The 1940s - From Global War to Hope, Stopping All Stations In Between

Unless you've never opened a book, you will understand the first half of the 1940s was an extremely difficult time for everyone. The Second World War began in late 1939 and by 1940 it was clearly not going to be something that was over any time soon. Everything that might have been regarded as normal was going to change, and nobody could really guess at where and when those changes would stop.

The most important change at the rugby club, as at every club everywhere, was that uncertainty was the only given. Would a player be available for the whole season? A month? Next week? Once he went into the services, when, or perhaps would, the club ever see him again? 

Nobody knew, and nobody really wanted to guess.

Service teams dominated the Gallaher Shield for the next six years, as one would probably expect. Ponsonby, rapidly shorn of almost all its players, had to amalgamate with ancient rival Grafton to field a Senior team. Neither club was particularly happy about this - they had, after all, already squared off more than 100 times in their respective histories - and as soon as it was possible to reassert individual identities, it was done.

Information about rugby was necessarily limited by paper restrictions, manpower and, occasionally, censorship. As you'll see in the newspaper links, match coverage was often limited to score and scorers. A lot of players will have gone through the club and not been recorded; to them, we can only say we would have if we could have.

The big success story at Ponsonby came off the field, with the formation and business of what became known as The Ladies' Committee. It wasn't unisex, and a lot of couples were staunch members, but most importantly it achieved things on the club's behalf that were next best to impossible - they ended the War with a significant surplus in the bank, and put a lot of money into club projects and player welfare. They were a remarkable group of people, many of whom were later first-choices for the 1950s Building Committees, and their efforts went a long way to ensuring Ponsonby was ready to face the new world order in 1946 in better shape than many of their rivals.

Only one leading player remained with the club throughout the War - Percy Tetzlaff, whose occupation as an engineer servicing refrigeration on shipping that was bringing foodstuffs into New Zealand meant he was classified as being employed in essential industry. His contribution to the club, which began almost as soon as War broke out, would last for 60 years.

Too many club members never had the chance of prolonged service; the list of Ponsonby members killed in action or as a result of wounds was a long one. It included three of the 1936-38 Gallaher Shield champions, and a fourth member of that side also died just before he was due to head overseas. As in the first War, it included one of the club's All Blacks. It started early in the War, and finished late. The AGMs would include a tribute to fallen clubmen every year. 

Ponsonby, the district, having weathered the Depression, could handle anything the world chose to throw at it. Regardless of the innate toughness of the local people, however, the early 1940s were not a time anyone enjoyed.

The second half of the decade also brought its challenges, but most of those were about adjusting to the brave new world that stretched out before those who survived the war. For the men who had fought, it was a world they were totally unfamiliar with. It involved a 'regular' job, when up until now their regular job had been soldiering, and in many cases a new wife, a new mortgage, wage packets that struggled to keep up with rising prices, normally a brood of kids not too far down the track, and a period of considerable adjustment. A lot found it very difficult to cope, with various disturbing consequences.

In other ways, however, New Zealand returned to its old, comfortable, conservative self. If things had changed a bit from the 1930s, attitudes remained basically similar. And among those familiar things were rugby, racing and beer. Every suburb, including the new ones, had a footy club handy. The racing news was on page three of Monday's Herald, followed by the sports, and then after that came the leader. World news was tucked away down the back. And most had the secret knock for at least one pub to combat six o'clock closing.

Ponsonby attracted half a dozen of the brilliant Kiwi army team, but ideas of instantly overwhelming the field had to be put on hold as those stars managed only a handful of games in the first two post-war seasons. When they finally had one with no interruptions, Ponies had one of their finest teams and finest years. That, however, was a one-off, and it wasn't long before the blue-and-blacks were in the pack slugging it out behind Varsity and school Old Boys clubs, who were entering the period of their greatest success. For the district clubs, Ponsonby among them, it was a time of consolidation and seeking to attract new members as the population spread outwards. It was neither the best nor the worst of times, but a period which was fraught with uncertainty.