The First Volunteer: Walter Cairns Black – Saracens 1st XV 1913-14

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.

Walter Cairns Black

Walter Cairns Black in 1913-14 team photo, pictured standing behind his Captain and fellow Scot Duncan McMillan

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.

Daniel Stewarts College

Daniel Stewarts College

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.

10 thoughts on “The First Volunteer: Walter Cairns Black – Saracens 1st XV 1913-14

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  4. Walter Cairns Black was my grandfather Gavin Black’s brother. I have a copy of the diary he kept during the four months he spent in the trenches of the Western Front, before being killed by a sniper’s billet on Dec 23, 1914. My grandfather, Walter’s brother Gavin, served in the Gallipoli campaign with the Otago Mounted Rifles, having emigrated to NZ in 1913. He was badly wounded in July 1915 and invalided back to NZ. Another brother Charles died of complications after being wounded in France in 1917.

    • Thank you so much for making contact Alison – really pleased to be in touch! Were you aware of the Saracens connection at all? We would be delighted if we could arrange to update one another with new information about Walter & would really like to read his diary, if possible, so that we could complete his biography appropriately for the Saracens WW1 project. My contact details are: saracensrugby@btinternet.com 07785 396126 regards Colin Veitch

  5. Walter Black was my great uncle. His brother James Robert black is my great grandfather. My Aunt in Edinburgh has the original diary. I grew up in Scotland and Australia and now live in the USA.

    Walter was 26 when he died in Givenchy France and was a lance Corp.

    Catherine Cairns (11 Bangholm Terrace) mother of JR Black …she had 5 or 6 children [ Walter, Gavin, Charles, Hugh and JR Black.. I think she also had a daughter called Isabella who died at 11 months.]

  6. Walter was my great uncle, his brother James Robert Black was my grandfather. Walter is commemorated on the Memorial at Le Touret, Richebourg, Pas de Calais. I have photographs if wanted.

    Walter was one of 6 boys and 1 girl – in order: Walter Cairns, Gavin, Isabella Catherine, James Robert, Edward Gilchrist, Charles Morrison and Hugh Francis.

  7. Pingback: JS Greer – A Dedicated Saracens Club Man | Saracens Rugby Club and W.W.1

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