A regular feature about people who have been involved in the Poneke Football Club here in Wellington. It could be about any rugby club up and down New Zealand, or around the world. In fact it could be about any sort of sporting or social or service or professional voluntary group, because it’s really about people who help create communities by getting in and giving it a go.
What else were you going to do with your one short life?
Add in camels and Jerusalem, the Ranfurly Shield and captaining the All Blacks, and it’s a boy’s own story from another time.
Beet’s mother, Clara, was a classical music fan and occasional composer, and named another son Haydn. The other children, for unrecorded reasons, got standard names: Eric, Doris and Douglas.
Beet was born in Wellington in February 1894. His parents separated when he was seven, and the children moved with their father to Worser Bay, where he went to the local primary school.
There’s a story that Beet ran away from home when he was 13 after an argument with his dad, and found a job in a hotel in Masterton. His father died in 1909, and Beet was soon enough back in Wellington, working at his brother’s joinery factory in Kilbirnie and playing rugby for Poneke.
He was fast and he was agile, and he didn’t mind where he played: first-five, second-five, centre or wing. Selected for Wellington in 1914, he starred in the Ranfurly Shield victory against Taranaki on 10 September, scoring a try and dropping a goal.
That was the last Shield match until 1919, because war had broken out on the other side of the world.
Like a lot of young kiwi men, that sounded to Beet like an adventure with pay. He enlisted with the Wellington Mounted Rifles in August 1915, embarking on the Tofua on 13 November and arriving in Suez on 18 December 1915 – the same day that New Zealand troops were evacuating Gallipoli.
He was after action, and hanging around with horses in Egypt wasn’t it. So he volunteered to join the New Zealand company of the Imperial Camel Corps in July 1916, eventually being promoted to sergeant. At one stage he was part of TE Lawrence’s escort: ‘rather aloof’ was his judgment.
On 30 November 1917 Beet was shot in the right buttock during the battle for Jerusalem. He was evacuated to Cairo on a cacholet – a couple of stretchers astride a bouncing camel.
Infection meant that amputation of a leg was a real risk, but he recovered and was invalided home in July 1918.
Back to work with his brother building houses in Miramar, and in 1919 back playing rugby for Poneke and Wellington. In 1920 he married Kathleen Norman and got picked for the All Blacks.
He played six games in the silver fern, one as captain, but no tests.
In truth, that last match is an anomaly. It came in the middle of the 1921 South African tour, and the team that played New South Wales would nowadays be called New Zealand A: players on the edge of test selection.
Poneke stalwart Grant Griffith points out a couple of interesting things about Poneke’s All Blacks of the time:
Beet and Jim Tilyard were both All Black captains in 1920 and both were from Poneke club. Also unusual during the era was that four sets of brothers were in the Poneke team – the Algars, Tilyards, Calcinais and Shearers – with at least one of the brothers being an All Black. The club had six All Blacks in that era.
Beet was a Poneke man straight through, and after his playing days he gave back. Coach of the championship team in 1925, administrator, and patron of the club from 1979.
Kathleen and Beet had four children, two of each. Eventually they retired up the coast in Levin, growing orchids, and attracting occasional fame as the oldest living All Black until he died, aged 95, in 1989.
It has to be said that the original Beethoven made some lovely music. But he never played for Poneke, and he never captained the All Blacks.