Tom Voyce

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Tom Voyce' page

King of Gloucester

By Malc King

Regarded as one of the game's greatest back row specialists, he began his playing career at the local Gordon League club. The flank forward made 218 appearances for Gloucester in which time he scored 54 tries, his first game being against Cheltenham on 4 Oct 1919 and his last against Oxford University on 3 Nov 1927.

Tom appeared in every match of England's Grand Slam winning teams of 1921, 1923 and 1924, and also represented the Army and the Barbarians.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Tom Voyce' page
 

On 19th January 1924, England travelled to play Wales at Swansea, so often previously a graveyard for English hopes. However, on this occasion England outplayed a relatively inexperienced Wales team to win 17-9, their first victory for 29 years on the St Helen’s ground. Shown here is the jersey worn that day by Tom Voyce, almost an automatic selection for England at wing forward, where he earned the title in the newspapers of “Scourge of the Welsh”. This match saw Tom win his 15th cap, a record for a Gloucester player at the time, surpassing the 14 caps won by Frank Stout. The match was described as “a desperately fought game, and there were numerous casualties”. Tom Voyce was one of them – he had to leave the field for a short time soon after half-time – however, he resumed and played a full part in the English victory. It was reported after the match that he had a broken rib, but, back in Gloucester on the following Monday morning, he went for an X-ray, which showed his rib to be badly bruised but not broken – “the International was naturally feeling the effects of the injury, but he was quite as well as could be expected, and was able to carry out his intention of accompanying Frank Ayliffe for a couple of days’ shooting”. The jersey is preserved at the Swansea club.

Tom was captain of Gloucester from 1924-1927 and was a member of the British touring side to South Africa in 1924.

His career was an amazing achievement because of the serious eye defect he sustained whilst serving for the Gloucestershire Regiment in World War I, and during World War II Tom served as a major in the Royal Army Signal Corp. Away from the game he was Chairman of the Gloucestershire Playing Fields Association and President of the St John Ambulance Brigade in the County. Tom became President of the Rugby Football Union in 1960 and was awarded the Order of the British Empire two years later. Later he became President of Gloucester, 1970-1978.  

On the 1924 tour of South Africa he displayed his remarkable versatility and team qualities as the utility player of the side, playing out of position at full back, centre and wing threequarter as well as his specialist position of wing forward. He scored eight tries in thirteen games and kicked several goals. P.K.Albertijn, the South African captain, described him as " the second best wing threequarter in the British team." 

"Since the War no man has fired the admiration of the crowd more than Tom Voyce, and in my experience I have never seen his equal. No man ever followed the ball throughout the two hard 'forties' so closely as he did, no man ever backed up his centre so closely, or attended his wing so assiduously as the 'King of Gloucester'. I shall always remember his wonderful attempt at a dropped goal, which would have saved the Twickenham record when Scotland beat England in 1926. He received a pass short of the half-way line, and ran a few yards forward as if he intended to open up a movement, but he suddenly paused, steadied himself, and took the most terrific hoof at the ball that I have ever seen, and only by inches did it fall short of the cross-bar." ( The Theory of Modern Rugby Football", published in 1930, and written by I.M.B. Stewart, Irish international forward and assistant master at Harrow School )

'The name of Tom Voyce is synonymous with that of Gloucester. Think of one and the other springs to mind. For he was a great player from a great club - a wonderful inspiration to any side. Tom had that personality and mental, competitive outlook that makes up a great player; and he was a shining example to others in that he was determined to put something back into the game for all the pleasure he had out of it',  (Wavell Wakefield, England Captain 1924 - One Hundred Cherry & White Years, pg 91)

This page was added by Claire Collins on 08/07/2009.
Comments about this page

Tom Voyce was obviously a hard man who probably played on the edge of legality - which might well imply that just occasionally he strayed over the line. In the context of England's defeat of Wales in 1926 we read: "[Wavell] Wakefield claimed he could not begin play until someone punched him on the nose. That day someone must have punched him early - The Times noted that the game 'was never of the parlour type' - for he played his greatest game against Wales; and wherever Wakefield was, there was Tom Voyce, a grinning, hand-grenade of a flanker, sleeves rolled, arms flailing, arousing the wrath of the crowd by some less than gentlemanly activities." (Reference found in in "Fields of Praise", an official history of the Welsh Rugby Union, 1881-1981.)

By Dick Williams
On 21/06/2010

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