Walter Smale Friend
- 162Wallaby Number
The King’s School in Sydney has produced some great rugby players over the years. In 1888 King’s School Past and present played the touring British side. The British never lost a game on the tour, but this was one of their two draws, finishing up at 10-all. Three masters at the school played, including NSW players Harold Baylis, Greg Wade and J. Rice. The School was smart enough not to front up against the visiting NZ tourists in 1893 and 1897, but when the British team arrived in 1899 they played a match against the Great Public Schools, A.G.H. Gardiner being one we know of as coming from The King’s School. Watty Friend, after leaving school, played for Glebe-Balmain, and he was to play 56 games for them.
His elder brother, R.M., was to play against the AIF and Queensland. Watty was a forward, and a tough one at that. When he dropped out of the tour to NZ in 1923, The Visitors noted: “The absence of W.S. Friend, the outstanding forward who had played against the All Blacks in 1920 and 1922 and had captained New South Wales against New Zealand Maori in 1923, weakened the side considerably.” For Friend to be so lauded by such a significant New Zealand rugby publication attests to his outstanding ability. We are unaware of why he did not tour New Zealand, and for that matter why he never went overseas during his career, but it was not uncommon in those days for firms to deny leave for sporting teams. Watty’s first flirtation with the big time was for a NSW 2nd XV against NZ in 1920.
Watty impressed in the 18-31 loss, scoring two fine tries, and was selected for the following NSW team (now regarded as a Test) and the Metropolitan Union against the All Blacks. He played three games against them in seven days. The captain of the New Zealanders was Jimmy Tilyard, and some of the top players were Cec Badeley, Moke Belliss, Billy Duncan, Teddy Roberts, Jack Steel and Alf West. Watty had survived his baptism by fire. The team in Friend's Test debut on 7 August 1920 at the Sydney Sports Ground was: Jackie Beith, Jackie Shute, Larry Wogan, Roy Chambers, Arthur Mayne, Oney Humphries, Norman Mingay, Bob Marrott, Viv Dunn, Irv Ormiston, Charlie Fox, Watty Friend, Willie Watson (capt.), John Bond and Tom Davis. In 1921 the mighty Springboks came on their first trip to Australia.
There were five of the Morkel family in the team. An anomaly concerned the captain, Theo Pienaar, who seemed to have been selected for diplomatic rather than playing reasons. He did not play in a single Test, his deputy, Bob Morkel, captaining the team. Watty played in the three Tests against them, and was cited in each game as being among the Waratahs’ top players. In the second NSW game, won by the Springboks 16-11, the Sydney Morning Herald reporter noted: “Yet against this formidable-looking combination in the African front line the New South Wales forwards acquitted themselves remarkably well, frequently bursting through the ponderous opposition with ball at toe, and carrying it on with those dribbling rushes which are the very essence of Rugby.” In 1922 the All Blacks came, and Watty played in the three matches against them.
Moke Belliss was the New Zealand captain, and they were formidable, none more so than the mighty Maurice Brownlie, a man of commanding physical presence, immense strength and indomitable will. Another was Harold Masters, who later on made a considerable contribution to Australian coaching at Easts, and he would become an Australian selector. Flanker Jock Richardson was for a time the last living member of the ‘Invincibles’, and was to die in Australia. In the first NSW match, Howell, et al,in They Came To Conquer state: “Tom Davis, Watty Friend and Fox [were] the best for New South Wales.” The second game was won by NSW 14 to 8, and was the All Blacks’ first loss in Australia since 1910 and their first to NSW since 1907. The third match was won by NSW 8 to 6, Tom Davis, Bill Marrott and Watty standing out in a determined home effort.
This represented New Zealand’s first loss in any series in its proud history, and was a credit to both players and administrators in NSW in bringing the game back to its former glory. It was in 1923 that Watty Friend was elevated to the captaincy of NSW. He led NSW in what are now regarded as Tests against the Maori, and thus he is a Test captain. As captain, he has a 100 percent winning record, the Maori losing the three games. ‘Watty’ led his team from the front, showing superb leadership qualities. ‘Watty’ Friend was undefeated as captain of Australia. “Watty” Friend was a product of The King’s School, and his life there and afterwards is covered in an address given by the Right Rev. Sir Marcus Loane at his funeral. This has been passed on by Jenny Pearce, Archivist at The King’s School. Walter Smale Friend was born on September 19th, 1898, the middle son in a family of seven boys and one girl. Six of those boys went to The King’s School as their father and grandfather had done. Walter entered the School in 1912 as a member of Broughton House which had been opened only three years before. During the next six years, his achievements were on the field of sport and as a born leader among his peers.
The Rev. Stacy Waddy was Headmaster until June, 1916: then he left the School for War Service as a Chaplain. Walter Friend’s final terms at school therefore coincided with the first eighteen months during which the Rev. J.A. Pattinson was Headmaster. Walter made his mark early in School life, and his last three years saw him in the front rank of School affairs. He was made a Monitor in 1915 and was Captain of the School and House Captain in 1916 and 1917. He was awarded the Buckland Cup for the Open Boxing Championship for three successive years, and won the Burkitt Shield as the boy who had done most for the School in his final two years. He was an officer in the Cadet Corps and received colours for shooting in 1916 and 1917. He played in the 1stX1 from 1915 to 1916 and 1917; H.O.Rock and the Bettington brothers were also in the team which won the G.P.S. Championship in 1915 and 1916. Walter Friend scored two centuries in 1915, 103 and 104 not out, and was awarded an Honour Coat. But his greatest love was football.
He played in the 1st XV for three years, received an Honour Cap, and was Captain of the Champion team in 1917. There was very little at School that he did not attempt and achieve with exceptional success. Walter left School at the end of 1917 and joined the A.I.F. in February 1918. He was sent to England and then spent five months in France and Belgium. But it was the tail-end of the War and he did not go into battle. He was demobilised in England in October 1919 and returned to Australia via the United States of America. He then joined his father’s firm, W.S.Friend & Co., Wholesale Hardware Merchants in York St., Sydney.
He had not lost his love for Rugby; while in England during 1918, he had been picked to play in a team representing all Australians in uniform. He joined the Glebe-Balmain Club in 1920 and played for it each season for four years; he was Captain in 1922-23. He represented New South Wales for the first time in 1920 and played against the All Blacks in 1921, the Springboks in 1922, and the Maoris in 1923 when he captained for three Test matches. His marriage took place at the end of 1923, on December 11th, and he did not play serious football again. But his inborn love of games of every kind was to last throughout his life.
He followed the fortunes of The King’s School in G.P.S. competitions with an eagerness that could hardly have been surpassed had he still been on the field himself. He turned in later life to golf, and then to bowls. Quite apart from the game itself, he greatly valued the contact and friendship with others it made possible. Meanwhile in the twenties he was learning from his father the raw business lessons of a Wholesale Hardware Merchant, and in the early thirties he was ready to branch out on his own. On his father’s death in 1941, Walter became a Director of W.S. Friend & Co, a Trustee of his father’s estate. As Wholesale Hardware Merchants, his firm was committed to the manufacture of small engineering parts required for the War. With more modern equipment, this was to expand into heavier production. His father’s estate held the property known as Bobara at Gaylong near Harden.
This property was controlled by the Trustees for nearly forty years, but was sold three or four years ago. It gave Walter as deep an interest in the country as the city, and he described his occupation after 1941 as that of Grazier and Director. Meanwhile his involvement in The King’s School ran parallel with his professional career. He donated the Colin Friend Cup for Swimming in memory of his brother who died in 1942. He was President of the Old Boys’ Union from 1944 to 1946 and of the Schools’ Club from 1952 to 1953. He was elected by the Old Boys’ Union as a member of the School Council in 1945 and except for twelve months while away in England in the early fifties, he served on the Council until 1969. He was appointed to the Executive Committee in November 1960 and became Chairman of the Building Committee in 1962.
He had been the Honorary Organiser of the first Building Fund Appeal and was the tireless President of the second appeal. There was no aspect of School life that failed to attract his interest and attention. The last meeting of the Council which he attended before retirement was on October 31st, 1969. It was a unanimous decision on the part of the Council to call the new swimming pool and gymnasium The W.S. Friend Physical Education Centre; it was a fitting tribute. Apart from his home and family, his father’s estate and commercial activities, the great love of his life was The King’s School. His counsel was sought and his influence respected by his colleagues and Old Boy circles to a remarkable extent. There were two great issues in which he was deeply involved. After the War, the School Council took the momentous decision to seek a new site on which to rebuild the School.
An approach was made to the Trustees of the Estate of Sir James Burns for the purchase of Gowan Brae, but the Chairman flatly refused to consider it. Then Mr Syd Hoskins offered his home with some seventy acres at Wollongong and the Headmaster was most anxious to accept. This led to a grievous split in the ranks of the Old Boys and of the School community. Walter Friend and George Sutherland led the opposition relentlessly, and in the end, successfully. It was a time of great tension; many friendships were strained, bitter feelings were allowed to surface. I well remember Walter Friend’s share in the Council debates. He stood his ground in the teeth of opposition; he was always armed with solid material; he was never ruffled; and as far as I could observe, he never displayed any personal rancour towards those who opposed him.
When the Council eventually resolved not to proceed with the Wollongong proposal, a fresh search began. Walter had always friendly with Mr Geoff Johnstone, one of the Trustees of the Burns Estate. He had been told that the School had no hope of buying Gowan Brae, but to keep on trying. So at regular intervals, Walter raised the question in private. He was in England when the Chairman died and the residual Trustees at last agreed to make Gowan Brae available. Walter Friend’s private contact had kept it alive when others had forgotten. Retirement from the School Council in October 1969 was accompanied by retirement from business.
Walter then bought a property called Carlton next door to his son at Walgott. Four or five years later, he relinquished it for his son and went to live at Collaroy. Here the latter years of his life were spent until he moved into a unit in a retirement village at Mona Vale. He retained his tall and upright figure and always looked what he was, a man of strength. He had strong likes, and strong dislikes; he was never afraid to speak his mind; he was a formidable opponent. But his purpose was always clear; he strove for what he believed to be best; and he was magnanimous in his attitude to others. There were several occasions when illness took him to hospital,
The first was due to a heart attack when he became a patient in Sydney Hospital. Then came major surgery in North Shore not quite twelve months ago. And then in September, he began to suffer severe pain in one of his legs: this proved to be cancer of the bone and meant that he had to spend his last days in a private hospital. I went to see him on several occasions; he loved to reminisce about other days and old friends. He was deeply touched when Dr Alan Acheson, the new Headmaster of The King’s School, went to see him. He was not an active churchman; like many others, his understanding of Christian truth was largely shaped by his memories of Services in the School Chapel. Beneath a deep reserve, there was a profound and conscious need for a firm spiritual anchorage. On Sunday morning, he passed through the last shadows of death into the clear light of eternal day.