listed below as playing for the Suffolk 2nd team. In this article by 'Cover Point' he is described as "a batsman with an attractive style, and one who is always on the look-out for the smallest scoring opportunity".

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The Essex team ????


145 not out for the Gentlemen of Essex and Jim makes 61 for Suffolk 2nds.  


Essex v Hampshire scorecard including EJU. Jim's brother Freddie is captaining the side. This is Jim's last match for the Essex XI


Unknown team Including EJU


The 1938 Australians led by Donald Bradman dined at the Savoy for the tradional pre-tour function as guests of the British Sportsman's club. Jim was on Table 29 !!!!




by David Pracy (cricket historian)

Jim was a right-hand middle-order batsman and right-arm fast-medium bowler, who in seven matches from 1932-9 scored 152 runs (average 10.85) and conceded 103 runs without taking a wicket.  He was never a first-choice player but would have come in to cover injuries, or absences of other amateurs through business commitments.  His best scores were 43 against Notts in 1932 and 48 against Sussex in 1934.  In the Yorkshire match of 1934 there were four inexperienced amateurs in the Essex side and he was the one chosen to captain them; in 1938 a similar thing happened and one of the professionals captained the side, a sign of changing times.

FS Unwin captained the Second XI after the war but I can find no record that Jim was involved with Essex again. Jim did turn out for Suffolk 1951-6 but we have no details about that at present.



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Another great all rounder was Jim's brother, Frederick St George Unwin, described as the Admiral Crichton of sport he was a blue at Haileybury in cricket, rugby, hockey and fives. He was also a very useful tennis player. He attended Cambridge University and played alongside Jim (as a flanker) at Rosslyn Park also at cricket for Essex whom he captained on numerous occasions. 

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Fame at last ! - Jim appears in a Kodak film along with a host of other stars


DAI'S DIARY - In January 2001, I met with Jim Unwin at his home in Essex. At 89 years of age Jim was still as sharp as as he ever was on the rugby field, he was reminiscing about his career, relating stories from the 1936 British tour of Argentina and 1938 tour of South Africa, about his fellow players Obolensky, Mayne, Cranmer & Gadney,  Jim and I spent a pleasant afternoon going through his scrapbooks, reliving those great tours. For Dai's Diary main page CLICK HERE

In September 2002 Jim celebrated his 90th birthday and continued to live in happy retirement with his wife Jacqueline.  In this same year they moved from the family home in Birdbrook, Essex to Perth, Scotland to be near Jacqueline’s family and especially her father Jim Ellis, a former Gosforth player.  The two Jims got on famously and they sometimes joked about eventually going at the same time. In the event, Jacqueline’s dad Jim passed away on the Sunday before the RWC Final 2003.  Jim who hadn’t been in the best of health leading up to this point, clung on for another week to watch the RWC final, then fell into a final sleep after the presentation. Jim passed away the next day on November 23rd 2003.  A great sportsman, soldier, a family man and a hell of a character.  The World Rugby Museum salutes this great man.  



The Jim Unwin Collection in print

World Rugby Museum supplied many photos for the 1936 & 1938 British tours sections in this fantastic history of the British Lions from the Jim Unwin Collection. 


"The Complete History of the British and Irish Lions" 

For more information on this luxury limited edition book, click on the image above or CLICK HERE


Judging by the amount of times that Scottish international Laurie Duff seems to appear in Jim's photos on the 1938 tour of South Africa they must have been very good friends. WRM supplied Uddingston RFC with photos of Laurie Duff from this tour for their history published in 2006.


"100 Years of Uddingston Rugby Football Club" - by Joe James


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We hope you have appreciated reading about the life and career of Jim Unwin, if you are able to add any stories, pictures or information relating to Jim's career or the matches in which he played, please CLICK HERE to email us.

Contributors - Jim & Jacqueline Unwin,  -  Dai Richards (World Rugby Museum)  -  Alan Evans (Rugby Historian & Barbarians Archivist),  -  Andrew Hambling (Haileybury School Archivist), -  Neil O'Brien, (Cardiff)  -  Hayley Richards (Rugby Relics)  -   David E Whittam (Rosslyn Park club historian)  -  David Pracy (Essex cricket historian),  -  Ian Diehm (Queensland RU archivist)




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