Capt Walter E Rees ran the Welsh Rugby Union from his front room in a Neath Town Centre house for over 50 years, He has been the longest serving secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union. Prior to this he was secretary of Neath Rugby Club. In 1910 he was the assistant manager of the British team's tour of South Africa. His strength of character was legendary and together with Sir John Llewellyn (WRU President 1885-1906) also of Neath, he guided Wales through their first golden era in the early years of the 20th century.



An Appreciation by leading Welsh Journalist

JBG Thomas 

JBG Thomas was one of Walter Rees' great Ad book "Men Matches & Moments

The late Walter Enoch Rees - the most illustrious of Welsh administrators - became a legend in his own lifetime. He was known to his intimate friends as Walter, and to the populace as Captain Rees. About him a thousand tales can be told and he is remembered in Wales as are players like Owen, Trew, Bancroft Gabe and Nicholls, for Walter was truly a character; more than that even, an institution in the game. Indeed, until his death in 1949, at the age of 87, he seemed as old as Welsh rugby itself, an ever-present member of the administration. One might even say that he was THE administration for his powerful 52 years as secretary!

Never in the history of rugby football has one man wielded as much power as this benevolent 'dictator', who served rugby faithfully in his native land and maintained a dignity and a control that was the envy of many. He was Welsh rugby and not even Daniel Craven, the most powerful of modern administrators can match the influence possessed by Walter at the height of his power, in the days between the Wars. 

Many have tried to denigrate this amazing personality; some because they were envious of his power, others because they never understood him, while some felt him pompous because he did not suffer fools gladly. It is true that he had certain weaknesses, as have most benevolent dictators but his fantastic aplomb and capacity to survive in the corridors of rugby power give cause for him to be remembered as one of the most amazing personalities the game has ever known. 

He fascinated me always, even before the War when, as a 'beginner in the trade', I approached him rather nervously for a Press pass, and then later when I knew him more intimately, and sat with him in his dining-room at 'Norwood'... Neath (which was the WRU office for 52 years) sorting out the Press passes for international matches. 

Yes, Walter was an autocrat and ran the Union as he thought fit, but always doing what he thought was in the best interests of Welsh rugby. Whenever I asked awkward questions about the agenda of a monthly meeting of the WRU executive, he used to reply, as we supped a cup of coffee, 'I wouldn't say anything about that! 

Perhaps, in his later years, he took too much upon himself, for immediately before and after World War II he was all-powerful, and it was he who directed affairs under the equally long-serving President, Horace Lyne. When the great administrator from Newport passed away, Sir David Rocyn Jones became President and this dapper, dynamic figure set the Union along a more democratic road. Walter resigned from his post at the great age of 86, the oldest rugby secretary of all time, and no representative official is ever likely to break his record of 52 years unbroken service. 

Some of the legendary stories about this remarkable personality make interesting reading. Few rugby officials have been able to commandeer a whole train and, even fewer, able to drive into Twickenham in a magnificent saloon with a police escort of outriders while his committee travelled by coach! No secretary in my lifetime has ever engaged in a 'grand parade' round the touchlines of his home ground, raising his hat to the salute of the crowd. This was Walter, the supremo of Welsh rugby. 

He was born at Neath on April 13, 1862, and was first employed as a secretary by the Ministry of Labour before becoming the secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union in 1896 in succession to W. H. Gwynne. At the time he was 34 years of age and did not marry until he was 46, and then to a Scottish lady, Miss Elizabeth Peters, of Aberdeen. Becoming the Union secretary, as he did, a few years after their first Triple Crown triumph, he enjoyed taking an important part in the most colourful period of Welsh rugby, through the 'Golden Era' from 1900 to 1911. When World War 1. arrived he was too old for active service, and became the recruiting officer for the Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend areas. 

Walter was particularly interested in public life, being elected to the Neath Town Council in 1900 and becoming the town's mayor in the memorable year of 1905. Prior to his becoming the WRU secretary, he had been secretary of the Neath club and a district member of the WRU, as well as a  representative on the International Board. Thus he was extremely knowledgeable in the ways of public life and in the administration of the game. When he took office in 1896 there were 50 clubs in the Union, but when he retired in 1948 there were 104. Again, in 1896, the receipts for the Wales v England match at Newport were £1,100, while in 1948 the Scottish game at Cardiff produced nearly £10,000. 

Walter was known throughout the rugby world, and in 1910 was one of two managers of the British Lions' 'team in South Africa. Again, he was Neath's senior magistrate for many years and towards the end of his life carried out his duties bravely while suffering ill-health. Public life to him was the very essence of living and, although he enjoyed the plaudits of the crowd, he was a remarkable administrator. Those who worked with him appreciated this, for he possessed unconquerable energy and enthusiasm. 

To the people outside the inner circles of Welsh rugby he will be remembered best as Captain Rees, a short, dapper figure, immaculately dressed, who stood in the foyer of the Queen's Hotel at Cardiff, or the Metropole Hotel at Swansea, on the morning of an international match, producing tickets of admission for late-comers, and particularly those exiled Welshmen who had travelled many miles to see the old country in action. 

When he retired, and I was the only other person present when he handed his resignation to Sir David Rocyn Jones over lunch at the Queen's Hotel in Cardiff, he told me with tears in his eyes, 'I have been very happy in the job, which has been full of pleasant memories. 

'With the retirement of Walter, and his death a year later, Welsh rugby lost one of its most important figureheads. After his passing there followed an era of change and the establishment of proper Union headquarters in Cardiff. The era of 'benevolent dictatorship' had passed, as have so many other traditions in the game in recent years. Critics of Captain Walter Rees there may have been, but there can be no denying his ability, his power and tremendous influence as a top rugby official. I will remember always his saying to me in Paris in 1947, as we marched through an avenue of gendarmes from State Colombes to the official coach in case of crowd troubles, 'Is this a guard of honour for me, Thomas?'


Selection letter 1923.jpg (68171 bytes) Env - W F U.jpg (46040 bytes) hb-fr & bk.jpg (53873 bytes) hb-admit close up.jpg (99162 bytes) dm-presentation 46.jpg (32591 bytes) dm-presentation 46 middle.jpg (46399 bytes)
letters of selection were dispatched on headed notepaper from Walter's front room. Handbooks that belonged to Capt Walter E Rees. These were used to gain entry to all matches under the jurisdiction of the union.  Dinner menu from a presentation evening given by the Neath Rugby Club to celebrate Rees' 50 years as secretary of the Welsh Football/Rugby Union, autographed on the back cover.

ltr-j gwill.jpg (148566 bytes) ltr - j gwill 2.jpg (181906 bytes)


Gwilliam reminisces about his dealings with Walter Rees (bottom of page 1 and top of page 2) 

" No doubt the post of secretary has changed a lot in recent years. I look back with amusement at dear old Walter Rees who was in charge when I started playing after the war. It was said that he did everything from the front room of his house in Neath. He certainly frightened us as young players, queuing at his table for expenses at trial matches etc. He was quite capable of refusing anyone who claimed for more than a cheap day return."


Walter's thrift with the Union's purse was legendary. he'd regularly walk into the changing room prior to an international and lay the law down on expense claims. Ronnie Boon in an interview with the Times in 1983 elaborates "Fifteen minutes before the game was due to start (England v Wales 1933 - the first Welsh victory at Twickenham", Walter Rees, secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union and a great and dominant character in Welsh rugby came into the dressing room and said. "Now boys I want you to remember this I don't want to see you charging for taxis to Cardiff when you put your expenses in." Boon elabrorates "Wages were low and there was a lot of unemployment in those days. For boys who worked in industry, charging taxi fares when they had taken buses to Cardiff from their homes was the only way they could make half-a-crown or so to help their families and give them an extra pint or two. Who could blame them ? I still smile when I think of Walter worrying about expenses at such a moment 


13.jpg (44975 bytes) 11.jpg (59214 bytes)

A Menu card for a presentation dinner in honour of Walter's 50 years service as Secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union. Held at the Castle Hotel in Neath on Friday, 24th May 1946 (WRM-0188)


Samples of WRU stationary during Walter's period of office
12.jpg (33100 bytes) 87.jpg (15978 bytes) 10.jpg (69456 bytes) 08.jpg (59861 bytes) 07.jpg (87677 bytes)
1919 - Return card - address Walter Rees and selection card for Welsh Trial match at Llanelly  


1919 - Selection letter for trial match - Blues v Stripes at Neath  


1926 - Final Instructions for Welsh Trial.  


1930 - Final instructions for F v W at Paris.  


04.jpg (73331 bytes) 05.jpg (92806 bytes) 06.jpg (71204 bytes) 09.jpg (180342 bytes)
1935 - Final instructions for W v NZ at Cardiff.  


1940 - Final Instructions for E v W Services international at Gloucester. 


1938 - WRU notice of committee meeting on decorative WRU-Neath letterhead.  


WRU notice of AGM 1938.




 45.jpg (288474 bytes)

Appreciation of Captain Walter E. Rees  

by Percy F Bush

I count it as a single honour and privilege to be allowed to speak this evening in appreciation of this truly “Grand old man” the undisputed “G.O.M of administrative Welsh Rugby for he was a man apart”!

I first came under the spell of his charm , his consideration his understanding of human frailties, his sporting nature, in 1905, on the occasion of the Wales New Zealand game on Cardiff Arms Park, a game in which, as everyone is by now nauseated to hear of, our N.Z cousins lost the only match of their grand tour.

Now an International cap means a real lot to its recipient, and the Welsh Rugby Union, with a fatherly desire not to cause a player to suffer from swelled head and true be unable to wear it presents a player with this cap, via the unions secretary, as the player walkes on to the field for his first game. Thus dear old Walter accosted me in the touchline, that day and handed me the “ Scarlet Glory” saying: here you are , Percy; you deserve it. I wont wish you good luck, for you do not depend on that; but just All the best!.

I have always been sorry that a little later I caused Walter a nasty spasm although that smoothed itself out all right. In those days, Cardiff boasted 2 evening newspapers, and I wrote articles in one of them, “the Football express”, and in the article which gave offence, I was supposed to be talking with an old-timer . I had compared Cardiff with other Welsh clubs, to the great disadvantage of all the others, and the old-timer disagreed. “ take Neath, for instance”, quoth he, and I interrupted rudely with “take Neath? I wouldn’t take it as a gift” this just to annoy the old-timer, because I knew he was a Neathite! Of course the “Express” went down the line and of course Walter bought a copy. The following Saturday, he was in Cardiff and wanted to know how I dared disparage Neath his native town. Fortunately he was Mayor that year, so I told him I would not take Neath as a gift, or otherwise, because I would not even think of depriving him of so precious a possession! Walter roared with laughter, and all was peace and plenty. You could vilify Walter himself, as much as you pleased. But attack Neath, and you were “asking for it” not Neath.

I know he forgave me, because whenever Wales came to France while I lived in that country, there was always a seat for me, and for my son, in Walter’s private carriage to the ground, from Paris ; and then back. Also an invite to the after-match banquet, for both.

Again after taking up residence in Cardiff once more, I went down to Neath one Saturday to write-up a Cricket match between Glam & Gloucestershire. I was simply dying for a cup of tea when the players took theirs, and it was a very long way to the nearest tea providers. So I trailed Walter round to his nearby house and when he had entered I rang the bell, and announced that I had come to tea as per invite. “Do you remember asking me, Walter?” , I asked, and he replied immediately, of course Percy. Glad to see you. That was Walter all over The perfect gentleman even in times of stress.

I never had the slightest trouble over getting my old internationals ticket, after my return. Walter knew I wanted it, and a word was sufficient.

I shall miss him quite as much as anyone outside the immediate family circle. In every way a man in a million.         


Captain Walter E. Rees

Tribute to the work and personality of the late secretary of the welsh rugby union, who held that office for 52 years, are paid by some of these who knew him well. #

Speakers :-

Percy Bush, Ald. L Burton , Rowe Harding and D.R.Gent.

D.R.Gents recording DLO 55065

Transmission :- Wednesday 29th June 1949 6.45-7.00pm .

Rehersal :-                 "             "          "          " at 5.00pm .

(from Cardiff )


This is the welsh home service. Tonight we are paying tribute to the work and personality of the late captain Walter.E.Rees.

For 52 years he was secretary of the welsh rugby union and for half a century was a dominating influence on our great traditional winter game.

Our first speaker, although a Welshman and proud to hail Swansea as his native town - is a former English international scrum-half. we're going back now to the days of Dicky Owen: He is of course DR.Gent and this is what he recorded for us yesterday.


One of my earliest recollections of welsh rugby football is connected with the St. Helenn's ground Swansea . There, where i lived as a boy, I used to try and save enough money at least to watch the international matches, never dreaming that one day i should be lucky enough to take part in such an olympian contest myself. But a memory more abiding even than the games themselves is of that dear old man, Sir John Llewellyn of Penllergaer, then president of the welsh rugby union. Ten minutes before the kick-off Sir John used to leave the Cricket Pavilion, which was the home rugby side's dressing room as well, and walk across the field to take his place in the Grand Stand.  We all loved seeing him. His apperance, in all winds and weathers, always brought a cheer. We felt that all was well - the teams were complete and ready : the master was in his place: the game was on: and it was "Cumry am byth"

Fifty and more years ago, when Walter Rees was appointed Secretary of the walsh rugby union, he began to carry on the same sort of blessing, though, perhaps, in a more executive and supervising capacity. At Cardiff Arms park and St Helen's we used to see him calm and inruffled, strolling round and taking a last look at things, and only leaving the field when Teams, linesmen, and referee were in position, and when not even the secretary of the Welsh Union had any right to be on the field. The crowd felt that all was in order if Walter Rees was there - it represented friendship, warmth, and tradition - true Welsh traits, all of them.

But this was only the occasional glimpse of the man behind the scenes. All the time, winter and summer, there was the executive officer of the Union at work, coping with the intricacies of the control of a game like Rugby Football in the Principality, a country whose skill and vigour and sesources in oputdoor sport have for a long long time been best expressed in this grand old game - Wales,  Music, Rugby Football, the world links these three together.

In the formative years when the game was organised to keep pace its popularity, when crowds grew to the enormous size of an international match at Swansea or Cardiff, when laws had to be modified, and in a word when this " tackling, Kicking, catching, running" game had passed from a bit of fun on a school field to a great game and a big business, there was Walter Rees as guido, councellor, working with that other grand old man Horace Lyne, also recently taken from us, and earning the respect and admiration of countless players, club officials, Union representatives, and spectators for more than a couple of generations. I am proud to pay this small tribute to two great pillars of Welsh Rugby Football, whom  I knew as friends for so long a time.


In addition to being administrator, Walter Rees took pride in the civic administration of his native borough Neath.

To tell us something of this side of his life, here is Alderman Len Burton.

Captain Walter E. Rees.

Was a member of Neath Borough Council from 1900 to 1919.

Serving 19 years in public administration.

He was Mayor of Neath from 1918 and chairman of one of the rotas of justices, and that was not all, he was also a justice of the peace for the county of Glamorgan .  He was a man of outstanding charecter and ability, held in the highest esteem by his fellow-burgesses who admired and respected his pronounced civic spirit ans his complete integrity. He took a particular pride in his service as a justice of the peace and no effort was to great for him to make to enable him to attend sittings of the borough and county justices. His loss to the Borough is one that is felt deeply and he will long be missed as a gentleman who devoted his energies to the full to the tasks he had in hand and who was whoel-hearted in the furtherance of the interests and well-being of the community. We in Neath were very proud that Captain Rees held the position as secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union with great distinction over such a long period of years. He was present at most of the home games played at the Gnoll, and he will be missed greatly by all the members of the Neath Rugby Club. His advice was often sought and was invariably of a sound constructive nature. He did not suffer fools gladly, but by example and precept gave a lead which all administrators whether in sport or other activities would do well to follow.He was a man held in the highest regard by all who knew him well. We of the ancient borough of Neath respect those who have rendered service to the community and so we place on record the valuable service of Captain Walter Rees.

Contribution by ROWE HARDING

It is nearly thirty years since i played my first game of first class Rugby, but from the age of about 10, which is to say, nearly 40 years ago, I read eagerly all that was to be read in the local newspaper about rugby and rugby players, and , of course, devoured all the ece-of-the-match gossip which then , as now whetted one's appetite for news of the first international match of the season, between England and Wales.  One pice of information which was invariable published in those days was a copy of the instructions issued to players by the secretary of the Welsh Football Union. O these, I particulary remember "The Welsh team will play in dark blue shorts and international jersey. Then would follow details of the match arrangements and finally the name WALTER E.  REES. Even then the name somehow impressed me more than the names of the players, Famous though many were. It is almost incredible that even in those far off days, nearly 40 years ago, Walter E. Rees's name had been household word for over twenty years. In the minds of most people WALTER REES was the Welsh Union, and  I have no doubt that during the golden era of Welsh Rugby he got, and , no doubt desrved, a good deal of the credit for our successes. I know that in the Lean years that followed the first worl war, he was the man most often blamed when things went wrong, though in fact he had nothing to do with the selection of the team. All this shows how powerfull his personality was impressed upon the game of Rugby in Wales .  The emotion inspired in most people was one of respectful awe.. Not infrequently he was addressed as "Sir Walter", but to most people he was Captain Walter Rees, to his intimates only he was Walter, and very few dared to address him as "REES", though I have ocassionally heard Welsh Union members refer to him as "REES" when he was not present, just to show they were not afraid of him.  To most of us, who played for Wales , he was an aloof and distant figure, who saw to every thing necessary for our comfort, but rather in the manner of a stern but just school master put in charge os a party of new boys. in my day, we lost so many matches that we were always having new boys, which maybe was why he never knew us long enough to become really as friendly with us as he was with Percy Bush.  I got to know him better after i finished playing and then realised that his rather forbidding manner was assumed to discourage the many thousands who would have liked to cultivate him for the tickets he possessed. He kept for his friends a dry humour and a loyalty which made him respected and beloved.  He did not promise easily, but he never broke a promise made, and he had a prodigious memory which enabled him to remember, without note or record, what he had promised and to whom.  As a magistrate, he possessed an innate sense of justice, and an instinctivity judicial mind of which and professional lawyer would be proud . Neath and Wales are poorer without him but his memory will be long and affectionately cherished.



www.rugbyrelics.com   -   www.world-rugby-museum.com