Charlie Pritchard was one of the greatest of Welsh forwards in what was called the first ‘Golden Era’, a time when Wales ruled the rugby world. He won a Triple Crown in 1905, helped his country become the first team to beat the touring All Blacks in the same year and was part of the Welsh side that won the first Grand Slam in 1908.
Born into a family of nine children, Charlie was educated in Newport and Bristol and went into the wine trade after leaving school. He made his Newport debut at 18, in a win over the hitherto unbeaten Swansea side in front of 12,000 fans at St Helen’s, and went on to captain the club for three of the 10 seasons he played in Black & Amber. Charlie was voted ‘Forward of the Year; in a public poll at the close of the 1906/7 season. He made 217 appearances for his club and led them in their narrow defeats to both New Zealand in 1905 and South Africa in 1906. His Wales debut came in a defeat to Ireland in Belfast in 1904, but he won the Triple Crown in 1905 and played in the win over New Zealand. He made one appearance in the 1908 Grand Slam season and won his 14th and final cap in the first international played at Twickenham on 14 January, 1910. England won that one 11-6. Charlie was one of the 13 Welsh internationals who died in WW1.
He was a good leader of men, captaining his club, Newport, for three seasons and being picked out as officer material early on in his army career after joining the 12th Battalion of the Borderers, 3rd Gwent. By October, 1915, he had made Captain and led his ‘Bantam’ battalion to the Front Line in France in the summer of 1916. The Daily Mail had noted in their report of the famous 3-0 win by Wales of the 1905 All Blacks, their only defeat on tour and their first international reverse, that Charlie “was always in the thick of the fight”. The great ‘Dromio’, writing in the South Wales Argus, was more prosaic in his appraisal Charlie, stating he “performed prodigies of aggressive defence”. There was never a backward step with Charlie! So when it came to performing one of the raids on the German trenches, with the express intention of taking a prisoner for interrogation, he was right there with his troops.
On 13 August, 1916, his led a raiding party across the divide between the British and German trenches in the Loos area of the Western Front. There were no guns, merely clubs and knives, and in the initial hand to hand combat Charlie is reputed to have subdued to Germans with his fists. As they struggled to extract a Bavarian officer, Charlie was wounded. As they took their prisoner back across ‘No Man’s Land’ Charlie was hit again by another bullet. This time his injuries were more serious and, having successfully returned to the British trenches, he was carried to the medical post before being transferred to No 1 Clearing Station, neat Choques. Three of the raiding party later received Military Medals, while Charlie was Mentioned in Desptaches. He was now facing the biggest fight of his life. This time he lost. But before he passed away his final words revealed everything about his dedication to duty and his determination to succeed in his mission.
“Have they got the Hun?” asked Charlie with his final few breaths. When the answer came back as ‘yes’ he simply added, “well, at least I’ve done my bit.” He died on 14 August, 1914. Some four months later, on 10 December, 1916, his pregnant wife, Florence, gave birth to a daughter, back home in Wales to add to their son, Cliff. Florence died, aged 69, on 14 August, 1985.As a comrade wrote in a letter to his wife, “The battalion lost a gallant officer, generous, chivalrous and large minded gentleman.” He was that and much, much more.