Vayro William Wilson
- 306Wallaby Number
Vay Wilson was a man of few rugby words who became an accomplished leader and a war hero. A studious, contemplative second rower who was equally at home at prop forward, Wilson will be remembered for captaining the ill-fated Second Wallabies’ tour to Great Britain. Upon their arrival England declared war with Germany and the tour was abandoned without a match played.
A keen student of the rugby game, especially from a tactical perspective, Wilson was born in Toowoomba and educated at Gympie High School where he played his first football. He also represented in cricket, as a slow left-hand bowler, and a left-hand batsman, and in tennis. After school he enrolled at the University of Queensland and in 1930 actually started at fullback in the 7-16 loss to the University of Sydney in the annual McLeod Shield rugby league match.
He came to greater public attention when he made the Australian Universities team in 1934 and a year later made his senior representative debut for Queensland against New South Wales. That match marked the beginning of 26 consecutive caps Wilson won through to the end of the 1939 season. In 1936 he was deemed unfortunate to miss out on a spot on the Wallaby tour to New Zealand however that was all forgotten the following season when he made his test debut and went on to be the only Queenslander to start both matches of the home series against South Africa.
In 1938 he succeeded Cyril Towers as Australian captain for the three Bledisloe Cup Tests on home soil. That same year Wilson completed his Bachelor of Arts with honours in mental and moral philosophy. He later added a Masters degree and diploma in education. To top it all off he was also awarded a Carnegie Education Fellowship. The following season Wilson captained Queensland to four consecutive victories and three in their four match series with New South Wales to earn the honour of leading the Second Wallabies to Great Britain. After the tour was abandoned, Wilson remained in the U.K. to undertake his fellowship / Doctorate of Philosophy at the University of London. While there he played rugby for Rosslyn Park and was chosen alongside ‘Weary’ Dunlop for the Barbarians to play Cardiff at Cardiff. For reasons unknown Wilson withdrew from the fixture, replaced by Christopher Thompson, an uncapped South African at Cambridge, well before the game itself had to be cancelled as the pitch was frozen.
Wilson was then commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. In July 1940, Wilson found himself caught in a German air attack on the south-east coast. 'I had just entered the dockyard when a shower of bombs was sent down by Nazi planes.' Wilson said. 'With an African and an Englishman, I asked the commander who allowed us to take a boat for the rescue, although the raid was still progressing. We reached the stricken ship and filled the boat with wounded and made for the shore, by which time the other rescue ships had come on the scene. There were some dreadful sights.' Wilson rose to the rank of lieutenant commander and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, later presented to him by King George VI, 'for courage and enterprise in action against enemy submarines.’
Vay Wilson played five Tests for Australia, three as captain, in a two-year international career.
Wilson won his first Test cap at lock, in combination with Eric Hutchinson, in the 1st Test, 5-9 defeat to the Springboks at the S.C.G. where it was said that ‘he played with his sleeves rolled up and revelled in the hard-slogging forward exchanges.’ Hutchison and Wilson were retained for the second Test at the same ground three weeks later however the Queenslander was knocked out in the fiery opening exchanges. Australia scored 11 points to nil in a thrilling second half yet still lost the match by 17-26.
Wilson, as the 31st Wallaby Test captain, started at prop in a front row that included Eddie Bonis and ‘Mac’ Ramsay in the 1st Test, 9-24 defeat to New Zealand at the S.C.G. He was joined by Alby Stone at hooker and Cliff Lang on the other side of the scrum for both the second and third Tests of the series.