A while back, Ashburton Museum staff learnt that a fantastic exhibition had been developed and was touring from the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North.
Titled, Balls, Bullets and Boots: From Rugby Field to Battlefield, it told the stories of players and coaches who also served in World War One. We wondered if any of the featured players or coaches had connections to Ashburton?
It turns out that Ashburton has close connections to one of New Zealand’s most extraordinary sporting and military families.
The Dansey family arrived in Ashburton in 1905, when their father was appointed Postmaster. With nine children, the family were well-known as prodigious athletes.
Their parents were Englishman, Roger Ingram Dansey, and his wife, Wikitoria Ngamihi Kahuao, daughter of a prominent Ngāti Tūwharetoa family.
Harry Delamere Dansey (1874 – 1942)
A fluent English, Maori and French speaker, Harry was involved in rugby clubs wherever he lived, and was a capable club administrator throughout his life.
He played eleven games at halfback for Canterbury in an 1898 tour of the North Island.
One of the first Māori men to qualify as an engineer, his professional skills served him well on the rugby field just as his sporting prowess did on the battlefield.
In 1906 he married Winifred Mona Orr in Hakatere, the daughter of a prominent local farming family.
Almost 40 years old when he enlisted in 1914, Harry sailed with the second draft of the Maori contingent and held the rank of second lieutenant. He was soon promoted to lieutenant, then captain, and in 1918 was awarded the Military Cross for ‘distinguished services on field’.
He returned home in 1919.
Roger Ingram Dansey (1885 – 1938)
Roger was a talented athlete, who played for Christ’s College 1st XV in 1901-02.
He joined the Ashburton Old Boys Football Club in 1904, and captained the Ashburton County representative team 1904 – 1905, and played for the South Island team, New Zealand Universities and the Māori All Blacks in 1910 and 1911.
Also an engineer, Roger enlisted as a lieutenant in the Māori Contingent in 1914. Then 29, the examining physician described his physique as being, ‘exceptionally well developed’.
He arrived at ANZAC Cove in 1915. With Captain Pirimi Tahiwi, he is remembered for introducing the haka ‘Ka mate’ to Gallipoli, and for the powerful effect that war chant had upon both soldiers and the Turkish enemy.
Roger quickly moved up the ranks as a leader of the Maori contingent. He known for leading from the front – in contrast to the British style, where leaders worked from behind their ranks.
Roger spoke fondly of his troops, and once told an Australian paper, “the Maoris enjoyed nothing more than a good muck up with the bayonet and were prominent in all charges. They acted splendidly and I felt very proud of them.”
That fondness led to Roger being sent home at the end of 1915. Along with two other officers, he refused to order his men under to commit a suicidal charge during the battle of Sari Bair.
Instead, the three officers proposed to lead others under their commanding officer’s leadership, but would not take their own men to certain, pointless death.
Today, the act is read as bravery in the face of a poorly equipped commanding officer’s orders.
For a short time, Roger returned home to recruit others, travelling extensively as a well-known and inspiring rugby player and soldier. On his return to the front he was promoted to major.
He would die in 1938 as a result of war injuries due to gassing, following many productive years of engineering during peace time.
A talented family
Roger and Harry’s brothers were also strong players and servicemen.
George (1878-1960) played rugby for the South Island team in 1905 and continued to play rugby until age 45.
He signed up in 1915, and sailed to war on the same ship as Dave Gallaher, captain of the legendary 1905–06 ’Original All Blacks’.
He was a selector for the New Zealand Māori team that toured Britain and France in 1926.
Edward Dansey (1888 – 1964), the younger brother, did not go to war. He played for Methven in 1909, captained the Ashburton’s Southern Cross club, 1911 – 1912, and played five-eighth for Ashburton County, 1909 – 1912.
His son, John, played rugby for the RNZAF team in 1943. He was killed in 1945, while serving in the Solomon Islands.
By Max Reeves, Vanessa Coulter and Tanya Zoe Robinson
- Harry Dansey in military unform, 1918.
- Roger Dansey in his New Zealand Universities uniform.
- George Dansey in military uniform, 1917.
- A cartoon from Christ’s College paper showing Roger Dansey running with the ball.
- Roger Dansey leading a haka in Paris, 1917.