Frederick Herbert Thompson
- 131Wallaby Number
Fred Thompson was one of three members of the Eastern Suburbs club who represented Australia shortly before World War I and died during it; Doss Wallach and Harold George were the others. Thompson, a solidly-built and rugged loose forward, had an almost identical career to Wallach; they made their debut in the same match, made their Test debut together and played their final match together. Thompson, like Wallach, was a big man for the time and his husky 5ft 11in (1.80m), 13st 11lb (87kg) frame suggested power even before the first whistle blew. Thompson made his debut against Queensland in 1913, in what was basically a trial for touring selection. Most of the New South Wales players were fairly sure of selection and Thompson was one of the 18 from his State named for the tour.
In New Zealand he was one of four players who the tour selectors felt was indispensable and who was therefore included in every match; winger Ernest Carr, centre Larry Wogan and forward Paddy Murphy were the others. There was a strange lack of faith in some of the chosen forwards, as two Queenslanders, Dave Williams and Sandy Horodan, only had a few matches each and two New South Welshmen, Roy Roberts and Ralph Hill, were never chosen at all while, the main eight was worked to a standstill. It made little difference to Thompson, who enjoyed both the rugby and a good reputation earned the hard way.
From the first match, against Auckland, he was known as one of the team’s hardest workers and his place, generally in the middle of the three-man back row used in the 3-2-3 scrum favoured in Australia at the time, was secure from the first match. He did not attract many rave reviews – the tourists struggled early on with the more powerful New Zealand packs and lost five of the first six matches – but things were improving match by match. Eventually the tourists, who had been thumped 30-5 in the first Test by a very strong All Black side that was just about to leave for North America, got to the stage where the second Test, against a completely different XV, was a close-run thing and the third was won convincingly. This last match represented Australia’s first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand and, at 16-5, allowed no room for argument.
Thompson scored Australia’s first try that day and played his part in a forward effort that was superior to that of the home team. The very strong Easts side won the Sydney title in 1913, aided by the fine play of its three Wallabies, and in 1914 all were ready to face the All Blacks again. Most of the touring side had been in North America where they fashioned an incredible record, winning all 16 matches and scoring 156 tries to one, so Australian players had an idea of what to expect. The visitors were again in top form a year later and returned home undefeated; in truth they were seldom tested. Thompson appeared against them five times – twice for New South Wales, once for Metropolitan Union and in two Tests. He should have played all three Tests but there was something of an economy drive when the side for the Brisbane match was announced, with eight locals (six forwards) in the team; only Harold Baker and Doss Wallach, two absolutely ironclad selections, were invited north of the border to take places in the home pack.
Australia never got close in that match and Thompson was quickly returned to the Test side for the second Sydney match. Once again the All Blacks were too good but by the time the match was played men’s minds were already turning towards war. Britain had already declared war on Germany – it was done while the tour was still halfway through – and rugby players in both countries were quick to sign up. Thompson, along with most of his team-mates and all his opponents from the Test, was soon in uniform and he was shipped off with one of the early contingents. Fred Thompson was killed in action in 1915. His brother, Charlie, kept the family name to the fore after the war by winning State honours and playing six Tests.