Billy Johns

Photo:Billy Johns

Billy Johns

By Malc King

William “Billy” Johns was born on 1st February 1882, in the parish of St John the Baptist, Gloucester, the son of a ship repairer and ship owner. In 1891, the family was living at 6 Norfolk Terrace, Norfolk Street, South Hamlet, Gloucester. By 1901 they had moved next door to Anfield House, 5 Norfolk Terrace, and Billy was by then working as a commercial clerk.

Billy first played rugby as a pupil at Sir Thomas Rich's School in Gloucester, and captained the school team for 2 seasons 1894-95, whilst playing half-back. He went on to play for Rich's Old Boys for 2 seasons, and then for St Catharine’s, before graduating to the City team. He made 6 appearances for the Gloucester 2nd XV during the 1901-02 season, and made his debut for the 1st XV at Kingsholm against Cheltenham, a mid-week fixture, on 17th April 1902. In this penultimate game of the season, Billy scored a try, contributing to a 28-0 win. He was not selected for the final match of the season against Cardiff, but the Club had taken note of his talent in the front row (by now he was playing as either hooker or prop forward), and Billy established himself as a regular in the side by the end of the following season. In his first three seasons for the Club, he played under the captaincy of George Romans.

In 1902-03, he made 17 appearances (out of 35 matches) for the Gloucester first team, and scored two tries, the first against Clifton early in the season and the second against London Welsh towards the end. He also made several appearances for the 2nd XV, and scored a try for them against Chepstow St Mary’s on 28th February 1903. Billy was starting to make his mark in a Gloucester pack which was in a process of change. At the end of the season, W B summarised the situation in the Citizen: “Coming to the forwards, Gloucester were splendidly served at the start of the season, but some of the old hands subsequently resigned, and for the latter engagements several young hands were drafted into the team. The recruits displayed capital form, and the pack which finished the season was a good working lot…..F Pegler, W Johns, H Collins and H Harris found regular places in the pack in the latter half of the season, and their form was in every way satisfactory.”

Billy was an ever-present in the Gloucester team in1903-04, playing in 31 of the Club’s 34 fixtures (only “Jummer” Stephens played more). He scored two tries, against Bristol and Leicester.

Although George Romans was re-elected as captain for the 1904-05 season, he resigned a couple of months into the season, and at the beginning of December Billy was elected as captain by the players. W B commented: “In selecting W Johns to succeed Romans, the players made an excellent choice, for he proved himself a capital leader, and one of the most popular skippers ever possessed by the club”. Billy appeared in 30 of the Club’s 36 fixtures, and contributed 3 tries; the first two were in County Cup matches against Cheltenham and Stroud, and he then played in the final against Bristol on 25th March. The Cup was won 12-0, and gold medals were presented to each member of the Gloucester team by Mr Ball, the County Union President. The captain not only led the team on the field but also led the training, and it was recognised that Billy had a beneficial effect on the team in both respects. In his end of season summary, W B wrote: “Forward, considering the light pack, Gloucester have done splendidly, and the men under Johns are to be congratulated on the result of their efforts. There has been a great improvement in heeling, and in the open some dashing work was accomplished. After he assumed the captaincy Johns’ Football improved considerably, and he played a number of fine games.” He led the team to a record of played 36, won 23, lost 11, drawn 2; points for 499, against 155.

At the Club AGM in the summer of 1905, Billy was re-elected as captain, and led them to another successful season in the 1905-06 season, the record being played 37, won 26, lost 8, drawn 3; points for 661, against 165. He again played in 30 matches and scored 3 tries – one against Bristol, and two against Stroud on 11th November 1905. The season started with the opening of the new gymnasium (now the Lions’ Den), a new facility greeted with a good deal of pomp and speeches. Billy then led the team out and they added to the euphoria of the occasion with a 29-0 win against Clifton.

The highlight of the season was the arrival of New Zealand to play Gloucester at Kingsholm on 19th October 1905. The match was hard going for the Gloucester team as a whole, but for Billy and the rest of the pack in particular, because Gloucester chose to play only 7 forwards in order to allow them to play 3 half-backs. As captain, Billy must have been party to that decision, and the plan failed, But Billy’s problems as captain were compounded by injuries to Hudson and Wood, who had to leave the field for periods (and replacements were not allowed in this era). The All Blacks delivered a crushing 44-0 victory.

W B was mightily impressed by both the captain and his team: “The season of 1905-06, which was brought to a close with the match against Bath, will deservedly rank amongst the most successful in the history of the Gloucester F C. We can recall years when fewer defeats have been sustained, but against this fact must be placed the records set up by the team which has performed so brilliantly under Captain Johns’ leadership. The huge aggregate in points piled up this season – second only, we believe, to the phenomenal scoring of the New Zealanders – is easily a record for the Club, the previous best being 542 points in 1901-02.”

The fine form of Billy and his team caught the eyes of the county selectors, and on 6th January 1906, Billy won his first county cap in a baptism of fire against Cornwall at Redruth. Gloucestershire came away with a hard fought 0-0 draw, but had lost all their previous matches and were eliminated from the County Championship after this game.

In 1906 Billy married Beatrice Mary Wells at Chorlton, Lancashire

The report of the Club AGM in July 1906 recorded: “The Chairman, in formally proposing D R Gent as captain, regretted that Mr Johns could not accept the position again”.

Despite giving up the captaincy, Billy still played in 27 of the Club’s 34 fixtures in1906-07. He scored a try in the first match of the season, a 6-0 win over Lydney, but then had to wait six months before scoring another, against Plymouth. In commenting on the season as a whole, WB said: “W Johns, H Collins and G Vears were a trio of hard workers who added to their reputations”, but overall it was a disappointing season for the team.

In 1907-08, Billy had another full season, playing in 27 matches out of the full list of 34, his absences being accounted for by his winning representative honours. He enjoyed the most successful season of his playing career as regards try scoring with five. He started with a bang again, scoring two in the first competitive match of the season against Clifton, and then three more in a rush in April 1908, with two against London Welsh and one against Bristol in the last match of the season. Gordon Vears captained the side, well supported by Billy, as W B reported at the end of the season: “Gordon Vears proved an enthusiastic leader, and he received grand support from Vice-Captain Johns. The latter stood out as the finest forward in the team, and his brilliant work was one of the features of the season.” This form was recognised by the county selectors, and Billy played throughout the season for Gloucestershire, the only Gloucester player to win six further caps, but the County went out of the Championship after losing to Cornwall in a replay.

The 1908-09 season saw Billy’ career soar to new heights, but despite the demands of representative calls, he managed to play in 27 of the Club’s 37 fixtures. His only try came when Castleford visited Kingsholm towards the end of the season, but it was perhaps lost amongst the 16 tries registered by Gloucester as they ran out 75-5 winners that day.

There was another big occasion at Kingsholm early in the season when Gloucestershire played the Australians on 1st October 1908. Billy was one of six Gloucester players selected, and the County were generally considered unlucky to lose by as much as 0-16. On 24th December, the County had another interesting fixture at Kingsholm, when they played Racing Club de France. Billy was one of eleven Gloucester players who contributed to a 39-0 win. Billy went on to play in all eight of the County matches that season, although Cornwall again proved the stumbling block in the County Championship, when they defeated Gloucestershire 11-0 in a replay at Redruth.

All of this helped bring Billy to the attention of the England selectors. Although he was overlooked for the first international of the season against the Australians, after England lost that game changes were made for the following match against Wales, and Billy won his first England cap at Cardiff on 16th January 1909. His selection was greeted with the following comment in the Citizen: “The City player has played some remarkable games the last two seasons. Reward was forthcoming in John’s selection for England, and right heartily we congratulate the Gloucestrian on the coveted honour. Last year John’s was strongly fancied for a place, but he was passed over for inferior players. It was thought his chance had gone, and he decided to finish football at the close of last season. Pressure, however, was brought to bear on him, and the popular forward yielded, and no doubt he is now very pleased with himself at the decision.” He took support with him to Cardiff – “As it was a fair company made the journey to the Welsh Metropolis to give a little encouragement to Johns in his first big match. That the popular Gloucester forward would not disgrace himself in the select company was pretty certain” although “England were generally considered to be in for a good whacking.”

Indeed Wales did win the game 8-0. Match reports spoke mostly of Billy’s greatest strength – “Johns was conspicuous in one fine English dribble….the forwards brought off another superb dribble, Johns being at the fore.” It was generally acknowledged that the England forwards had played a great game, whilst the backs lacked a cutting edge.  Billy retained his place for the next international against  France at Leicester on 30th January, when England won 22-0, and “Simpson and Johns brought off a good passing movement which was stopped outside the French line. A minute later Hutchison went over with a try. In the last minute Johns scored for England.”- his first international try.

Billy won his third cap against Ireland on 13th February, when England won 11-5, their first victory in Dublin for 14 years. He made it a complete set of home internationals when he turned out against Scotland at Richmond on 20th March, although England went down 8-18.

At the end of the season, W B commented: “One of the most pleasing features of the season was the recognition paid W Johns, the popular forward, in being selected to play for England in four successive Internationals. The Gloucestrian secured his cap against Wales, and his grand work in that match marked him out for special mention by the critics. In subsequent games Johns worthily sustained his reputation, and was by general consent voted one of the best players in the English pack. In recognition of the distinction paid him Johns will be entertained to a complimentary dinner on Thursday at Gloucester.” Of his performances for Gloucester, W B wrote: “As already indicated the forwards have been the mainstay of the team, and right well have the men performed. W Johns claims first attention, and the International has shown form of the highest class all through. Each year Johns has improved in cleverness and general ability, and his brilliant work in the loose and line-out have been prominent features. Having had such a successful season we hope to see the popular City player in harness again, and bring further distinction to himself and his club.”

The celebratory dinner was held in his honour on 22nd April 1909, and the Citizen published a report the following day:

GLOUCESTER FOOTBALLER HONOURED

COMPLIMENTARY DINNER TO W JOHNS

W Johns, the popular Gloucester and County forward, was entertained to a complimentary dinner at the New Inn Hotel, Gloucester, on Thursday evening, in recognition of his being selected to play for England in four successive International matches. Last year, it will be remembered, A Hudson and A E Wood were similarly entertained. Mr E S Bostock Smith, President of the County Union, was the prime mover in arranging the function, and his endeavour to make the gathering representative of county football was in every way successful. The President occupied the chair, and on his left was the guest of the evening. Others present included Messrs F N Cowlin (Bristol), C E Brown, Guest Holman, J H Tratt (Stroud), C J Wolff (Lydney), S Carter, R A Roberts, F J Hannan (Clifton), J Hanman, A Fielding, H M Taynton, F Fielding, W Rasbach, A Hudson, D R Gent, J T Brookes, Alex Johns, Victor Rowles, J G Washbourn, J Oates (Bristol), Sidney S Starr, T L Carter, etc. The table decorations (provided by the President) were again a special feature, red roses, charmingly arranged, predominating. At the top table were miniature goal posts, with flags, tastefully decorated.

The Chairman announced a number of apologies regretting inability to be present. The President of the Rugby Union (Mr T C Pring) wrote: “Everyone connected with rugby must realise that the game is passing through a critical time, and it is essential that everyone interested should do what he can to keep the game alive, and the clubs and players together. We are going back here (Exeter), losing ground fast, whilst Association is making great strides, and I fear it is the same in a great many places. It is certainly no time for deserting amongst our clubs.” Mr W S Donne (Somerset, and a member of the English Selection Committee) wrote: “No player was ever more deserving of his cap than Johns, and no player ever justified his selection better than he did. He was a most useful acquisition to the English side.” Other apologies were from Messrs T Graves Smith, M J Waters (Surrey), A W Vears, L Vears, J W Jarman (Bristol), W Sawyer (Cheltenham), A J Gardner, John Fielding, M Barry Lewis, etc.

Following the toast of “The King”, the Chairman submitted “Our Guest” in complimentary terms. After detailing Johns’ football career, Mr Bostock Smith congratulated the Gloucestrian on the honour conferred on him, and said he had won his cap fairly and squarely. He only hoped his example would be followed by other Gloucestershire players, for Johns has shown by his perseverance and sticking to his game that the highest honours could be obtained. Mr Bostock Smith asked Mr Johns’ acceptance of a small token (a model football) as a souvenir of his International honours, and as an incentive to his son, when he came along, to follow in his father’s footsteps. Mr J H Tratt (who was down to propose the English Rugby Union, but which toast had to be deleted owing to the absence of the Rugby Union officials) supplemented the remarks of the Chairman, and said Sir Thomas Rich’s School and St Catharine’s Rovers, with whom Johns first learnt his football, were to be congratulated on turning out one of the finest forwards who ever donned an English jersey. The toast was received with great enthusiasm and musical honours. In response, the International said that a year ago when he attended a similar function given to his old colleagues, Hudson and Wood, he little thought that he would gain his cap. He must say the honour came upon him as a surprise, for he recognised that with such a big field to select from a player was somewhat lucky to get in the English fifteen. His only regret was that H Berry was not also selected, but he had little doubt his turn would come another season. He should like to say that one of the first to congratulate him was Berry. Mr Johns in conclusion, thanked Mr Bostock Smith for what he had done for him, for he attributed the honours he had gained entirely to the President of the County Union.

Mr Tratt next proposed “The health of Mr Alex Johns and Miss Johns” (father and sister of the International), which was enthusiastically received, and suitably acknowledged by Mr Johns, senior.

Mr C E Brown submitted “The Chairman”, and spoke of the President’s splendid and enthusiastic work on behalf of Rugby football in the county, noting many kindly actions to players who had been injured and other things of which outsiders knew very little. Mr Brown added his congratulations to Johns on gaining his cap, and also to the President on being elected the county’s representative on the Rugby Union Committee. He was sure Gloucestershire’s interest and football generally would be well looked after by Mr Bostock Smith. The toast was received with musical honours and repeated rounds of cheering. The President, in the course of his reply, spoke of the necessity for good fellowship amongst the clubs in the county, and remarked that when a club was down through ill-luck it should not be ignored but given a helping hand. After referring to his advocacy for junior and old boys’ clubs – combinations which he was certain were absolutely necessary for the future of the good old game – Mr Bostock Smith acknowledged the hearty sympathy and loyal support he had received from everyone during his two years in office as President, and promised all the help he could give to his successor, Mr C E Brown. The Chairman further paid tribute to he splendid assistance he had received from Mr K A Roberts, the County Secretary, Who had proved all through his right hand. With regard to his election as representative of the County on the Rugby Union Committee, Mr Bostock Smith said it would always be his endeavour to uphold the interests of Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire players.

The other toast was “Old Internationals”, proposed by Mr F N Cowlin, and responded to by Messrs Gent and Hudson.

During the evening an excellent musical programme was contributed by the following: Messrs D R Gent, G Romans, C J Knight, J Welshman, S Clarke, A Purton, Gues Holman, and C Shaw.

Billy was also getting involved in the Club in other ways - on 25th May 1909, he paid one guinea to the Club for the right to issue official programmes (presumably for the following season).This arrangement was renewed for the following season, when he paid another guinea on 9th May 1910.

Billy played his first game of the 1909-10 season on 2nd October 1909, and a memorable day it was, the defeat of Swansea, 8-5, being described as “a great and glorious victory, fully deserved and thoroughly merited”. It also marked the return to Gloucester colours of Arthur Hudson after nearly a year out with injury. Billy went on to play in half of Gloucester’s games that season, 19 out of 38, with representative calls again restricting his availability. His solitary try came against Lydney. 

He won six more caps for the County, helping them through two replays to emerge from the south-west group, starting with a 16-8 win over Somerset at Kingsholm. He then headed off for Redruth, the scene of so many previous disappointments, but this time Gloucestershire scored four tries and came away with a narrow victory, 12-11. Billy was one of six Gloucester players to travel to Blackheath for the semi-final against Kent, and a tight game was again won, 6-3. The County Championship Final was played at Kingsholm on 9th April 1910, and Billy was one of six Gloucester players to take the field. The day was a grand one for the County. This was only the third time that Gloucestershire had progressed beyond the SW group, but they won 23-0, and secured their first CountyChampionship.  At the Club AGM in the summer, gold medals and photographs of the Gloucestershire team were presented to the City players who took part in the final.

This success doubtless contributed to four Gloucester players being selected for England that season – Billy, Dai Gent, Harry Berry and Arthur Hudson. Billy played for the South in the first England trial match against an England side, but despite being on the losing side, 6-28, was selected for the Rest in the final trial, and they surprised the England side by winning 18-10. Both of these games were played at the newly constructed stadium at Twickenham, but the first International played there was against Wales on 15th January 1910. Billy played, and was the only player in the England team who had survived from the selection against Wales the previous season. Amongst the newcomers were his Gloucester teammates, Dai Gent and Harry Berry. They enjoyed a wonderful occasion, including victory by 11 points to 6, the first over Wales since 1898. Billy was described as “very clever with hands and feet, and can do his full share in the scrum”.

All three Gloucester players kept their places for the next match against Ireland at Twickenham on 12th February, which ended in a 0-0 draw. The match report speaks of: “Berry and Johns were prominent with dribbles…Johns was the best forward in the English side”, but this was in a pack which was well beaten on the day.

England moved on to Paris, this time selecting four Gloucester players – Billy, Dai Gent, Harry Berry and Arthur Hudson – to play at Parc des Princes on 3rd March, but Gent was unable to play. England won 11-3, with 2 tries from Hudson and one from Berry. All three were selected for the final International of the season against Scotland at Edinburgh, but neither Billy nor Arthur Hudson were able to play (although Harry Berry scored another try in helping England to a 14-5 win. This gave England the International Championship for the first time in 18 years. But Billy never got the call again, so the France game proved to be his seventh and final International.

During this period, Billy was in such demand with his commitments for Gloucester, Gloucestershire and England, that he never had a free Saturday. Nevertheless, his love of the game and willingness to answer the call were evident from his continuing appearances for the Gloucester Thursday team in local fixtures during the week.

In reviewing the Gloucester season, W B commented: “Tempted from his retirement, W Johns reproduced the form which gained him International honours last year, and again proved himself one of the finest forwards in the country. He was again selected for England for all the matches, and a well-known Northern critic included Johns in his list of the best British fifteen.” Indeed Billy was invited to join the British Isles tour to South Africa that summer, departing in June and returning in September 1910, but was not able to make the trip.

In the 1910-11 season, Billy played in 23 of Gloucester’s 40 fixtures. The highlight of the season for Billy and the rest of the Gloucester team was a trip to Toulouse, which took 6 days to complete – one of the players described it as “the time of our lives”. The Gloucester party travelled for three days with overnight stops in London and Paris to reach Toulouse. Gloucester won the game played at the Stade Toulousain on 28th February 1911 by 18 points to 13, The Toulouse club entertained them royally that evening, and the players took another 2 days travelling home. They may have been exhausted when they arrived back in Gloucester late on Thursday evening, but they had a match to play against Swansea on the Saturday. They managed to win that 13-6, with Billy scoring his only try of the season. The match report said: “The Gloucester forwards were in grand trim to-day, and it was due principally to their efforts success was achieved. Towards the end the men tired somewhat, but it was a gruelling game all through and contested on a treacherous pitch. Johns always comes out strongly against Welsh teams, and to-day the International was the finest forward on the field. The pace he showed when he scored surprised everyone, whilst his dashing work at all times brought him continually in evidence.”

Billy played in the first county match, a friendly against Glamorgan, which was won 15-5 on 26 October 1910, but he did not play in any of the three CountyChampionship games. He was selected to play for the South against England in the first trial on 10th December, but was unable to play, and his last chance was gone. In his summary of the season, W B wrote:  “Johns showed form fully equal to anything he displayed last year, when he was regarded as one of the best forwards in England. Yet the Rugby Union Selection Committee ignored his claims!”

At the time of the 1911 census, Billy and his wife were living at Galita, Linden Road, Gloucester, and he was working as a ship chandler in the family business at Gloucester Docks.

Billy played somewhat fewer games in 1911-12, turning out in 16 of the Club’s 40 fixtures. Early in the season, Gloucester made a rare away trip to play London Welsh at Wandsworth, and Billy scored a try in the 13-0 win. His only other try was in the 11-11 draw with Watsonians who visited Kingsholm at Christmas. The team enjoyed another trip to France, this time travelling to Paris to play Stade Francais on 14th March 1912 – Gloucester won 13-3, again enjoyed a splendid banquet after the game, and it was agreed that the “boys” had a great time. Billy was again selected for the first county match of the season, which resulted in an 8-5 win over Monmouth at Kingsholm, but once more he did not figure in  the Championship games, but this time because he had announced his retirement. Billy’s rugby career was winding down, and other priorities were taking over. At the end of the season, W B reported: “Johns, owing to business claims, announced his retirement at the end of October, but the popular International came out again at Christmas and played fairly frequently afterwards. Johns was as good as ever, and had he been a candidate must have been considered for England again.”

At the AGM of the Club in June 1912, there were heated differences of opinion as to whether free speech was being prevented, and whether the rules had been broken in the election of the Committee. As a result several members of the Committee resigned, including the Chairman, and they were supported by Billy Johns and Gordon Vears who resigned as playing members of the Club.

Things had been patched up by the start of the next season, and Billy was persuaded to dig out his boots again – he played in 17 of the Club’s 40 fixtures in 1912-13. Early in the season, he scored a critical try against Northampton, which gave Gloucester a 6-3 win – this was to be the last try he scored for the Club. Billy played his last game for Gloucester in an 8-8 draw against Harlequins at Kingsholm on 29th March 1913. He ended with a career record of 266 games played for Gloucester between 1902 and 1913, during which he scored 25 tries.

As in the previous two seasons, Billy played in the first county match of the season, a 12-0 win over Monmouth at Abertillery, but was missing for the south-west group games in the County Championship, although this was down to injury. However, when confronted by a fearsome South African front row, Billy was recalled to confront the tourists at Bristol on 29th December 1912. The match report speaks of: A brilliant dribble by Johns gained 30 yards….Johns was the outstanding player and the old International’s return to brilliant form is a source of congratulation to the County and to himself.” Although Gloucestershire went down 0-11, Billy had made his mark again, and kept his place in the team for the Championship semi-final. This was played at Kingsholm on 30th January 1913, and Gloucestershire beat the Midlands 6-0. The match report speaks of: “Johns, too, worked heroically, his splendid dribbling being a prominent feature”. The final was against Cumberland at Carlisle on 1st March 1913, and Billy was one of six Gloucester players in the side. The game was won 14-3, and Billy had the pleasure of becoming a County Champion for a second time in his last match for the County.  

W B’s final season report on Billy’s career recorded that: “W Johns came out strongly again, and was as good as ever. He met with a nasty accident against Devon Albion in October, and it was thought the injury had finished his career. But the old International could not resist the temptation to turn out again, and he re-appeared after ten weeks’ absence, playing for the County against the South Africans. In this match the veteran gave a wonderful display on the treacherous ground, and was generally acclaimed one of the best forwards on the field. Business claims prevented Johns assisting the City as often as he would have liked afterwards, but his presence in the team was always very welcome.”

Billy was 5ft 9in tall, and weighed in at 12st 6lb, and was described as a sterling scrummager, and deadly tackler. He was renowned for his skill at dribbling the ball, but he was not one to carry the ball in hand very often. His teammate, Dai Gent, later wrote in one of his books on rugby: " I must tell this story against one of the finest dribblers that ever played for England, W A Johns, of Gloucester. It was in a club match at Gloucester, and against Swansea. Johns was one of the very worst forwards (of his class) I have seen at handling a ball, and any tries he got were the result of superb dribbling and then falling on the ball. Well, in this match a gorgeous dribble had left him clear with about fifteen yards to go. Unfortunately for Johns, the ball bounced so high that he was bound to take hold of it - which he did. But having the wretched ball in his hands and not at his feet so upset his mental and physical balance that he lost control of his legs, crossed them (a la Tishy!), and fell headlong a few yards short of the goal-line. I am afraid that forwards of today have too much "handling" practice to feel as this fine forward did. I wish they didn't, for then they might approach Johns more nearly as dribblers."

Although his playing days for Gloucester were over, Billy signed up for the Army as a Private in December 1914. He was promoted to Corporal in May 1915, and played rugby for the 2/5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment during this service. The Gloucester Journal reported that Billy captained the side against the Gloucester Artillery at Northampton in March 1915 with his team victorious by twelve points (four tries) to nil. In 1916, Billy gained a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 14th (Service) Battalion (Severn Valley Pioneers), Worcestershire Regiment, and captained the 14/Worcesters XV at rugby. Billy was posted to France with them in June 1916, and unfortunately became a casualty in August 1916 when he fell off the parapet into a trench damaging his back whilst leading a night-time working party. In May 1917 Billy was transferred to the Corps of Royal Engineers as a Second Lieutenant.

Latterly he took over the Wellington Hotel which of course became a centre for rugby enthusiasts, before moving to the Amberley Hotel, and finally to the Prince of Wales in Berkeley Road, Gloucester.

Towards the end of his life, Billy and his wife moved to 3 Highbury Parade, Weston-super-Mare, and he was living there when he died on 10th March 1965, after a brief illness, aged 83 years. He was cremated at Arnos Vale Crematorium, Bristol on 13th March 1965. The notice of his death placed in The Citizen by his family indicated that he had been awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Before he died, Billy left his collection of mementoes from his playing career at the Club, where they were preserved by a succession of Club officials, and they can now be viewed at the Gloucestershire Archives. There are many interesting items, including his copy of the programme for the dinner mentioned above containing many signatures, England selection letters, and post-international dinner menus.

[I am grateful to Chris Collier for providing the rugby career statistics, and to Martin Davies for supplying the military and family history details, contained in this profile.]

This page was added by Gary Little on 27/07/2009.
Comments about this page

Billy Johns played in the same side and captained my grandad, Ernie Hall. They played together v the All Blacks in Oct 1905 and in the inaugural game for the opening of the new gymnasium in Sept 1905 (I believe this is now the Lions Den). He also played alongside my grandad's brothers Albert and Billy Hall.

By Steve Hall
On 06/09/2011

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