Bruce McNeil Beith
- 145Wallaby Number
By the end of 1920 Bruce McNeil Beith had accomplished more in the first twenty-seven years of his life than most men accomplish in a lifetime. Born in Mudgee on 28th September 1893, Bruce was one of five children born to Robert and Edith Beith. He was educated at Mudgee Grammar (NSW) and then at Barker College, Hornsby (NSW), where he played in the 1909 and 1910 1st XV teams. He matriculated in 1910 and studied medicine at The University of Sydney, graduating in 1916. Barker rugby was in its infancy when Beith first played for the school but he developed enough talent and skill to not only play for St Andrew’s College but to be selected as the fullback for the University 1st XV in 1913.
In that same year he earned his place in the NSW State team and in 1914, only a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War in Europe, was selected for the Australian team to play in the Third Test against New Zealand at the Sydney Sports Ground on August 15th. On completion of his medical degree in 1916 he worked briefly at the Repatriation Hospital in Randwick (now Prince of Wales) before enlisting as a Captain with the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC). He set sail for Europe in November that year. He served with a number of battalions including the 3rd Australian General Hospital in France and was honoured with a Mention in Despatches in 1918 for “gallant and efficient service as RMO to the 53rd Australian Battalion…during the battles of Peronne and Morlancourt and the attack on the Hindenburg Line at Bellicourt.” From 1914-1918 Australia had suspended the play of competition rugby union games, but during the Armistice of January 1919 a decision was made to establish a rugby competition for the Services and Dominions in England.
Australia decided to enter and the 1st AIF Rugby team was formed. Starting on March 1, a series of matches were played in the competition for the King’s Cup which included teams representing the New Zealand Army, South African Forces, the RAF, Canada and a combined British side known as the ‘Mother Country’. Beith was selected as fullback for the AIF side, which won three of the five matches played. The games attracted considerable crowds and even members of the Royal Family. After the game against Canada, he met the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert. Beith considered the AIF vs New Zealand game in Bradford to be the best match he ever played in, for the simple reason that this was to be the only game he would play against New Zealand in which the opposition sustained defeat. Bruce Beith returned to Australia in February 1920, and within a few months was selected for the New South Wales (Australia) side to play in the 1920 Test Series against New Zealand in Sydney. Even though New Zealand remained undefeated in the three Tests, Beith was described as the best player on the field in the Second Test and earned high praise for his performance as fullback during the series. Bruce Beith retired from representative rugby soon after and became a full-time General Practitioner.
In 1924 he moved to Gunnedah where he married a local girl, Bess Goodwin, and had three children. In the early 1930’s he relocated to Brisbane, before finally moving to Uralla, NSW, in the late 1930’s where he practiced as a GP for the rest of his life. He provided the town with the full range of medical services and also sometimes acted as the local vet. His first wife Bess died in 1941, and in 1948 he remarried. Throughout his life, Bruce Beith always maintained a keen interest in Rugby. He was involved with the re-formation of Queensland Rugby Union in 1928 and for a time was a selector in NSW and Queensland. He always attended the major games in Sydney with his rugby friends, especially when the French team was touring.
In August 1961 he travelled from his home in Uralla to watch Australia play France at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the last time. He was staying with friends in his usual suites at The Australia Hotel when he suffered a fatal heart attack after the game. He is buried at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium in Sydney. Bruce “Jackie” Beith was the first old boy of Barker College to be selected to play representative rugby union. He earned four caps in his rugby career, earned a Mention in Dispatches in his military career, and earned the respect of many in the small country town communities he served in his medical career.