“In Memoria” - By John Darlaston

Recently, three stalwarts of County Rugby have passed away.   Peter Woodruff, George Hastings and Derek Neate, all made very significant contributions to Rugby in Gloucestershire.  There are some interesting facts about them as individuals and linking the three, which are worth sharing.

Peter died aged 99 years and 2 days.  He was the oldest surviving England International.  George then became the oldest but, unfortunately, only old held that position for a few weeks.  The Stroud Club had the honour of having as members and past players, Peter as the oldest surviving international and J V Smith as the longest serving Past President of the RFU, following the death of Micky Steel-Bodger earlier in 2019.

Although Derek played in several England Trials and was travelling reserve on a number of occasions, he was never capped.  He was up against the enduring England second row of that era Marques and Currie.  Even so, Derek had an impressive career.  He played nearly 400 games for Bristol, 48 times for Gloucestershire, twice for Western Counties against South Africa and New Zealand.  For many years he was chairman of the Bristol Former Players and very involved in the Bristol Club.   

George Hastings was born in Dursley and went to Cheltenham Grammar School.  He played for Old Patesians, Cheltenham and Gloucester, making 260 appearances for the latter.  He played 34 times for Gloucestershire, 13 for England and 20 for the Barbarians.  He was ever present in the England’s Grand Slam win in 1957.  The RFU review of his career states that he was an excellent prop, who could play well in the second row and back row as well as being a kicker.

Peter Woodruff played for Harlequins on joining the civil service in London.  He subsequently played for Cheltenham before finishing his playing days at Stroud, where he was captain in 1959.  He played 4 times for England.  It was appropriate that he died on Leicester Railway station, on his way to a Harlequins Players Association Lunch at the Royal Automobile Club and he was wearing his Harlequins tie.  To those visiting Stroud Rugby Club, Peter was well known.  Together with J V Smith, they represented the essence of rugby football in the post war period.  Peter would relate about the increase in his training schedule in the days prior to an international.  He would go out a couple of lunch times for a run in Hyde Park and, on the Friday afternoon, he would leave work early to travel to the Star and Garter in Richmond were the team would meet up.   What a change to present times?   Peter made every effort to attend events at Stroud.  At the age of 97 he was due to attend a dinner; his car broke down and he phoned in his apologies.  A few days later Russ Hillier received a letter from Peter repeating his apologies and enclosing the garage receipt as proof that he was unable to attend. What a great personality.

A few anecdotes and coincident links associating these three players with Dursley Rugby Club.  George Hastings was born in Dursley.  Derek Neate worked for Spillers the Millers at Sharpness Docks, where his boss was Jack Heaven, for many years President of Dursley Rugby Club.  Derek was often at Club events.  Peter Woodruff played for Stroud against Dursley Nomads who had J V Smith on the wing – two internationals playing in a match on the Rec at Dursley.   Quite a notable occasion in the history of the club!  Finally, Peter’s son played for Dursley for several seasons.

These reflections on three players who contributed to the rich history of rugby in Gloucestershire are, no doubt, incomplete and others will add to and correct them.  The important thing is that they will be remembered!  RIP Peter, George and Derek.