Walter Cairns Black was an integral part of the Saracens side of 1913-14, a side that was to sadly contain no fewer than 6 casualties to the Great War. A proud Scot, and a chemist by trade, Black crossed the whitewash three times that season, a considerable contribution for a forward in the era. Strong-jawed, broad-shouldered and teeth clenched, he is the very epitome of the tough forward Scotland was famed for producing in the era.
There was a discernible Scottish flavour to the Club at this time, with a large proportion of the membership hailing from north of the border. Records of a pre-war ‘England vs Rest of the World’ friendly game held by Saracens amongst its squad members record that, in effect, it was largely an ‘England vs Scotland’ affair, although early hints of the inter-war Welsh influence to come, plus the presence of a flamboyant Frenchman (L A Amadeau) are also on record in the Club history. Captain and leading try-scorer Duncan McMillan was Saracens’ leading Scot playing alongside W.C. Black, and in his first and only season as captain led the team to a record of nine wins and twelve losses, a marked improvement over the disastrous previous season.
The eldest son of six boys, Walter was raised in Edinburgh, at 11 Bangholm Terrace, where his father James Black was a book-binder. Although still part of the working class, James’s job was considered highly skilled, placing the family within that top 15% of the working class, often referred to as the ‘artisan class’, which afforded the family the luxury of allowing Walter to study as a Chemist.
Having attended the prestigious Daniel Stewart’s College (now Stewart’s Melville College) on Queensferry Road, where he is likely to have gained his introduction to the game of rugby, Walter progressed to Edinburgh University where he was to qualify in 1910. This presenting him the opportunity to move to London, working first as an assistant with Mr H. Dixon, at his pharmacy in Russell Gardens, Kensington, before later joining the staff of Messrs. Allen and Hanbury of Lombard Street. Despite working in such fashionable parts of London, Black’s moderate means meant he resided in the rather more humble surroundings of Finsbury Park. Saracens then was the natural choice of club to attend, especially given its strong Caledonian presence already.
Black was to be amongst the very first soldiers, and the first-known Saracen, to sign up on 4th August, paying his pound to enlist in the fashionable London Scottish regiment. We will be updating Walter’s story over the coming months, along with that of the many other Saracens that went to war. Please follow the stories as they emerge.